At a time when it is perhaps needed the most, Steven and Reefka Schneider illustrate their compassionate and understanding perspective of the lives of a handful of people who live and work along the Rio Grande Valley border in a collection of portraits and poems in the book Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives.
Several of the portraits and poems have been on display at the University of Texas-Pan American library galleries and have been shown throughout Texas as a traveling exhibit. Now, Steven and Reefka, who have been married 30 years, are celebrating the launch of their book Friday during Art Walk at the Nuevo Santander Gallery in McAllen, the gallery that represents Reefka and often displays her work.
Reefka immediately began drawing people she and her husband encountered at flea markets in Mission and vendors on the streets of Progreso and Reynosa, when she and Steven moved to the Valley in 2001. She also drew portraits of mariachi musicians and dancers performing la bachata.
Together, the poet and artist, through words and charcoal, celebrate the art and culture that is endemic to the Valley and its borders. The Schneiders don't shy away from the sadness, fear and hopelessness that appears in several of the portraits and poems depicting young children selling cheap confections and homemade purses and jewelry. And many of the pieces evoke the political climate in the Valley and beyond the border.
Over the past nine years, Reefka drew more than 100 portraits and even though only 25 pieces were chosen for the book, it was a labor of love for both her and Steven.
"It's not nine years of making a book," Reefka said. "It's nine years of living our lives."
Steven accepted a position as an English professor at the University of Texas-Pan American in 2001. Steven has written several books, including two other poetry collections, Unexpected Guests and Prairie Art Show.
Many museums, galleries and universities have featured Reefka's exhibits, and drawings from Borderlines have been included in the book Writing Toward Hope: The Literature of Human Rights in Latin America (Yale University Press, 2006).
Recently the drug-related violence that some analysts say has crept over the border and into the United States has attracted national attention, but Steven and Reefka strive to show the people behind the headlines, to tell the stories of the unseen and unheard people who are often overlooked.