Artist Name

birth8/9/1877 in Salt Lake City, UTPicture of Mahonri Young
death11/2/1957 in Norwalk, CT
parentsMahonri Moriancumer and Agnes Mackintosh Young
educationApprenticed with James T. Harwood
Art Students League of New York (1899-1901) Académie Julian, Paris (1905)

Mahonri Mackintosh Young was born in Salt Lake City to Mahonri Moriancumer Young and Agnes Mackintosh Young. He was taken to be blessed by his grandfather Brigham Young, then the President of the Church of Latter Day Saints just twenty days before the church leader's and former governor's death.

Mahonri's first home was the Deseret Woolen Mills, also called "the Factory" due to its location in the midst of a carpentry, a barn, and a wool mill. Mahonri's father played a big role in his life and the two were very close. Mahonri's interest in art was probably awakened by his father who would carve little toys and guns for his son to keep his son in good spirits during a prolonged sickness. He also steered him towards clay modeling rather than wood carving to keep him safe. Unfortunately Mahonri's father died when the boy was just six years old. The family eventually had to move into a small cottage in Salt Lake City and Mahonri attended school for the first time in his life.

He was not a good student but he loved to learn about art and often borrowed books and magazines from his aunt and uncle's library. He also did a lot of whittling, turning scrap wood into toy guns. When he was eleven years old his mother gave him a wood carving kit, undoubtedly with many motherly admonitions to be careful. He used an old fence post and the carving kit to create his first serious carving, a four-inch bas relief of Julius Caesar. A traveling book salesman saw the piece and declared the boy "a genius," a term the family picked up and used for a while to refer to Mahonri.

Rather than attending high school, Young chose to pursue an artistic education under local artist James T. Harwood. He saved the money earned as a Salt Lake Tribune engraver to attend the Art Students League of New York between 1899 and 1901. There he was one of the top students in his class but had to return home for financial reasons. Working for the Salt Lake Herald, Young saved enough money to travel to Paris, France where he studied at the Académie Julian. It was in France that he decided to focus on sculpture, although his watercolor paintings were also critically acclaimed.

In 1905 he finally felt ready to begin his professional career. His finances were tenous because he still carried the debtload from his studies in France. He also needed money so he could get married and support a family. He could not meet all obligations while struggling in New York so he returned to Utah. His first commission was The Dairy Maid, a sculpture made from butter and displayed at the Utah State Fair.

In 1907, Young married Cecilia Sharp. They had two children, in 1908, a daughter, Agnes Mackintosh, and later, in 1911, a son, Mahonri Sharp (Bill). The Young family moved to New York in 1910 and his career finally took off. He worked on two major commissions, the Sea Gull Monument (1913) and a series of dioramas of the Hopi, Navajo, and Apache Indians for the American Museum of Natural History. Young's close relationship with Julian Alden Weir goes back to this time.

In a cruel twist of fate, Cecilia died of cancer in 1917, depriving another Young child of a parent at the age of six. Young threw himself into work even more and moved the family to Paris in 1925. By then, he was able to support himself and his children from his art. The Youngs stayed in Europe for almost three years.

Once back in the United States, Young met Dorothy Weir, the daughter of his old friend Julian Alden Weir. They fell in love, were married 17 February 1931 and spent their honeymoon in Europe, traveling and sketching. The marriage was a happy one. In a letter to his Latter-day Saint friend Jack Sears, dated 17 February 1937, Mahonri wrote: "Today is the sixth anniversary of our wedding. It seems but a month or so." The following years were very productive and Young undertook his biggest commission. In 1939, he was awarded a long-awaited commission from the Mormon Church and the State of Utah for a monument commemorating Utah's early history. The monument he created, entitled This is the Place, derives its name from the words Brigham Young said on entering Emigration Canyon, near Salt Lake City. Mahonri Young did all the work on the sculptures in his Weir Farm studio with the help of one assistant, Spero Anargyros. Although he considered the monument his crowning achievement, it was not accomplished without frustrations: his relationship with members of the monument commission was cantankerous; World War II made travel and working conditions difficult; and he was afraid his creative powers were waning. In the end, he had to fight to be paid. Nevertheless, at the dedication on July 24, 1947, he made the simple, poignant statement:

"Next month, come the ninth of August, I will be 70 years old. This is the greatest day of my life."

Yet again a periof of great professional success was capped by personal tragedy: just one month before his professional triumph Young's second wife Dorothy died of cancer on 23 June 1947.

At the time of Dorothy's death Young was also starting to feel his age. He was now 70 years old but still working. Even though he tended to get very tired at the end of the work day he undertook a final capstone commission for the Latter Day Saints Church to create a statue of his grandfather, Brigham Young. The statue was unveiled in 1950 and not too soon either. Young's health started declining in 1951 and he had to take it easy and significantly reduce his time in the studio.

Young died in Norwalk, Connecticut, 2 November 1957, at the age of eighty. His papers were left to Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City. His estate included 320 sculptures and thousands of paintings and sketches.

Young's most famous sculptures are The Sea Gull Monument (1913) and the This is the Place monument (1947), both in Salt Lake City, and the Brigham Young statue (1950), in the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC. He also created the Native American statues for the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a series of bronze sculptures of boxers which brought him international fame. A recurring subject in his sculpture was the industrial worker or laborer. He frequently created sculptures of working people with titles like "Factory Worker" or "Farm Worker." His Riggers and Riveters medal for the Society of Medalists (1941) fits into this part of his artistic life and picks up on a ideas he already used in an earlier sculpture called The Rigger.

Sourced mainly from Wikipedia, National Park Service, and LDS Ensign article by Thomas Toone.

You can click on the medals to see the reverse.

    International Philatelic Exhibition New York 1936
    by Mahonri Young

    This uniface medal's obverse bears a horse in full gallop with rider bent over horse's neck and whip in hand. An Art Deco sun on the horizon on the left. Above, INTERNATIONAL PHILATELIC EXHIBITION / NEW YORK - 1936; signed near sun, MAHONRI. In empty field below, AWARDED TO.

    The bottom edge is marked MEDALLIC ART CO NY for the bronze medal and MEDALLIC ART CO NY - FINE GOLD for the medal of unknown composition.

    The medal was produced in both bronze and silver. Silver copies are held by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the American Numismatic Society (1936.130.1). The medals were awarded to exhibitors.

    This medal measures 84mm x 55mm and was produced by the Medallic Art Company of New York in both bronze and silver. The mintage is not known.

  • Riggers and Riveters 1944
    by Mahonri Young
    Deep brown patina

    This medal was chosen as the 30th issue of the prestigious Society of Medalists series in 1944. The obverse bears "High Iron" workers on a steel beam dangling from a crane. To left, RIGGERS; on steel beam circled MY monogram. The reverse bears two steel workers riveting a vertical beam while a third heats the rivets. Below, RIVETERS, signed MAHONRI YOUNG / ©. Young had been sketching and modeling laborers and workers since his early days in Paris. The unsentimental depiction of manual labor was one of his passions, so it should not have surprised anyone that he chose constructions workers as the subject of his Society of Medalists contribution. He modeled no fewer than three designs for selection by the committee.He had observed the transformation of New York from old brownstone houses to skyscrapers when he lived in New York City in 1912.

    This medal measures 73mm in diameter and was produced by the Medallic Art Company of New York. Its reported production quantity is 713 pieces in bronze.

    73.0mm (2.87in)
    Deep brown patina
    73.0mm (2.87in)
    Golden bronze with graphite brown patina
    73.0mm (2.87in)
    Clear light brown patina
    73.0mm (2.87in)
  • Seagull Monument (1913)

    Seagull Monument (1913)

    In 1848 the Mormon pioneers planted crops for their first spring season in Utah. As the crops ripened, Mormon crickets descended upon the farms from the foothills east of the valley. The insects consumed entire fields. According to traditional account, the harvest was saved by flocks of native seagulls which devoured the crickets. This event, popularly called the "Miracle of the Gulls," is remembered by Latter-day Saints as a miracle. The incident is somewhat controversial in nature with some historians questioning the credibility of the account.

    To celebrate the role seagulls played in the pioneer's first year in Utah, the LDS Church erected Seagull Monument on their Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. The monument is crowned by a bronze statue of two insect-devouring seagulls modeled by Young. It was dedicated October 1, 1913 by LDS Church president Joseph F. Smith. The Seagull Monument is believed to be the first monument dedicated to birds.

    A larger version of this image can be found here.

  • The Rigger (1950)

    The Rigger (1917)

    The rigger is poised on a girder, holding block and tackle in one hand, waiting to make it fast to another girder.

    Young picked up on this subject again almost thirty years later when he created his "Riggers and Riveters" design for the 30th Society of Medalists issue in 1944.

    This sculpture is an example of Young's unsentimental sculpture about workers and laborers.

    Copies of this sculpture can be found at the Detroit Museum of Art and Brookgreen Gardens. The image is courtesy of the museum.

  • This is the Place (1947)

    This is the Place (1947)

    "This is the Place" is reported to have been uttered by Brigham Young at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, declaring that the Latter-day Saint Pioneers should settle right there.

    Mahonri Young, Brigham Young's grandson, spent a significant portion of his career (8 years) on this commission. He attempted to get every historical detail, down to the buttons used by the early settlers, correct. Upon the monument's dedication he said simply: "This is the greatest day of my life."

    A larger version of this image can be found here.

  • Brigham Young (1950)

    Brigham Young (1950)

    Brigham Young (1801-1877), Mahonri Young's grandfather, was an American leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and a settler of the Western United States. He was the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1847 until his death in 1877, founded Salt Lake City, and served as the first governor of the Utah Territory. Young also led the foundings of the precursors to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.

    This monument was one of the last major commissions Mahonri Young completed. His health started declining in 1951 and he was not able to work the hours required for major pieces anymore.

    A larger version of this image can be found here.

Contact me if you have links that might merit inclusion on this page.

Books & Articles

American Art Medals, 1909-1995 by David Thomason Alexander
David T. Alexander's book can be purchased at the above link. Highly recommended for anyone interested in SOM. I am deeply indebted to him for all the information I used to document the SOM medals on this site.
Mahonri Young: His Life and Art
A great biography by Thomas Toone, professor at Utah State. Hard-cover, 206 pages, published in 1997.
A Song of Joys: The Biography of Mahonri Mackintosh Young, Sculptor, Painter, Etcher
A biography by Norma S. Davis. Hard-cover, 305 pages, published in 1999.

Research Archives and Websites

Brigham Young University, Salt Lake City, UT
The research library holds 79 boxes of Mahonri Young's correspondence, sketchbooks, research files, autobiographical files, scrapbooks, and news clippings. Also includes diaries, address and memorandum books, and financial records.
Ensign, October 1985
A great biography by Thomas Toone in Ensign, one of the LDS-published magazines.
Mahonri Young - Weir Farm National Historic Site
A site by the U.S. Park Service.