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 Torlief Soviren Knaphus  (1881 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: Utah / Norway      Known for: historical figure and religious sculpture

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Especially known for his sculpture, Handcart Pioneers, which is in Salt Lake Tempel Square, Torlief Knaphus commemorated the  migration between 1856 and 1860 of people traveling by foot with their possessions in two-wheeled carts into the salt water basin of the future Utah.  Many persons lost their lives.

Knaphus was born in Vats, Stavanger, Norway, and showed art talent from the time he was five years old when he began carving birds in wood.  At age 14, he apprenticed in painting and decorating at a local business, and shortly after followed his urge to 'go to sea'.  He served for two years as a sailor on Norwegian shipping lines, but then, at the urging of his mother, returned to his apprenticeship.  He also showed skill in competitive athletics, especially spear throwing and swimming.  But foremost in his mind was art, and at an athletic banquet honoring him and others, he announced his intent to commit himself to his artistic talents.

For two years he studied in Oslo with Harriet Backer of the Harriet Backer Art School, and also took lessons from Lara Utne, sculptor and professor at King's Art School in Oslo.  During this period, he decided to specialize in sculpture.

In Oslo, Mormon missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints impressed him, and in 1902, he joined the church.  Four years later, he immigrated to the United States and settled in Salt Lake City.  In 1912, he spent a year in Paris at the Julian Academy, where he earned a first mention for sculpture.  Returning to the U.S., he spent a year and a half in New York at the Art Students League.

In 1926, he was commissioned to commemorate with sculpture the handcart migration.  In preparation he interviewed many persons still living who had been part of that 1300 mile trek from the Missouri River.  Many of his scultpures have either religious or historical Mormon themes and are found in many temples, public buildings as well as private homes in Utah.

He died at age 83 in Salt Lake City.


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