“My Hands in Thine,” Ensign, Sept. 1996, 68
After Laurie Whitehead lost everything she owned in a 1978 fire, she asked herself, “Am I doing what the Lord wants me to do?” After much prayer and thought, this divorced mother of five grown children decided to leave her job to paint full-time. Convinced that it is never too late to develop a talent, she dedicated her efforts to the Lord, saying, “My hands in thine, Lord. It all comes from thee.”
Unlike most freelance artists, Sister Whitehead was soon able to support herself through her art. After only six years, she was recognized by the International Art Appraisers as a master fine artist. However, in 1987 a tremor in her left hand caused by brain damage from an earlier case of meningitis progressed to her right hand, leaving her unable to paint. Surgeons finally had to perform brain surgery, which wiped out Sister Whitehead’s motor-system memory and forced her to relearn everything. “During the period I was totally incapacitated,” she says, “my creativity was greatly expanded. I truly feel God just wasn’t finished with me yet.”
In 1990 Sister Whitehead, who was not yet a member of the Church, received a commission to honor the 500-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World. As she researched in Spain, she realized that Columbus had acted under direct inspiration from God.
In January 1995 Sister Whitehead had to undergo another surgery to correct problems arising from an earlier bout with cancer. Her recovery was more difficult than anticipated, so her good friend—who was also the mayor of Sister Whitehead’s town of residence, Friendswood, Texas—called the Latter-day Saints to ask if they could help until family members arrived. Sister Whitehead was so overwhelmed by the spirit of the Relief Society sisters that she knew she wanted to take part. She was baptized in April 1995 and received her endowments in the Dallas Texas Temple a year later.
Sister Whitehead is particularly well known for her painting honoring those who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion, the proceeds from which she donated to the Challenger Center scholarship fund. She has demonstrated art and art techniques to more than 54,000 Texas schoolchildren, and she made children the central theme of a painting she did for the Texas state sesquicentennial. She has also completed paintings commemorating 200 years of manned flight in America, honoring nurses worldwide, and welcoming home Gulf War troops on behalf of the state of Texas. She is currently working on a painting honoring the 1847 arrival of the pioneers for Utah’s sesquicentennial next year.—Marta Maxwell Bourgeois, Friendswood, Texas