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Interview: Theresa Schneveis

Bluebird Facepaint

Theresa Schneveis came to the Bluebird Festival on May 20th to run the art booth!  She also shared her beautiful ceramic sculptures along with her traditional artwork.  Theresa was one of Sherry’s nieces, and experienced her battle with cancer first hand.  She is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Broad Area Arts major, and took some time to talk to us about art, the importance of community, and Sherry.

Growing up in Medford, Wisconsin, Theresa and her two sisters were surrounded by pets ranging from fish to cats, and even a mink!   “We grew up right outside of the city limits, so we had 30-some acres to run around on and play,” she explained, “but we could easily walk to town.”  As for school, “I enjoyed high school most of all because I could have more art classes and participate in school activities like float building and wall decorating for Homecoming.”  Her family also encouraged getting involved, so Theresa volunteered through church at Vacation Bible School, pancake breakfasts, and various festivals.

Theresa noted that she had always been interested in art, and drew her first picture at one and a half years old.  “Mom always supplied us with paper, pencils, paints, and fun craft ideas. We have many pictures of my sister and I covered head to toe in paint.”  She was encouraged by her aunts, uncles, and her grandma to continue to create.  Many of them would sit down and draw or color with her, and liked to make silly cartoons or doodles in her birthday cards.  “One of my aunts told me to go to school for art because I shouldn’t put such a good thing to waste.”  When asked about artistic role models, Theresa mentioned her aunts and uncles.  “I always wanted to draw like them and come up with cute doodles too!”  Currently, her favorite medium is a tie between ceramics and painting, but she chose ceramics as a focus in her degree.

The Art Table

At the Bluebird Festival, Theresa brought her own coloring sheets to hand out to the children attending.  She believes in the importance of bringing art the community.  “Who says you need to be gifted to do it?  It’s a fun, colorful, happy thing that everybody can jump in on.  There are so many ways to create art, with so many different materials. It’s extremely versatile.”

“Have you ever looked at a painting and thought nothing at all? When you look at artwork you immediately start thinking ‘what is this about?  What does this mean?  How do I feel about this? Do I like it? How did they do it?’ Your brain starts analyzing it, and even if it’s for a few short minutes, it still triggered some sort of thought.”

“When you introduce art into a community, it not only brightens it up, but creates culture. Many people have seen great works of art by Picasso, Dali, Renoir, Monet, etc.  Some people that created such great works of art lived before North America was settled.  The artwork of a country creates a culture, a history, and is the work of that civilization. It’s extremely important to have artwork in a community, because it creates culture and helps define the people that live in the area. Have you ever went to another country and saw huge murals on walls? Maybe even graffiti? That artwork makes up that place.  Regular people from the community created it, not some man hired to paint exactly what someone tells him. Art comes from the heart and the mind. Communities need artwork because it shows people not only what that community is capable of, but what it feels. Plus, they can say, ‘hey, look what I did, look what I created!’ It’s like giving back to the community.”

Art Board

Art and nature were two things important to Sherry Ross, and we asked Theresa why she thought she valued them so highly.  “Art and nature go hand in hand, and they just make everything seem okay.  If I’m having a rough time with something, if I just go outside and explore.  My mind is instantly at ease. How can you not be in constant wonderment when you look at all the different shades of green in the trees, flowers in the field, or animals all around that all work together to keep an ecosystem thriving?  There is so much artwork of just nature. So many people are inspired by nature, and so many are inspired by artwork. Now, artwork that is of nature?  Twice the amount of inspiration right there!”

“Art definitely heals, just like nature. Have you ever heard of art being used as therapy? Well, it exists and works. Art makes you think of other things, it takes you to a happy place, like nature. When you’re creating art, sometimes you’re not really thinking at all. Sometimes I find myself in such a zoned out state, the only explanation for my art I can come up with is, ‘uhhh…I got it from my subconscious mind?’ So, I guess my Aunt Sherry thought art and nature was relaxing and healing as well. I don’t know how anybody can disagree with that.”

Theresa also explained how her life changed after Sherry’s death.  “She was my Godmother and was there for many events in my life. So, I was pretty close with her. When she died it was so unbelievable. She was so young and full of life; it was hard to believe that she could just be gone, all of her, gone. She was so creative and had so many ideas. She was always starting something new. A couple weeks before she died she called my mom telling her about a gift wrapping station she created using wood poles with the wrapping paper mounted on them hanging from the wall. I was lucky to see it before she died, and that was the last project she completed, I think.”

“It’s extremely hard to see three young girls go through life without a mother.  My family and other aunts try to spend as much time with them as possible just so they have a woman’s influence in their lives. There was nobody there to show them how to put makeup on or how to sew, which Sherry loved and was amazing at.  There’s nobody that’s there to immediately answer questions any young girl growing up would ask.  Don’t get me wrong, Rick is an amazing father, but everybody needs a mother. These three girls are closer than any cousin I have.  I consider them my second set of sisters and love them just like my own.  It’s also hard because ever since I showed an interest in art, Aunt Sherry would encourage me with birthday presents of art supplies, craft materials, etc.  It’s hard for her to not be here and see in person all of the things I have created and the person that I am now.”

“But, I love that the Bluebird Restoration has lots of artwork because that would totally be Sherry’s thing.  She would probably have cute hats done up, or craft ideas for kids.  I’m glad her daughters are a part of it and do a lot of the artwork.  It’s like she’s coming alive through them. Plus, it’s one of the things that keeps Sherry going in our hearts.  I’ll say things to the girls like ‘Oh, your mom would have loved this event, she’d be talking to everybody! And I know she would love the slide show of the artwork!’  Without the artwork, it just wouldn’t be Sherry.”

Theresa noted that art has been crucial in helping her family heal.  “The Ross girls were always doing some sort of art or craft when Sherry was alive. On the day she died, we learned how to make fun, fancy necklaces out of Mardi Gras beads.  Before her funeral we drew out cards and colored them to be put in her casket.  Before the bluebird gathering at the end of May, Brooke was feeling down. I had just arrived at their house to stay the night and prepare for the art booth the day after. I got out some India ink and paper and asked Brooke if she would make some artwork with me. She agreed and we had such a great time!  Just sitting down and drawing with me making artwork for the Bluebird Restoration Project brought her right out of her glum state!  I actually think she found her new artistic niche!”

“I have learned from Sherry that even if you’re going through the most difficult time, you should always have hope and keep a smile on your face. You should greet the day with a good attitude and a new outlook.”

We asked her what she would like to do with her degree, and what she hopes for the future.  “It’s hard to say because there’s so many things I could do.  I’m so excited to get out there and see what there is!  I might go on to graduate school and get my MFA (Master of Fine Art) and become a professor.  I might work at a museum, or illustrate children’s books,  I could design things for companies, or just be a freelance artist.  I’ve done many things from painting murals on walls, to making dishes, designing logos, illustrated a book, designed some tattoos, and painted signs for businesses.  There’s just so much to do!  One of my greatest hopes is to find a way to link nature and art, plus help people as a career.  I’ve always thought that it would be great to teach artistically inexperienced people how to create, whether it be for healing, or for fun. Teaching a healthy way to release tension and emotions would be amazing.”

“I would love to be really well known for my art. I would like to hold onto my close friends, even if I happen to move away. I want to make a difference in this world, so I when I’m old I can look back and say, ‘wow, look at all the things I did, and the difference it made.’ I guess to sum it up, my goals are just like everybody else’s: do what makes you happy, be happy, and make other people happy along the way.”

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