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David Whitmer Photograph Retouched and Colorized

I have been pleasantly surprised at the great reception shown for the retouching and colorizing work I did on the daguerreotype that is thought to be Oliver Cowdery. Many kind people sent their compliments. The Church News chose to run a story on the piece and I conversed briefly with R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer, about the project for that story. It has since been re-published in the Deseret News and on, which is a great honor, and I am thrilled that it has perhaps given Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture greater exposure.

One of the questions Scott asked me was if I had begun working on any other portraits from church history. While I was working on the Cowdery project, I had briefly glanced at some other photos, but when Scott asked the question I decided to research it more and seriously consider doing the same type of work to photos of all of the Three Witnesses, these being some of the founding figures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This, I thought, might help make these early persons of the Restoration just a bit more real and tangible to us in the present day.

I found four photos of David Whitmer and one of Martin Harris. Since there were more photos available of Whitmer than Harris, I decided to try Whitmer next.1 The photo where Whitmer appears the youngest, to me, is a joint photo with John Whitmer, his brother. This photo, I believe, is owned by the Community of Christ, and is said to be taken circa 1870.2 I could not find a high resolution image of this photo online and I did not seek access to it.

A second photo, this one taken by R. B. Rice in 1864, is a full body shot. Here Whitmer appears a bit older at 59 years, with graying hair, but again I could find no high resolution version.

The third photo I found is of Whitmer late in life, perhaps just a few years prior to his passing in 1888, taken by Jacob T. Hicks.3 This photo was high resolution, but was overexposed such that a lot of detail in Whitmer’s face is washed out.

The fourth photo I came to is perhaps the most famous of David Whitmer. I do not know the date of this photo, but it appears it was also taken by Jacob T. Hicks. This photo seems to have been the basis for a number of drawings, engravings, and paintings of Whitmer, including one of the most well-known portraits by artist Lewis A. Ramsey.4 The photo appears to have the most detail of the four, and was available in good resolution, so this is the photo that I chose to retouch and colorize. Here David Whitmer appears to be in his 60s or 70s (placing the date between 1865-85), and wears clothing similar to the figure in the Oliver Cowdery daguerreotype: a large silken bow tie, and a two-tone collar suit. His suit also appears to have a very large and visible weave.

David Whitmer, photo by Jacob T. Hicks. Original photograph. Clay County Museum, Liberty, Missouri. (Click to enlarge)

David Whitmer, photo by Jacob T. Hicks. Original photograph. Clay County Museum, Liberty, Missouri. (Click to enlarge)

I used much the same process on this photo as I did on the Cowdery daguerreotype. First I cleaned up the photo, removing marks and other debris. Fortunately, this photo is in much better condition than the Cowdery daguerreotype was, so that process progressed much quicker. Then I proceeded to colorization, which proved to be more difficult this time. The only color painting of this photo I could find was that from Lewis A. Ramsey. This painting does not match up perfectly with the photo, as it was likely painted after the photo by sight only. Also, it may have a rich color gamut in the original, but in the digital reproductions available online it is skewed quite yellow, rendering its color offering for this project less viable. So I decided to try my hand at coloring the image myself. I was pleased with the result.

David Whitmer, photo by Jacob T. Hicks. Retouched & Colorized by Bryce M. Haymond.

David Whitmer, photo by Jacob T. Hicks. Retouched & Colorized by Bryce M. Haymond. Here is an uncompressed TIFF version. (Click to enlarge)

This, perhaps, helps bring David Whitmer a bit better into focus, and sharpen our view of the man that, although he left the church in 1838 and was opposed to the Church for the remainder of his life, he never denied his testimony and witness of the Book of Mormon, but reaffirmed it many times. In 1881, nearing the end of his life, he wrote A Proclamation, stating emphatically:

Unto all Nations, Kindred Tongues and People, unto whom these presents shall come:

It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell County, Mo., that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the BOOK OF MORMON.

To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement:

That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that Book, as one of the three witnesses.

Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony.

And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all of my statements, as then made and published.

He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; it was no delusion!5

Again, just one year prior to his death, he dictated,

A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon. I am now passed eighty-two years old, and I have a brother, J. J. Snyder, to do my writing for me, at my dictation. [Signed] David Whitmer.6

David Whitmer was born in 1805, just eleven months before Joseph Smith, Jr., and died on January 25, 1888, at the age of eighty-three.

Update 3/30/13: I contacted Carma de Jong Anderson (wife of Richard Lloyd Anderson who wrote the classic study Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses), who is regarded as an expert in historic clothing. She has worked for the church’s Historical Department and Museum of Church History and Art, and taught an early Mormon clothing class at BYU for nine years. She graciously offered some great suggestions to make the Whitmer retouch even better. I have incorporated these suggestions into the revised image above, including making the coat closer to a skipper blue, the vest a different olive gold color with a hint of rust, and adding a subtle check to the vest (which I had not noticed before in the original). I also removed a little color from David’s face, being that he was a touch too rosy before.

  1. David Whitmer lived 13 years longer than Martin Harris, and 38 years longer than Oliver Cowdery, which helps explain why there are more photos of him than the other two. The only photo of Martin Harris I’ve found so far is one where he appears elderly, sitting on a chair with a cane. This is in the possession of the LDS Church. See, and In order to do the same retouch work to this photo of Martin Harris, I’ll need to gain access to a higher quality copy of it. A digitization of the Church’s copy is currently in progress. 
  2. If taken in 1870, this photo would place David at about age 65, and he looks younger than that, to me, and younger than any of the other photos of him, with color in his hair, and less wrinkles on his face. I do not know the provenance of this photo, but the photo appears to held in the Community of Christ archives. 
  3. This photograph, and the next, are both housed at the Clay County Museum, in Liberty, Missouri, and part of the Jacob T. Hicks collection: As noted at this link, Hicks may have pioneered some of the first photographic negative techniques, namely the “wet plate” type, the negative being made on glass. The museum holds some 400 of these glass negatives by Hicks. A photo of Jacob Hicks, perhaps a self portrait, is available here:
  4. Patrick Bishop reports that Lewis A. Ramsey produced a number of such artwork, fourteen of which were hanging in the Salt Lake Temple at the time of Ramsey’s passing in 1941. Bishop notes that the Church commissioned Ramsey to paint the Three Witnesses, of which this is likely the painting of Whitmer. Patrick A. Bishop, “Images of Oliver,” in Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, ed. Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 123–43. 
  5. Richmond (Missouri) Conservator, March 24, 1881; Hamiltonian (Missouri) Newspaper, April 8, 1881; Saints’ Herald, June 1, 1881, vol. 28, 168; David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, 1887, 8-10; LDS Church Archives; Ebbie Richardson, “David Whitmer,” M.A. Thesis, BYU, 1952, 178-180; “David Whitmer: The Independent Missouri Businessman,” Improvement Era, vol. 72, April 1969, 79; Lyndon W. Cook, 79-80; Dan Vogel, ed., Early Morning Documents (Signature Books: 2003), vol. 5, 68-71. 
  6. Letter of David Whitmer to Anthony Metcalf, Mar. 1887, cit. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Ida., 1888), 74; quoted in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Deseret Book: 1981), 86. 

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