About 30 feet below the quad at the center of the Brigham Young University’s campus, students wander under a forest canopy listening to the sounds of birds as they learn about Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
The experience comes from the creative mind of Carlie Weyrauch-Brooks, a BYU senior working under the guidance of exhibit designer Eric Howard. Carlie was assigned to design an exhibition telling the story of the First Vision through documents and books to be displayed both on walls and in cases. It would grow to include scholarly studies on the topic and a look at its impact on culture and community.
She looked over the exhibit text and the list of materials from the curators and got a little nervous.
“How do I do this justice?” was her first thought.
She pulled out her watercolors and started brainstorming with the idea that painting would give the exhibit a soft spiritual feel and to help patrons “feel like (they’re) in a grove,” she said.
Those initial tree paintings turned out to be the defining design element of the exhibition. They were scanned, enlarged and printed onto wall-size panels that create a grove underground. Then, she completed the effect by finding green leaf panels that could be installed on the gallery ceiling.
Carlie was joined by Ashley Johnson, a graphic design student from Flower Mound, Texas. Together with Howard, they installed everything in an exhibit space in the BYU library’s L. Tom Perry Special Collections.
Carlie’s favorite feature of the exhibit is the connection between the documents and the original art by Tony Sweat, whose work combines the elements of multiple accounts of the First Vision into one image. The accounts are mounted on the wall in larger-than-life formats and the elements Sweat used are highlighted so that visitors can look at the original writing and the art in one location.
The exhibit, titled “A Pillar of Light: Celebrating 200 Years of the First Vision,” was curated by Gerrit van Dyk, church history and doctrine librarian, and Ryan Lee, curator of 19th century manuscripts in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections. They have been looking forward to commemorating the anniversary of the First Vision for years and have selected the most relevant items from special collections. They wanted to explore how the First Vision fits with American religion and how the LDS church and scholars have discussed the vision. They thought local residents would be interested in a look back to 1920 when the BYU campus commemorated the centennial of the First Vision by asking people about the impact of the vision on their lives.
Along with original art by Tony Sweat, the exhibition features early photographs of the Sacred Grove, rare books and documents, and interactive opportunities for visitors.
The exhibition is free and open to the public. Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 pm Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.