A Studio Visit with Carolyn Schneider

August 10, 2021

Carolyn and I had a lovely studio visit. Here is our conversation, edited for brevity.

“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” – C.G. Jung


We climbed the long, narrow stairs, and came out into Carolyn’s large, light studio floating high in the barn. The spaciousness and light are wonderful.

All through this visit my eye kept getting caught by one interesting and odd object after another.

So many strange and beautiful things up here, but never a sense of crowding. Carolyn’s work on the large walls gives the same feeling. Some have faces that seem to come right out of the picture, but in the large drawings with groups of figures, all the personages have space to interact—or avoid—each other.

In the Studio, 45 x 85 inches

Karen Fenley gave Carolyn a large roll of heavy paper, and Bonnie Hull pinned it up on the studio wall to unroll it. Carolyn traced Bonnie twice and that was the start of “In the Studio.”

Carolyn has worked for years with the Mendocino Theatre Company doing set design and costumes. And during quarantine, of course all that shut down. So she has been making her own ‘set designs’ on large pieces of paper. They are all theater in a way.

She's made some shaped paper pieces by folding drawings. “What if I pleat this paper? What if I fold it?”

“I depend on the paper to tell me stuff. Some paper is flexible enough to fold. And I like working with handmade paper because it’s lively. Blank paper is hard.”

You seem so wide open to trying new things; your work is never monotonous.

“Lots of art is about experimentation, and about not giving up. I don't know how something might turn out, but I keep going. I do not like to waste material! And I try not to copy myself. If there's something I’ve made that I really like, there's the temptation to make something else like it, almost the same thing. You have to watch out for that.”

I'm interested in your show title, "At the Crossroads.”

“I think that's where we've been as a country—and as a world. There are still choices, but not much time. We are still in a pandemic; democracy is in crisis here and in other parts of the world. Climate change is becoming more obviously urgent—and then, personally: what do we do? The world is different now… lots of us feel anxious. Where are we going? Our choices are narrowing.”

“Because of what’s going on in the world, I have thought a lot about good and evil—more, actually, about evil. I started researching devils and demons in other cultures and religions."

You portray skeletons frequently, and have bones and skeletons around in your studio.

“But I don't see them as frightening. They have this big grin, which is appealing. And if we didn't have our skeletons we would be like fleshy puddles on the ground. They are our structure.”

"I have thought how we all contain the good and the bad, the angels and the devils. We want to have what we think of as evil outside of us, but it's already inside of us. We need to weigh the good and the evil, we have to look at the effect of what we're doing. We need to be willing to go to the dangerous and smelly things inside us, to get to know them, so they do not control us.”

How do you cope with the difficulties of living at this crossroads?

“Our planet is a tiny thing in a tiny solar system among other systems in a universe among many others, out beyond where we can see. My brother is an astronomer, and he can look at such distant things. It gives perspective. And one sees the dark side, but one must also see the humor.”

You're not afraid to go there, the dark side?

“I am there and I try to pull out the humor and the colors. Happiness is a temporary state. If we can just stay reasonably harmonious we are lucky. It's a dark world and a difficult world and it's great when there are times when it's peaceful and pleasurable. We are lucky to have those moments.”

Miriam Davis