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Mormon artist’s portraits depict the ‘Forgotten Wives’ of Joseph Smith

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Posted at 6:29 PM, Aug 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-26 20:29:47-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Using bright colors and with a paint brush in hand, Leslie Olpin Peterson taps into the personalities of the women she says have been whitewashed in history.

“I just really felt a desire to learn about these women, and once I started hearing these stories I realized how incredible they are,” Peterson said.

Peterson is a fifth generation member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Growing up in the church, I had just heard stories of Joseph and Emma," Peterson said.

But when the LDS Church released official documents last October relating to Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy, Peterson was angry she hadn't heard of the other 33 wives before. That's when she started the "Forgotten Wives" project.

“I felt like I was on a mission to get this project done,” Peterson said.

For months, Peterson researched the prophet’s wives and became consumed with painting each portrait.

“What I would do is put their original picture in front of me if there was one, a lot of them don't have any pictures, and I would paint something from that picture--maybe the bonnets and glasses,” Peterson said.

The project gained popularity.

“As soon as I saw what she was doing I said, 'You have to get this out there' because this is one of the most incredible projects I’d seen,” said Colleen Reynolds, who is an artist and President of the Utah Watercolor Society.

“It's our history, we have to deal with it: Why not just embrace it for what it is?” Peterson said.

Peterson has sold hundreds of copies of her paintings, which area available through her Etsy listings.