The Touching Story of the Sculpture at the Provo City Center Temple
Most people who have seen any pictures of the new Provo City Center Temple, like the feature temple photo “Families Are Forever” by Alan Fullmer, will also recognize the sculpture on the temple grounds to the north. It is a statue of a child walking from her mother to her father. While the sculpture itself is beautiful and touching, it also represents more. It embodies what temples stand for, as well as the Plan of Salvation and why we are here on earth.
This sculpture has a story. This is it:
In July of 1976, Teri & Keith Wilson welcomed a beautiful baby girl into their family. They named her Melissa.
In September of the same year, a member of their ward and artist, Dennis Smith, was put in charge of creating a statue for the church. It was meant to be a tribute to womanhood. Teri and Keith were asked by Dennis if they could model for him, as well as Melissa when she started walking. Dennis was hoping that by the time he was finished with Teri and Keith, Melissa would be about the age to start walking. So they went to work, modeling nearly every day as Dennis worked on a hand, arm, or hair.
However, everything changed on January 10th. The Wilsons had to take Melissa to the doctor because she had not been acting quite normal. The doctor gave them the devastating news – Melissa had Cerebral Palsy and would never walk. Although they were devastated, the Wilsons spent all their time helping and working with Melissa in the hopes to improve her life. They no longer even thought about the statue. After all – Dennis needed a little girl who could walk.
At the time, Dennis said:
Needless to say, I felt very awkward about the sculpture we had been working on together. Up to this time, I had been mulling over a title for the sculpture, though I had not said anything to them about it. I had wanted to call it, “Melissa Walks.” But suddenly that image was filled with painful irony.
But come April of that same year, Dennis was ready to finish the sculpture. So he approached the Wilsons again, and asked them if they could model again. He said, “When it came time to work on the large sculpture, I had them come to the studio and bring Melissa with them. By this time, she had been outfitted with body braces just to hold her up her head… I knew the Relief Society would want a more universal title for the sculpture, and it became known as ‘In The Family Circle.’”
At the age of 19, on October 19, 1995, sweet Melissa returned to her Father in Heaven. A couple months later, Dennis visited the Wilson home and presented them with a gift – a small casing of the sculpture. The Church had previously asked him to create a small-scale replica of the original sculpture, to give to President Jimmy Carter. But Dennis requested that they instead create three castings. One was given to President Carter. One he kept. And the third he gave to the Wilsons. Once he gave them the small sculpture, he finally told the world the story behind the name. But he also said, “I told Keith and Teri, for me it would always be ‘Melissa Walks.’”
As the years have gone by, this statue has also been placed in many locations around the world – Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Nauvoo, and other nations like Spain and Germany. Over time, of course, it has received a few small changes to its design. But most of us recognize the most recent edition, which is placed on the grounds of the Provo City Center Utah Temple.
This sculpture and its story is the embodiment of the Plan of Salvation and the temples. This is why Jesus Christ came to earth. It is a story of hope, love and how families can be together for eternity. And Melissa’s story continues. She will walk again.
Provo City Center Temple Video
The short video below shows the “Melissa Walks” sculpture a number of times: