He wasn’t ever a Boy Scout himself, but he absolutely loved the organization. —Ray Hills
SALT LAKE CITY — The Church History Museum is celebrating 100 years of Scouting in the LDS Church with two new exhibitions: “American Originals: Norman Rockwell and Scouting” and “A Good Turn Daily: 100 Years of Scouting and the Aaronic Priesthood.”
In February 1910, the Boy Scout program was brought to America from England, with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being officially recognized as part of the BSA in 1913.
“Scouting in the church has influenced millions of people,” said the museum’s education program manager, Ray Hills. “When you think over 100 years with all the Scouts, their leaders and parents who have nurtured their Scouts along the way, we can see that Scouting is just this incredible impact for good in the lives of so many different people.”
Norman Rockwell felt the same way.
One of the most well-known American artists of the 20th century, Rockwell had a standing association with the Boy Scouts of America that lasted more than 60 years. Starting as a staff artist for Boys’ Life magazine in 1912, he did one cover picture and a set of story illustrations per issue per month, which eventually led to his illustrating 50 annual Boy Scout calendars, the last being published in 1976.
Twenty-three of his original works cover the walls of one of the museum's display rooms, with countless covers of Boys’ Life on display in the center.
“He wasn’t ever a Boy Scout himself, but he absolutely loved the organization,” Hills said of Rockwell. “These weren’t just art commissions for him. These were works of love for him. He loved the way that Scouting represented the everyday American boy.”
Rockwell even used real Scouts as his models when painting.
The chance for the museum to feature some of Rockwell’s works is what museum educator Angela Fisher would describe as “a huge privilege.”
“Norman Rockwell is an American icon,” she said. “He depicted American values that people treasured. And those values are also ones held up by the Boy Scouts and also by the church. You know — a Scout is friendly, they have their duty to God, duty to country. Rockwell has depicted those values through his paintings, and those are things that we also uphold as a church.”
With works illustrating the many aspects of the Boy Scout lifestyle (the Scouts are always portrayed as perfectly clean and pristine — a request BSA made to Rockwell from the beginning), there are images of Scouts serving each other, learning from different mentors and doing activities that would perhaps earn them different merit badges.
Scouts who visit the museum can get a start on a couple of their own merit badges (art and Scouting heritage) by coming and participating in both exhibits.
“A Good Turn Daily” takes visitors through the 100 years of Scouting, from its beginnings when W.D. Boyce came across and was impressed with a charitable Scout in England, to the first troop in the church, to today.
There are activities where visitors can learn the art of flag signaling (a practice Scouts once used to spell and convey messages to each other), learn about different animal tracks and decipher the meaning of different track patterns on display, play Scouting Bingo, tie knots and more.
There is also a small tribute to President Howard W. Hunter and his love for the Scouting program, with his very first handbook on display, showing pages where he had completed different merit badges, like Oct. 22, 1922, when he earned his chemistry merit badge.
Today there are more than 400,000 Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in the church, which is also the largest chartered organization of the Boy Scouts of America, a friendly association that Fisher hopes will be conveyed through the exhibit.
“I think that one of the greatest things that people can take from this is just a wonderful heritage of Scouting in the church — these two organizations that hand in hand help boys become men and do good for their society, for their communities and for the world.”
Both exhibits open July 19, with “American Originals” closing Dec. 31, 2013, and “A Good Turn Daily” closing Oct. 5, 2014. The Church History Museum is open weekdays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
Kate Sullivan is an intern at the Deseret News with Features and Mormon Times. She is a student at Brigham Young University. Contact her via email: [email protected]