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The Mormon behind the Bloomberg cover

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 8:57 p.m. MDT

C.C.A. Christensen. (LDS Church) C.C.A. Christensen. (LDS Church)

When Bloomberg Businessweek used a sketch of an angel appearing to Joseph Smith as the cover for its July 16 issue about the LDS Church finances, it inadvertently chose an image tied to the sacrifices and faith of a Mormon pioneer artist.

C.C.A. Christensen was born in Copenhagen in 1831, a year after Joseph Smith Jr. founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By the time Christensen was baptized a member, Joseph Smith had already been killed by a mob.

Christensen had trained at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen where students were encouraged to paint realistic, gritty images of Danish life in attempt to preserve their culture against German expansionism

"C.C.A. Christensen goes through this academy and then he joins the LDS Church and takes off his Danish hat and puts on his Mormon hat, but his artistic mindset stays the same," said Richard Oman, former curator of the LDS Church History Museum. "'Let's see. Why don't we do Mormon history? Why don't we do Mormon people?' And that is what he did. 'And why don't we do it for a purpose so people remember who they are?'"

Rough painting of the appearance of John the Baptist to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. This may have been the painting by C.C.A. Christensen used to create an engraving in 1887 in Copenhagen, or could be a later adaptation. (LDS Church) Rough painting of the appearance of John the Baptist to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. This may have been the painting by C.C.A. Christensen used to create an engraving in 1887 in Copenhagen, or could be a later adaptation. (LDS Church)

Christensen immigrated to Utah — pulling his possessions 1,300 miles across the plains in a handcart. He settled in central Utah in Sanpete Valley. He become best know for creating the "Mormon Panorama," a 175-foot-long scroll of multiple paintings depicting LDS Church history — including the appearance of heavenly visitors to Joseph Smith. In his lectures presented throughout the West, the scroll would be rolled to reveal one painting at a time — an early version of a slide show or PowerPoint presentation.

In Denmark, the artistic goal was so people would remember they were not German. In the case of Mormons, Christensen was reminding people of those who went before them and sacrificed so much, Oman said. "It is a reminder of the sacred roots of the kingdom, and the sacrifices of those who followed in order to inspire the present," he said. "That was his goal."

The goal of Bloomberg Businessweek was somewhat different.

"We looked into paintings of what is referred to as the First Vision, which is when Joseph Smith went into the woods and had a revelation, and since that moment founded Mormonism," Robert Vargas, the art director, said in a Bloomberg Businessweek video. "So in researching the paintings, there were many sorts of iterations of this. It's been done various different ways."

A 1887 lithograph created for C.C.A. Christensen in Copenhagen based upon a painting or sketch he made. Christensen sent the prints to his family in Utah for them to sell to supplement their income while he was in Denmark on a mission for the LDS Church. (LDS Church) A 1887 lithograph created for C.C.A. Christensen in Copenhagen based upon a painting or sketch he made. Christensen sent the prints to his family in Utah for them to sell to supplement their income while he was in Denmark on a mission for the LDS Church. (LDS Church)

Two of the cover mock-ups used paintings of the First Vision. In these versions, cartoon text balloons have Jesus Christ commanding Joseph Smith to "open a Polynesian theme park which shalleth be largely exempt from tax" and God the Father telling him "… and then thou shalt build a shopping mall" and "invest in Burger King."

Another mock-up uses a Christensen painting from his "Mormon Panorama" paintings. This one was not of the First Vision, as Vargas apparently supposes, but of the Angel Moroni delivering the gold plates of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. It may be that Vargas assumed that any painting of Joseph Smith receiving a vision in the woods was part of the First Vision.

The cover version they settled upon was also not of the First Vision, but of another heavenly appearance that occurred almost a decade later, when Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon. The official LDS Church website, LDS.org, describes the context: "Joseph Smith translated the gold plates into English, and Oliver Cowdery wrote it down. While translating, they learned about baptism for the remission of sins. On May 15, 1829, they went into the woods to pray, to ask Heavenly Father about baptism. As they prayed, an angel from heaven appeared in a cloud of light. He laid his hands on Joseph and Oliver and ordained them."

A print of a pencil sketch from 1898 that was based upon C.C.A. Christensen's original made in 1887. This is the print that was colorized and used on a July 2012 cover of Bloomberg Businessweek. (Library of Congress) A print of a pencil sketch from 1898 that was based upon C.C.A. Christensen's original made in 1887. This is the print that was colorized and used on a July 2012 cover of Bloomberg Businessweek. (Library of Congress)

The angel identified himself as John the Baptist.

Christensen was one of several church missionaries serving in his homeland when he created a small sketch or painting of the appearance of John the Baptist, Oman said. He hired an engraver in Copenhagen in 1887 to make several small prints. He sent the copies back to his family in Utah so they could sell them and earn income while he was away.

Eleven years later, a pencil sketch based on the engraving was published by George W. Crocheron in Salt Lake City. It was this broadside print of the sketch that ended up in the Library of Congress and was colorized for Bloomberg Businessweek by an artist and Photoshop expert named Steve Caplin. "I wasn't familiar with the engraving before, but I feel I know it fairly well now!" Caplin wrote in an email. "I used Photoshop to color it in. The only thing I changed was to add stars and a night sky to the image, more for color balance than anything else."

C.C.A. Christensen's illustration of a visitation by an angel to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829 forms the basis for a Bloomberg Businessweek July 2012 cover. (Bloomberg Businessweek) C.C.A. Christensen's illustration of a visitation by an angel to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829 forms the basis for a Bloomberg Businessweek July 2012 cover. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Vargas said the Bloomberg Businessweek editors settled on using the Christensen art "because it had this nice naiveté to it." "The image itself is somewhat serene," he added, "so we wanted to have a little more energy with the typography to balance that out."

Bloomberg Businessweek used cartoon balloons to put its own words in John the Baptist's mouth, but, according to Joseph Smith, what he really said was: "Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness."

Vargas called the talk bubbles of John the Baptist telling Joseph Smith to invest "funny."

Christensen's intention, however, in the engraving and his paintings had a serious purpose, Oman explained.

"The work he did was to remind the saints of the spiritual roots that called the church into being," he said, "to remind people of the sacrifices of their ancestors and to inspire future generations to be courageous people and to be people of strength and fortitude."

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