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This painting portrays the hope and heavenly comfort accompanying life's journey. Full of symbols representing the promise of resurrection and continuance inherent in Spring, this painting depicts nineteenth-century pioneer and younger sister of Joseph Smith, Katharine Smith Salisbury—a then expectant mother—holding her young son, Solomon, as they prepared to leave the comfort of their home in Ohio to face an uncertain and challenging future.
While living with her husband and small children in the relative peace of their circumstances in Chardon (near Kirtland, Ohio), Katharine had contributed her strength to the building of the Kirtland Temple and the missionary efforts of the pioneer saints, in addition to caring for her own growing family. Described as happy years, busy years, eventful years (see The Three Sisters of the Prophet Joseph: Sophronia, Catherine, and Lucy by Lynn E. Smith, 1972), the Kirtland days of Katharine's life were a brief respite between the intense trials of her girlhood and heart-breaking losses yet to come.
Together with four other families, Katharine, her husband Jenkins, and their young children fled mob violence and oppression and journeyed from their homes in Ohio in early May 1838. She and her fellow travelers trusted the Lord's assurance to those fleeing to Far West that a door is open for [you]...let [your] hearts be comforted, for I will be with [you] (in Journal, March–September 1838, 53, josephsmithpapers.org; spelling and punctuation standardized).
Katharine's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, described their journey: We traveled on through many trials and difficulties. Sometimes we lay in our tents through a driving storm. At others we traveled on foot through marshes and quagmires on foot, exposing ourselves to wet and cold. One night before we arrived at the Mississippi river, we lay all night in the rain which descended in torrents...soon after we crossed this river we stopped at [an abandoned] hut—a most unlovely place—but we could go no farther. My daughter Katharine gave birth [there] (Lucy Mack Smith quoted in Lucy's Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir by Lavina Fielding Anderson Signature Books, 2001, 626-627, spelling and punctuation standardized).
Katharine's sufferings did not conclude with her arrival in Far West. As she continued to struggle with bitter challenges, her privations were so piteous that fellow pioneer Willard Richards wrote: My heart was pained to witness [Katharine] a lovely wife, and sister of Joseph, almost barefoot and four lovely children entirely so, in the middle of winter. ‘Ah!’ thought I, ‘What has not Joseph and his father’s family suffered to bring forth the work of the Lord?’ (Journal, December 1842–June 1844, 123-124, spelling and punctuation has been standardized).
Despite a lifetime of bitter trials, intense suffering, and almost overwhelming heartache, Katharine Smith Salisbury remained true to her faith and trust in the Lord, holding on to her hope in Christ which never failed her. She wrote: I can testify to the fact of the coming forth of The Book of Mormon, and also to its truth, and the truth of the everlasting gospel as contained therein...Many times when I have read its sacred pages, I have wept like a child while the Spirit has borne witness with my spirit to its truth...I was one of the number who met in the first conference held in these last days when the Church was first organized. We only numbered thirty, but we were a happy little band. It was a great day of rejoicing for us...while I can I will bear my testimony to the truth of the latter-day work...I know it is true...dear sisters, go on in the good cause you have begun...Be humble and the Lord will bless you all (Katharine Smith Salisbury quoted in Saints Herald, Vol 33 1886).
When Katharine was well into her eighties, a reporter heard Katharine's unequivocal testimony of the restoration of Christ's gospel as revealed to her brother, Joseph Smith. He noted: The old lady, with a frail body and weak voice, told the remarkable story in an earnest manner, has borne it all these many years and is as firm in her faith as one can be (Sioux Valley News, Volume XV No 16, September 3, 1896, Correctionville, Iowa—Thursday).
Symbolism in Shall We Not Go On
As he was dying, Joseph Smith Sr. recorded a parting blessing to his absent daughter: Trouble has [Katharine] seen, the Lord has looked down upon her and seen her patience, and has heard her cries and she shall be comforted...the Lord look down upon her and she shall have the comforts of life and the good things of the world and then shall she rise up...and live to raise up her family and in time her suffering shall be over, for the day is coming when the patient shall receive their reward and she shall rise over her enemies, and she shall have houses and land and things around her to make her heart glad (Fielding, 720-721).
Similarly, the Lord declares: All things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart ... to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul (Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-19).
Katharine is here depicted surrounded by the emerging Spring. Beauties to please the eye, gladden the heart, and enliven the soul are scattered by a gracious Providence throughout life's trials. Though Katharine is shown at the time she was driven from her Ohio home, the new life within her, the young life in her arms, and nature's glory all beckon her forward in her journey. Like the storm clouds gathered in this wind-swept sky, challenges swirled around the family as they migrated. Also like the sky painted here, wherein the stormy skies are dotted with bright patches of sunny blue, so too their family's faith in Christ enabled them to hope in a bright future ahead.
The migrating Canada geese attracting the figures' attention represent hope, as well as the migrating saints in Katharine's company. When advising the saints to move west, the Lord instructed them not to flee in haste nor go unprepared. Instead they were to take their families as soon as it is practicable and a door is open for them and move on to the west as fast as the way is made plain before their faces (Revelation, 12 January 1838–C, 1). Accordingly, though many saints had already made the trek to Far West, Katharine's companions had patiently waited before commencing their journey. Similarly, the geese are at different points in their flight—some just taking off, others beginning formation, and still others in the distant clouds. The geese in the painting number twenty-eight, the same as Katharine's small travel party.
The two figures are dressed simply in cotton and linsey-woolsey day-wear well known in America's frontier in the 1830s. Katharine's granddaughter described Katharine's life as one round of duty and devotion unaffected by worldly trends, frivolity, or affectation. They did the necessary work of the household, spending their time spinning, weaving, sewing and knitting. Their warm, substantial linsey-woolsey dresses were processed and completed by their own hands (The Three Sisters of the Prophet Joseph Smith,by Mary Salisbury Hancock in The Saints Herald, January 11, 1954, 10).
The quilt wrapped around her child is a faithful representation of a patchwork quilt made by Katharine's own hand during the 1880s. Though not a product of the era depicted in this painting, the ocean waves pattern Katharine used dates back to her early New England ancestry.
Like many of the Smith family, lilacs were Katharine's favorite flower. The Smiths often used lilac cuttings from their homes to mark the graves of loved ones. The tender shoots of lilac blowing near Katharine represent her baby girl, Elizabeth, who was buried in Kirtland. The white blossoms symbolize purity and the hope of resurrection.
The artist gratefully acknowledges the help of the following, without whose expertise, insights and support, this painting would have been impossible:
Historians and Researchers: Kyle R. Walker, Frances Orton, Lachlan Mackay, Gracia N. Jones
Locale and Material Culture Specialists: Polly Hitchcock Sage (Ransom Sage Farm), Steve Duke, Karen J. Ashton, the City of Chardon (Ohio), and members of "Forgotten Photos of Plymouth (Illinois)" Facebook Group.