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Thanksgiving Point begins construction of Tree of Life project

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Brynn Carnesecca | Touriddu

Since opening the Light of the World exhibit at Thanksgiving Point, the Ashton Gardens have become a spiritual space for many Utahns. With over 15 scenes and 35 larger-than-life statues, the garden caters to the prominent Christian presence in Lehi and the state.

Thanksgiving Point plans to expand the gardens with yet another religiously focused exhibit, this time featuring the Tree of Life vision from the Book of Mormon, found in 1 Nephi: 8-11. For many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the vision is a prominent (yet abstract) passage of scripture. The new exhibit aims to bridge the gap between the abstract and the spiritual, creating an immersive experience all families and ages can enjoy.

The project began a few years ago with Angela Johnson, the sculptor and artist behind the Light of the World garden. Johnson's goal is to bring to life the story in the Book of Mormon that many members of the Church have studied and loved. When Johnson presented the idea to Thanksgiving Point, the team was excited to work with her again. “We really like her work,” said McKay Christensen, CEO of Thanksgiving Point. “(Angela) is exceptional at what she does. Everything started with her creativity and her mind several years ago.”

Sandy and Brett Folkman are tasked with bringing Johnson's ideas to life. After a personal commission with Johnson, the Folkman family was drawn to the project. The Folkman's daughter, Brooke, passed away a few years ago. To honor Brooke's life and relationship with Jesus Christ, the Folkmansreached out to Johnson, who sculpted a beautiful angelic version of Brooke. Brooke's statue, “The Statue of Hope,” inspired the Folkmans to become chairs of the Tree of Live Vision Foundation.

Additionally, Johnson will be aided by a team of landscape design experts, construction professionals and talented sculptors. “Angela has put a lot of time, effort and focus into refining her vision for the project,” said Christensen. “I'm impressed by how she makes the abstract come to life in real ways.” The project has a finalized design, and groundwork and pouring of the foundation will begin in two weeks.

The display will be located at the South end of the garden near the Light of the World exhibit. “The exhibit will bring a great sense of religious feeling and perspective. It will complementour current Light of the World display,” shared Christensen.

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The Tree of Life exhibit will triple the size of the Light of the World display. Over 100 bronze statues are planned to representthe Plan of Salvation. “This effort that Angela and her team have undertaken to bring this to life is a Herculean effort,” Christensen commented.

Throughout the display, Johnson's goal is for each statue to stand independently and communicate something to the viewer. “Much of what Angela is assembling is telling a story,” said Christensen. “There is real depth behind what she has envisioned. She tells stories of kindness, forgiveness, redemption, fellowship and friendship.” Johnson echoed these sentiments in an interview with ABC4 News, “This is to recreate that connection and that open discussion and that bond of love,” Johnson said. “Which, in the end, is more powerful than the pain. Pain terrifies us, but love heals us. That is the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ.”

The Light of the World garden features scenes strictly from the Bible, but the Tree of Life will include figures from the Bible, Book of Mormon and Church history. The display will feature sculptures of Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, Nephi, King Herod, Captain Moroni and many other religious figures. “This is going to be something unique. There are not many gardens in the world that would have a collection of statues like this or the number,” said Christensen. “It really will be a remarkable draw to Lehi. People from all over the world will come to Lehi to see this exhibit. Once people see its magnitude and power, it will be one of the things that people come to our city to visit. Over time, this exhibit will define Ashton Gardens and Lehi City.

Johnson and her team hope to finish the project near the end of 2024. Admission to the display is included in the ticket price to Ashton Garden or Thanksgiving Point membership. For more information about the project or to donate, visit www.treeoflifevision.org

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