University of Illinois Press; Mormon History Association
Shortly after the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in 1844, Philo Dibble recalled a dream in which “I . . . saw Brother Joseph coming with a sheet of paper in his hand. The paper was rolled up. Joseph threw the roll into the top of the tree. The roll came tumbling down through the limbs, and all under the tree watched the roll to catch it, and I caught it. This was the end of my dream. I pondered over the dream and was satisfied it had a meaning.” Dibble felt the sheet symbolized a canvas of Church history scenes, including the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. Dibble did not have the resources to create the paintings, so he told Brigham Young of his plan. According to Dibble, Young told him, “‘Go ahead and I will assist you.’ He put his hand into his pocket and gave [Dibble] two dollars [who] then went and bought the canvas.” This dream convinced Dibble, a visionary entrepreneur, to commission British immigrant artists in Nauvoo to create folk paintings of early Church history scenes. He believed this would help Mormons remember the history and popularize art for Church members. He later enlarged the paintings to murals with a similar size as the popular panoramas displayed in nearby St. Louis, Missouri. In addition, he also collected and preserved artifacts such as the death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith to provide a tangible witness of Joseph Smith’s mission and the Restoration of the gospel. Over time, Dibble’s exhibits and illustrated lectures of his firsthand experiences with miraculous events in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and the trek to Utah inspired artists to improve upon his pioneering efforts to create artwork about the Restoration. Indeed, Dibble’s outline of Church history dramatically influenced the selection and arrangement of scenes painted by Danish immigrant C. C. A. Christensen in his much later panoramas.