The “This is the Place Monument”
Guest post by Ashlee Whitaker, Curator of Religious Art
In 1939, Mahonri Young began earnestly campaigning to be selected as the sculptor for the This is the Place Monument, located near Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City, Mahonri had anticipated this commission, which he believed could be the greatest achievement of his career. He and his wife Dorothy traveled to Salt Lake City along with a plaster model to present to the committee—consisting of various civic and ecclesiastical representatives—which deliberated the commission. Mahonri was officially granted the commission in 1941.
The job was fraught with difficulties, not the least of which were Mahonri’s own physical challenges and Dorothy’s declining health. The strain of the competition process and the demand to finish his other commissions took a toll of the 64-year-old artist, who suffered a heart attack shortly after receiving the commission. The war in Europe impacted the availability of materials, especially bronze for casting. Each of the hundreds of figures had to be approved by a large committee in distant Salt Lake City, using photographs. Unresolved financial negotiations also burdened the process.
True to form, however, Mahonri persevered. He studied intently to accurately represent the 74 individual figures, 144 animals, and the clothing, guns, flora, and fauna depicted throughout the monument. Mahonri wanted to create a tribute not only to the Latter-day Saint pioneers who had settled in the Salt Lake area but to all explorers and groups who shaped the region. His unique design features a Native America chief, early Spanish and French explorers, and other trappers. An assistant, Spero Anargyros, helped Mahonri create the large figural groups, with other assistants stepping in to help craft the 30-plus tons of bronze.
A job worthy of decades was accomplished in three years. The final sculpture piece arrived in Salt Lake just weeks before the planned dedication on July 24, 1947—the centennial of the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake valley. Despite his regret that Dorothy, who had died in May of that year, wasn’t able to see the completed monument, Mahonri stated in his brief remarks at the dedication that it was “the greatest day of my life.” The monument was a culmination of his deep love for his heritage, the West, and the drama of human endeavor.
See Mahonri’s plaster cast of This is the Place Monument as well as photographs and sketches of this enormous undertaking in the current exhibition In the Arena: The Art of Mahonri Young, now open through September 21, 2019.