By srianthi perera
Some stories beg to be told in words. Gilbert artist/art instructor Karen Schmeiser’s is best captured in paint.
Schmeiser’s “Journey of Faith,” a collection of five oil paintings featuring herself as the subject, depicts triumph over adversity.
The works were inspired when she came out of a difficult marriage of 42 years and later found peace and joy in a new union.
The paintings’ message is effective, and in an effort to share them more easily with others, Schmeiser is also working on a companion book.
“It’s my personal, inward story but it’s everybody’s story,” she said. “We are born, we die, we suffer, find happiness. We all want it to be happy and joyful, but it’s never like that.”
The first oil painting is titled “Broken.” There’s a storm overhead and she’s drenched; her face is agonized; there’s a broken vase which represents her destroyed hopes and dreams.
“The chains around the neck represent sin, abuse, sorrow, whatever it is that we go through that brings us to our knees,” Schmeiser said. “She feels like she’s all alone, she’s in the wilderness, which represents the world around us, which is how it feels when it all comes crashing down.”
The second painting, “Seeking the Light,” shows her holding a lit candle and represents how we seek for something greater than ourselves.
“For me it’s a Savior, but she’s also protecting, she’s protecting the testimony of the things that she knows are true, holding fast,” she said.
“Cleansing the Inner Vessel” depicts her cleaning a vessel. “‘How can I be better, how can I do more,’ she seems to ask.
She is looking toward heaven and the watching represents the atonement and cleansing of her inner self.”
The fourth image, “Ye Shall Obtain,” shows her leaning on a pillar and holding a dove; the vessel in this painting is whole.
“It represents the peace that we can have in our life; the happiness, tranquility and how we can find it within ourselves. It’s that personal journey,” she said.
In “One of the Least of These,” she’s back outside, holding the lamp aloft and helping someone else because she’s been there and knows the way.
“It’s my journey, but it represents everybody’s journey through life,” Schmeiser said. “I’m a Christian, and we believe that when we have trials and tribulations, we turn to the Savior.”
“And then we go out, and from the things that we’ve learned, our trials and challenges, we help other people,” she added.
Schmeiser took three years to complete the series, painted in the classical academic method, which included time-consuming techniques such as charcoaling, underpainting and applying color glazes used by the Old Masters of Europe, such as Johannes Vermeer, Peter Paul Rubens and Michelangelo.
Each item is framed and the heaviest weighs about 40 pounds.
Based on the Journey of Faith, Schmeiser gives 30-minute presentations to congregations at her church, the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to small groups.
“People come up to me afterwards and tell me that it’s changed their life. And that they have hope in their life, that they feel hope. It’s really been an amazing experience being able to do that,” she said.
“I’ve had visitors come to the house and they look at ‘Broken’ and they start crying because they’ve been there and they know that pain and anguish on that face, they know what that’s about,” Schmeiser said.
The idea for the paintings was born when Schmeiser served a mission for the LDS church in 2014, when she was selected to paint murals for some of its temples.
She was single and moved to the picturesque Provo Canyon in Utah, where she lived for a year. The murals are usually painted in a studio and shipped to the site; she worked on murals for the temples in Baton Rouge and Philadelphia.
She was selected for the mission by an artist who knew she was divorced and in need of healing and tranquility.
“Once day when we were going up to a canyon to paint, she looked at me and said, ‘you should paint your story and you need to be the model for it.’”
“I thought about it and I knew it was going to be called a ‘journey of faith’ because my faith is very strong and it turned out to be this whole series of paintings; I wanted to be able to share my story. I’ve been able to do that.”
Her upcoming book is also the result of a suggestion.
Schmeiser made friends with a woman who sat next to her during a plane ride, who told her: “I won’t be able to buy your paintings or your giclees but have you thought of putting the paintings in a book? I could buy a book.”
Encouraged by her patent attorney husband, Al Schmeiser, she’s compiling stories, scriptures and other related information into a bank to draw from when she begins to write later this year.
The book will offer much more than her short presentations.
“Each painting has a lot of symbolism in it. It has my personal story. But I’m also drawing from other people that I’ve heard speak or other things that I know in a lot more detail,” she said.
Schmeiser is also in the committee that’s working on the murals for the Mesa Arizona Temple; this time, although she hasn’t dabbed paint to canvas yet, she has spent time planning them.
While being an artist, Schmeiser is also a teacher of art and coached many individuals of all ages.
She herself was taught by internationally respected master artist and teacher, Frank Covino, who held annual workshops in Gilbert, that she coordinated.
Covino died in 2016 and Schmeiser and another local artist, Marsha Gilliam, continue to teach the workshops based on his method, entitled Art of the Masters.
To arrange a presentation by Karen Schmeiser, or to find out more about the Art of the Masters workshops, visit artofthemasters.org