Mormon artist’s portraits depict the ‘Forgotten Wives’ of Joseph Smith

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Using bright colors and with a paint brush in hand, Leslie Olpin Peterson taps into the personalities of the women she says have been whitewashed in history.

“I just really felt a desire to learn about these women, and once I started hearing these stories I realized how incredible they are,” Peterson said.

Peterson is a fifth generation member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Growing up in the church, I had just heard stories of Joseph and Emma," Peterson said.

But when the LDS Church released official documents last October relating to Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy, Peterson was angry she hadn't heard of the other 33 wives before. That's when she started the "Forgotten Wives" project.

“I felt like I was on a mission to get this project done,” Peterson said.

For months, Peterson researched the prophet’s wives and became consumed with painting each portrait.

“What I would do is put their original picture in front of me if there was one, a lot of them don't have any pictures, and I would paint something from that picture--maybe the bonnets and glasses,” Peterson said.

The project gained popularity.

“As soon as I saw what she was doing I said, 'You have to get this out there' because this is one of the most incredible projects I’d seen,” said Colleen Reynolds, who is an artist and President of the Utah Watercolor Society.

“It's our history, we have to deal with it: Why not just embrace it for what it is?” Peterson said.

Peterson has sold hundreds of copies of her paintings, which area available through her Etsy listings.



        Yes Bob, the thing I hate worst about them is their old fashioned ideas on chastity and moral cleanliness. They need to step into the modern world where everything is acceptable.

    • JT

      From Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary:
      : a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous

      : a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much

      : a small group of very devoted supporters or fans

      Seems like the LDS Church fits all three definitions, at least in the minds of some people. And two out of the three definitions are not all that bad, are they? But then again, the same could be said about ANY religion, at least by people who don’t believe in that particular religion. Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, Hindus, – you name it, ALL “religions” have elements in their doctrines or practices that SOMEONE doesn’t like – so the are ALL cults.

      • habusse

        There is a more specific definition of what constitutes a cult. Such as giving up your worldly goods, isolating yourself from family and friends for the group etc. If the definition you provided were the only aspects of a “cult” then political parties, religions, and clubs may all fit that.

  • Destiny Bradford

    He also married other men’s wives as well as super young girls! Sorry but that’s creep status and not a man of God

    • Cornelius

      Yes, but have you ever bothered to study the nature of those marriages? Most people just look at the names and ages and freak out, but the reality is that a lot of those marriages, especially to the younger girls, were for eternity only. That means they were afforded the blessings of those covenants, but they were not for the creepy things you are thinking of.
      Many people in the church had themselves sealed to the prophets, thinking that that was the purpose of the sealing blessings, but as their understanding grew on the doctrines of the gospel, they shifted to being sealed to their own ancestors instead. “Line upon line” is not just for personal revelation, but is evident throughout church and world history.

  • Kellie Nguyen

    Women weren’t allowed to buy property unless they were married so that’s why polygamy was legal nationwide until the late 1800’s.

    • Parker

      Kellie, actually polygamy was illegal back when Joe Smith started practicing it, hence him trying to keep it a secret and publicly lying about it, having others lie about it for him. You need to do some research.

  • Dave Mitchell

    Doesn’t it bother you Latter-day Saints that your church lied to you about Joseph’s for 170 years? How can you belong to such a devious organization? What lies are they still telling?

    • Cornelius

      Who lied about it for 170 years? I’ve known this about Joseph Smith for a couple of decades now, and I’m not even a church historian. Just because they didn’t call everyone’s attention to it does not mean that they were lying about it.

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