Artist: Incredible women; ‘The Forgotten Wives of Joseph Smith’ exhibit opens

Paintings by Leslie O. Peterson | Paintings courtesy of Leslie O. Peterson, Dixie State University, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A nationally acclaimed art exhibit “The Forgotten Wives of Joseph Smith” will be on display at the North Plaza Building of Dixie State University in October, with an artist’s reception Friday. The series of paintings was inspired when the artist learned the Mormon Church acknowledged its founder had had many wives; she sought to learn more and found their stories deserved telling … through art.

The exhibit will be on display weekdays Oct. 7-29 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the North Plaza Building of Dixie State University, 46 S. 1000 East in St. George. The artist’s reception will be held this Friday from 7-9 p.m. in the same location. Admission is free.

Leslie Peterson, the artist of "The Forgotten Wives of Joseph Smith," Salt Lake City, Utah, May 2015 | Photo courtesy of Steve Olpin, St. George News
Leslie Peterson, the artist of “The Forgotten Wives of Joseph Smith,” Salt Lake City, Utah, May 2015 | Photo courtesy of Steve Olpin, St. George News

“The Forgotten Wives of Joseph Smith” series is comprised of 34 watercolor portraits of wives of the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of the pieces are based on photographs of the women and others are based on written descriptions and the artist’s imagination.

The artist, Leslie Peterson of Salt Lake City, said she was inspired to paint the portraits after reading the essay on the LDS church website that states Smith had multiple wives.

“I had always kind of heard about it, but didn’t know if it was anti- (Mormon) stuff because, you know, they never talk about it in church or Relief Society,” Peterson said. “So I wasn’t sure if it was true, but when the church came out, it gave me permission to study and so I started reading even more.”

Podcasts helped Peterson with her understanding of each woman. She listened to an entire series, titled “Year of Polygamy.” Each wife is the subject of a separate podcast and the narrator examines each woman in depth.

Left: Contemporary photograph of Rhoda Richards, photo in public domain, Right: Painting of Rhoda Richards by Leslie O. Peterson | Painting courtesy of Leslie O. Peterson, Dixie State University, St. George News

“What I learned is just that they are all incredible women with accomplishments on their own,” Peterson said. “They are worthy of us learning about them.”

“Some of them started hospitals, some of them were women suffragists.” Peterson said. Other wives started schools and homes for the poor, one worked in a silkworm factory, and others were writers and poets.

Painting of Helen Mar Kimball by Leslie O. Peterson | Painting courtesy of Leslie O. Peterson, Dixie State University, St. George News
Painting of Helen Mar Kimball by Leslie O. Peterson | Painting courtesy of Leslie O. Peterson, Dixie State University, St. George News

One portrait features Helen Mar Kimball, who married Smith when she was only 14 years old. Peterson has painted Kimball with pigtails and tears running down her cheeks.

“In her journals she writes about her sadness,” Peterson said. “Because she was a married woman, she couldn’t go to the dances and parties at the Joseph Smith mansion, and she just writes about her lonely life being married to the prophet.”

A reception with Peterson will open the exhibit at DSU Oct. 2, from 7-9 p.m. Admission is free.

The show has been displayed in the Writ & Vision gallery in Provo and at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City earlier this year. Additionally, the show garnered national attention when The New York Times recently published an article about Peterson’s works.

“I just think it’s a beautiful part of our history,” Peterson said.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery. 

Event details

  • What: “The Forgotten Wives of Joseph Smith” art exhibit and opening reception
  • When: Exhibit on display weekdays Oct. 7-29, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. | Opening reception Friday, Oct. 2, 7-9 p.m.
  • Where: North Plaza Building, 46 S. 1000 East, St. George
  • How: Admission is free


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  • radioviking September 30, 2015 at 11:55 am

    First of all, the “secret” wives were never known to begin with! The Mormon church has been keeping the diaries, records, and historical accounts hidden from the world! C’mon Mormons, these wives weren’t forgotten, they were hidden from public knowledge until now because information is getting out! Thanks to the modern age of technology.

    Joseph Smith manipulated innocent teenage girls into sexual relations— that’s called pedophilia. He told them an angel with a flaming sword would destroy him if they didn’t marry him!

    Don’t believe me? Look it up!

    He was married to women (secretly of course) who were already married. Then he lied to the public when his counselor published an exposé! “I only know one wife…” He lied, “Emma.”

    What do we learn from this? Hmmmmm

    • fun bag October 1, 2015 at 1:27 pm

      JS was actually quite a villainous creature. That’s the reason he was murdered. Not because he was some kind of saint or martyr. He made lots of enemies in his time, and for good reason…

      • radioviking October 3, 2015 at 7:17 am

        Ya, definitely NOT a martyr: he had a pistol and he was shooting at men when he was shot. He wasn’t the “innocent lamb before the slaughter” Mormon leaders have portrayed him to be! Joseph Smith was in jail because he had just destroyed a printing press which was being run by his former counselor and apostles- they were printing The Expositor (revealing the truth of Joseph Smith’s secret marriages and the life he was hiding from the world).

        Not to mention, Joseph Smith had his buddy Porter Rockwell killing off “detractors “, and a leader can do that kind of thing so long until people do something about it. Joseph Smith had a lot of power: he was the church prophet, the general of the Mormon legion, and mayor of Nauvoo! If any of his “closest ” colleagues exposed his secret life of political corruption or sexual deviancy or treason against his country ( Joseph had just been “anointed” King of the world in his secret council of the fifty!) Joseph Smith had his secret group of hit men- aka the Danites “take care of them”!

  • Real Life September 30, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    Or they could have just gotten the yearbook from any of the local junior high schools, wherever good old Joe was.

  • anybody home September 30, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    The artist has taken great liberties with her portraits, and judging from the one with the old photo next to it, has managed to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. Not sure why she felt it necessary to do “make-overs” for these women. The portraits are fun, but I kind of doubt any of them look like the real women.

    • fun bag October 1, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      YEa im not a huge fan of caricature portraits

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