Like the hardy Mormon trailblazers it was created to honor, a bronze likeness of handcart-pulling pioneers was beautified and strengthened by a refiner's fire.
Lehi artisan Franz Johansen has toiled for a year on a life-size statue that will be shipped this week to the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters near Omaha, Neb. It will be showcased on a concrete pedestal at the entrance of the year-old visitors center.With a craftsman's pride, Johansen points out the intricate detail carved into the seven figures, which capture the struggle of a family running on faith to a Promised Land.
One of his favorite touches is the delicate, outstretched hand offered by the sculpted woman to her husband, who is pulling the wooden cart filled with cargo packed around a small child."I really like that. It's what I call a good story-telling statement," Johansen said at a Lehi foundry where it was made. "It shows the love that was there. It's an emotional pulling rather than a physical pulling."
The sculpture also includes two children, a young son and daughter, who walk alongside the cart. A grandfather and grandmother follow, looking into the horizon, pushing the cart from behind.
Johansen, a former art professor at Brigham Young University, had completed a bust for the visitors center of the school's namesake when he received a call to serve a one-year mission to create the sculpture for Winter Quarters.
Winter Quarters, which is now part of Omaha, marks the location members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregated after being driven from their homes in Nauvoo, Ill., and before the 1847 westward trek.
The sculpture, Johansen said, is a reminder of that dedication and sacrifice.
"I'm grateful I could use my abilities and talents to help the church," Johansen said. "It's neat to serve this kind of a mission to help build a kingdom; that's what it is all about."
Nate Johansen, Franz Johansen's son, works at Metal Letters foundry, where the display was built.
He has worked on the statue with his dad for about 10 months.
An arduous process was followed to create the sculpture. The first step was to make a small model of the sculpture to use as a blueprint for the life-size version.
Metal frames of the people were then pieced together "kind of like stick figures," Nate Johansen said.
Then a foam padding was placed on a frame. A layer of clay was added to allow artists to carve the human characteristics.
Next, a mold made from the clay statue was filled with wax. After the hot wax was dumped out, a liquified bronze was poured in. Only small pieces of a statue can be made at a time with the mold, so parts were later welded together to complete each figure.
As a finishing touch, the statue was sandblasted and heated with a blowtorch to prepare the material for sealant that will protect the bronze from the weather. Rough spots were then smoothed away, and some texture was added.
"The mold is one of a kind," Nate Johansen said. "We'll probably throw (the mold) away after it's taken away."
The statue, which weighs about a ton, will be transported on a flat-bed trailer.