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They had an idea for an exhibit -- so they learned to paint
David Stroup  -  01/06/04
Sara Schnelle and April Younglove
MARYLHURST — A year and a half ago, Sara Schnelle and April Younglove made a commitment to open a show of their paintings this month at Marylhurst University’s Streff Gallery.

It was a pretty bold move — considering that they didn’t have any paintings and weren’t, as a point of fact, painters.

What they did have was an idea. According to Schnelle, she and Younglove, both Marylhurst alums, were talking in the college’s Shoen Library, where the Streff Gallery is located, when a bizarre inspiration struck.

“We both almost simultaneously spoke about an idea we had — [the Virgin] Mary giving birth — as a focus for a painting,” Schnelle recalled. They researched the idea and, according to Younglove, “We were astonished, because it hadn’t been done.”

Well, it has now.

“The Crowning,” painted by Schnelle, joins iconic paintings by Younglove — all created on a heroic scale — for “Women to Look Up To,” their January exhibit in the Streff Gallery. Since they committed to the show, they’ve learned how to paint, made their own art supplies — and even moved in together in a rented house, chosen because it provided them with studio space.

So how did they stay focused on their goal?

“We had a deadline looming,” Younglove said. “If we didn’t have any work to show, that’s be pretty disappointing.”

* * *

After they committed to the show, Schnelle and Younglove’s first step was to learn to paint.

“We didn’t know how to paint when we came up with the idea,” Schnelle admitted.

“I had an art-history minor,” Younglove said. “Sara had a cultural-studies major, but she hadn’t done any art.” (“Except for crayons!” Schnelle added.)

So the two signed up for painting and iconography classes. The artistic style of religious icons — a staple of the Orthodox church — inspires the paintings that the two ultimately produced.

“We learned how to build our own frames and canvasses to save money,” Schnelle said. They also built their own because frames weren’t available in the titanic sizes and proportions they wanted.

Their dedication to the project — and the striking results that gradually emerged — started to draw attention. “It really bolstered our confidence,” Schnelle said. “I’d be painting — or April would be working on a painting, on one of her smaller pieces — and someone from the administration would walk by and say, ‘Can I show this?’” In fact, two more exhibitions are already in the works.

* * *

“Women to Look Up To” isn’t necessarily an easy show to mount or watch. For one thing, you have to kneel at an altar to get a good look at the gargantuan canvasses.

“[The show’s] an installation of the paintings and the altars,” Schnelle said. “They’ll be about two feet tall — kneeling height — so you’ll have to interact.”

They’re hoping people will kneel at the altars and experience the large paintings that way: “You’ll look up to them — they’ll be big paintings,” Younglove said. “We made them large to reference historical paintings.”

According to Schnelle, “It’s our hope to bring together feminism and Christianity — which have often been at odds.”

The show’s four acrylic and gold-leaf paintings use Biblical themes to reference key passages in a woman’s life. There’s “The Crowning” — the painting of Mary giving birth that inspired the show — as well as a painting of Eve that Younglove said “is about the death of a family member, which is often a woman’s domain — to pick up the pieces.” Another painting deals with the voice of the female lover in the Song of Solomon.

The altars are a key part of the installation: According to Schnelle, “They’ll have items that will remind you of what’s happening in the picture and link it to modern life.” Those items include Christmas and Birthday cards and lights, holly and trappings of modern life. Then, Younglove said, “You look at this ancient expression — and you think, ‘There’s a connection.’”

* * *

A year and a half on the project has brought the two of them together as friends — and given them a house scattered with rough drafts and studies for the finished exhibit.

“We’ve been talking and talking about it to everyone we know,” Younglove said. “Now’s the time to put up the proof!”

“I look at the paintings, and I don’t know how I painted them,” Schnelle said. “I’m just amazed.”

An “Artists’ Reception” for “Women to Look Up To: Honoring the Feminist Saints” — featuring acrylic and gold-leaf paintings by Marylhurst alums Sara Schnelle and April Younglove — will be held Thursday, January 16 at 6 p.m. in the Streff Gallery in the Shoen Library at Marylhurst University, 17600 Pacific Highway (Hwy. 43), Marylhurst. The exhibit continues through Jan. 30. For more information e-mail
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