Provo statues embody cherished values of community

Dennis Smith’s sculpture stands in front of the Provo City Center Temple as a reminder of the eternal nature of the family and a tribute to Melissa, the child subject of the sculpture who was afflicted in her lifetime by cerebral palsy. (Jessica Smith)

Statues line Provo’s streets as memorials to the city’s rich history. While some embody individuals or institutions that contributed to the community, many of the statues merit a closer look. The symbolism expressed in these immortalized figures offer passersby a glimpse into the values that shape the Provo community.

The Provo City Center Temple features a statue — visible from the street — of a mother and father teaching their daughter to walk.

The statue’s artist, Dennis Smith, said he originally asked his neighbors Keith and Teri to model for him in 1976 when the Relief Society from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commissioned him to create a monument for Nauvoo women. Keith and Teri had just had a baby girl named Melissa. Smith said his vision was to create a statue depicting a mother and father with open arms teaching a child to walk by the time Melissa was old enough to take her first steps.

According to Smith, Keith and Teri discovered Melissa had cerebral palsy and would never learn to walk.

When the sculpture was completed, it was named “In the Family Circle.” But Smith admitted he always wanted to call the sculpture “Melissa Walks” to honor the young girl and her medical complications.

Smith wrote an article for the Deseret News in 1995, just two weeks after Melissa died at the age of 18.

“In some other realm, Melissa was finally able to stretch her legs,” Smith wrote. “Somewhere, at last, Melissa walks.”

In an interview with The Daily Universe, Smith said the sculpture parallels the Provo City Center Temple in both design and symbolism.

Smith described how the spires on the roof of the temple — two on either end and a spire in the center — mirrored the father and mother at either end of the sculpture and the child in between them. He called the architectural and sculptural similarities “serendipitous.”

Smith said the story behind the sculpture of the implied resurrection of a little girl with her family is a tribute to the rebirth of the building that would become the temple.

“The temple itself rose from the ashes,” Smith said. “(The sculpture) is a statement about continuance of life. Even though we have things that happen to us on earth, our hope is that we will be able to live beyond this experience.”

Smith said he hopes when people see his sculpture from their cars or when they walk around the temple they will be inspired to increase their family commitment.

Carol Jackman’s “Kafata II” parallels Arabic customs with Book of Mormon sentiments of divine mercy and protection. (Jessica Smith)

“We live in an age where young people are holding off on getting married and making commitments,” Smith said. “The planting of the family and the symbolism of the mother and the father and the child learning to walk is a statement of a commitment to one another and to the blessing of children.”

Artist Carol Jackman created a statue called “Kafata II” — another religious piece on Center Street. According to Book of Mormon Central, Jackman said she was inspired by an Ensign article by Hugh Nibley describing an Arab custom called “Kafata,” in which a man could seek refuge from a great sheik if he had been accused of a crime. If the sheik put a robe over the accused man’s shoulder, it signified sanctuary under the sheik’s protection.

“With this sculpture, I tried to convey the supreme comfort and joy that we feel when we have accepted (Christ’s) gift and been ‘encircled about in the robes’ of His righteousness,” Jackman wrote.

Outside the Historic Utah County Courthouse stands “Statue of Responsibility.” A plaque attached to the base of the statue explains local author Stephen R. Covey was inspired by Austrian Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl to commission an artist to create a sculpture embodying the concept of personal responsibility. Sculptor Gary Lee Price fashioned one hand reaching down clasping another hand reaching up.

Jessica Smith
Artist Gary Lee Price depicts the cycle of responsibility in this sculpture. Every individual experiences points in life when they need help and other more prosperous points in which their responsibility is to offer help. (Jessica Smith)

“The hands are symbolic. In different times of our lives, we are the hand reaching up for help and the hand reaching down to lift others,” the description on the plaque said. “We are all connected.”

Victoria Karpos is the co-founder of and the Utah sculpture business MARBLE Cast products. She said she believes a statue offers value to generations within a particular community. While a building or a street name is a nice commemoration of an individual or concept, Karpos said a statue welcomes the viewer to ponder the purpose behind the piece of art and connect with it.

Karpos said moving forward in the Provo community, and the state of Utah as a whole, she hopes to see more women featured in sculptures. She expressed it is vital for the community to see women in roles other than mothers and pioneers.

“Modern role models are women who are leaders in politics, who are playing roles in corporations, that are high in education, that are professors and teachers and in the classroom,” Karpos said. “There’s been an outcry for more women to come to the forefront.”

Jessica Smith
Martha Hughes Cannon was a suffragist, an activist and the first female senator of Utah. (Jessica Smith)

One statue on Provo Center Street is a tribute to suffragist Martha Hughes Cannon, the first female senator in Utah. Cannon’s statue, however, stands about three feet tall on a pedestal in front of Station 22 Cafe.

“When you put a statue on a pedestal, it’s a huge statement,” Karpos said. “Size matters. There should be no reason to do anything differently for a female sculpture for the effort you’re putting into it. Women should be placed high on a pedestal.”

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