John Hafen, born in Scherzingen, Switzerland on 22 March 1856, came with his parents to Payson, Utah in 1862, converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Six years later, the family was in Salt Lake City.
Hafen's earliest teachers there were Danquarth Anton Weggeland (1827-1918) and George Morton Ottinger (1833-1917). Hafen, Lorus Pratt (1856-1923) and John B. Fairbanks (1844-1940) proposed that the Church provide travel scholarships for "art missionaries" to study art in Paris, so that the Salt Lake Temple could be properly decorated with frescoes. The proposal was accepted; accordingly in July of 1890, the group reached the City of Light. Hafen explained that h
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