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Study of "Lehi in the Wilderness Discovers the Liahona"

TitleStudy of "Lehi in the Wilderness Discovers the Liahona"
Publication TypeArtwork
Year of PublicationNot Available
AuthorsFriberg, Arnold
KeywordsLehi (Prophet); Liahona; Wilderness

Graphite on Paper

22 3⁄4 x 31 1⁄2 in.

1 Nephi 16:10 Signed “A. Friberg”

Perhaps the most memorable work of Friberg’s Book of Mormon paintings, Lehi in the Wilderness Discovers the Liahona, is familiar to nearly all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For some, its familiarity may undercut the inventiveness and originality of Friberg’s work, which—as was true for all his Book of Mormon paintings— was the result of many studies detailing every aspect of the painting.

As shared by Dr. Vern Swanson, Friberg struggled to determine even minute aspects of the work. In the artist’s words:

You have to decide if [the Liahona] is going to be this big. Now I don’t know any more than [the next guy]. But, I have to paint something.

Although, the Liahona takes up a small amount of space within the image, it is the focus of the entire composition. To accomplish this sense of focus, Friberg both directs the actual gazes of all the figures in the work towards the Liahona, and, employing his classical training, uses the Golden Mean, a mathematical equation found in nature and used by artists since antiquity, to naturally draw the viewer’s gaze.

In addition to his well thought out compositional plan, Friberg did separate portrait studies of each individual. Friberg used models encountered in his various social circles, including friends, family, his home teachers, and actors working on the set of The Ten Commandments (1956), where he was employed by director Cecile B. DeMille to help with the conceptualization of sets and costumes.

After arriving at his desired result in a separate portrait, each character in Friberg’s paintings remains consistent throughout Friberg’s subsequent oeuvre.

In the Book of Mormon, both the Liahona itself and the symbol of the Liahona serves as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his covenant people. After it was found by Lehi (1 Nephi 16), Nephi describes its workings:

28 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.

29 And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.

The Liahona was instrumental in helping Lehi and his family find food, receiving directions in the wilderness, and guiding their ship towards the Promised Land. Several generations later, the prophet Alma describes the Liahona in symbolic terms:

45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. (Alma 37:45) 

Scripture Reference

1 Nephi 16:9-10
1 Nephi 16:26-30