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 Carl Christian Anton (C.C.A.) Christensen  (1831 - 1912)



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Lived/Active: Utah / Denmark/England      Known for: panoramic scroll-history of Morman church, frontier scene

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CCA Christensen is primarily known as Carl Christian Anton (C.C.A.) Christensen

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Described as one "of the figures who would play the largest role in framing Utah's artistic tradition", (Swanson 13) Carl Christensen, often referred to as C.C.A., is perhaps best remembered for the panoramic scroll he did about historical events in the Mormon Church.  Begun in 1869, it was 26 paintings, each 8 by 10 feet, progressing chronologically from the vision of Joseph Smith to the arrival of the first Mormons in Utah.  Christensen toured the West in a covered wagon with his panorama, taking it across Utah and into Arizona, Colorado and Idaho.   The book series, American Heritage, had these images in its 1963 published history of Mormonism.  The preface asserted that Christensen's narrative panorama of Mormonism was "as solid and appealing as any American work of this period.  Touching in its praise of old fashioned virtues, it is a gentle masterpiece." (Samuels 94-95)

Carl Christensen was born to an impoverished innkeeper and his wife in Copenhagen.   He was a sixteen year old toymaker in Denmark when Mormon pioneers first entered the Great Salt Lake valley in 1847.  Ten years later, he arrived in Utah as part of the 1857 'hand cart' migration of Mormons across the frontier from Illinois to Salt Lake.  A description of him was that of a young man with a "Danish flag flying from his cart, his trousers flapping in tatters about his legs." (Swanson 16) 

Before his departure from his home country, he had earned money as a toymaker,  had enrolled for five winters of study at the Copenhagan Royal Academy of Arts, and before that had attended a state school for poor children where he had learned to make paper toys.  He had also apprenticed to a carpenter, and by age 17 was apprenticed to a painter, C. Rosent. 

In Denmark, he was baptized into the LDS Church, and committed at that time to being a church missionary, he did his service for four years in his native country.  In 1865, eight years after migrating to America, he returned to Scandinavia as a Mormon missionary and studied with Norwegian painter, Philip Barlag, (1840-1913).

Traveling across the deserts during his migration to Utah, he did paintings of the scenery.  In Salt Lake City, he became one of the first artists paid to do scenery painting for the local theatre, and he also laid brick and painted murals to earn money.  From that time, he would be a moving force in Utah's art culture, especially focused in his artwork on accurate depictions of the history of the Mormons.  His 1900 painting, Handcart Scene, referenced his own migration across the plains, and shortly after its completion, he became a full-time volunteer in the church history office.  Nearly a century later, an exhibition dedicated to Christensen's painting was held in the LDS Church Museum of History and Art, built in 1983.

He was one of the founders in 1881 of the Utah Art Association, and many of his decorative paintings were placed in Latter Day Saint Churches.  For him, church and family took precedence over his painting talents, commitments that he chose that meant he was not prolific as a painter.

Sources include:
Vern Swanson, Robert Olpin, and William Seifrit, Utah Art
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West

Biography from Anthony's Fine Art:
Carl Christian Anton Christensen was born in Denmark in 1832.  He studied painting and toy making at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen.  In 1850, he became a member of the Latter-day Saint (LDS) Church and served an LDS mission to Vest-Sjelland, Denmark.

After returning home, he joined an emigrant company that took him to England and eventually to New York.  From New York, he and his wife, Elsie Scheel, traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they purchased a handcart and traveled by foot to Utah.  He arrived in Utah with the "Danish flag flying from his cart, his trousers flapping in tatters about his legs."

During his trek, Christensen made many sketches of the American scenery and the events that happened along the journey, but it was not until the 1860s that he had the opportunity to paint again.  Little about C. C. A. Christensen's first years in Utah is known.  Many years passed between his arrival in 1857 and any public exhibition of his paintings.

LDS pioneer and religious themes dominate Christensen's work.  Perhaps his greatest achievement is Mormon Panorama, a monumental narrative that tells in twenty-two 8' x 12' scenes about the history of the LDS Church from Joseph Smith's vision in Palmyra, New York, to the arrival of the LDS pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Valley.  To make transportation of the panorama easier, the scenes were attached in sequence as a continuous scroll on a roller, and the artist and panorama toured in Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, and Utah (1869-1890).

The pioneer experience was a favorite theme of Christensen's in smaller works as well.  Typical are two paintings from the 1890s: Handcart Pioneer's First View of Salt Lake Valley (1890, SMA) and Winter Quarters (1891, SMA).

"C. C. A.," as he was called by historians in his later life and after his death, was one of the first artists employed to paint scenery for the Salt Lake Theater.  He also worked on decoration for the St. George, Manti, and Logan LDS temples.

Christensen's work has a naive, or primitive, quality that stems from his simple treatment of anatomy and perspective, which he learned during his early artistic training in Denmark.  A genre artist by nature, his paintings, or scenes from daily life, reflect great narrative skill that earns him respect as a visual historian of his people.

Information courtesy of the Springville Museum of Art

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