Ann Schneider has been a familiar figure along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City in recent months, as she completed a series of canvases depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross. A devout Roman Catholic, Schneider came to Jerusalem to explore scriptures as both a religious and a historical truth. Schneider, 23, graduated last year from the University of Pittsburgh where she studied art history and studio arts, then came to Jerusalem. "I began training in art at a performing arts middle school, then continued to develop on my own, though intending to find a career in a more academic or financially secure field," says Schneider. "After completing the requirements for an art history major in college, I added studio arts as a second major and have essentially not stopped 'creating' since. "I initiated my art career early through the completion of two murals before graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. I am now focusing on following my inspiration and establishing myself as an artist," she explains. Brought up in Steeltown, Pennsylvania, Schneider says that she uses art to explore the relationship between religion and contemporary life, while reflecting visually on her own investigation of faith. "While I was interested in the significance of the land to three of the world's major religions, I also wanted to dignify its contemporary existence by painting the sites as they can be seen today," she says. Following her inspiration, she grabbed her brushes and palette and made her way to the Tantur Ecumenical Institute near Bethlehem. Every day there she caught the bus from Beit Jala to the east Jerusalem central bus station on Sultan Suleiman Road outside the Damascus Gate. It's a means of transportation few Jewish Israelis are familiar with, but she says she felt comfortable and encountered only friendly people. "People often hear about the conflict in the land," she said. "But I was lucky enough to experience only the kindness shown by individuals through my travels in Jerusalem and Bethlehem." She adds, "I would like to apologize to all the people whom I've bumped with my easel case and supplies. I am grateful for the patience everyone showed me considering I took up more than my fair share of space." Was the reality of the Via Dolorosa - today a crowded and dirty alleyway that snakes its way past endless stores selling tourist schlock - a disappointment for her? "It did take a while to get used to," she acknowledges. "But I enjoyed talking to the shop owners and the people working at the churches. The children were adorable, though they kept me on my toes trying to catch them before they occasionally put their fingers in my paints. I love that I was able to actually experience each location rather than simply depict it as would be done if I sat in my studio, working from photographs. "Instead of 'capturing the moment' as with a photograph, I strove to capture the essence of the location with my paintings." Schneider also painted in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the last five stations of the cross are located. "It allowed me the opportunity to appreciate the beauty that I did not see the first couple of times I visited," she said. "In my mind, the Holy Sepulcher can be considered a 'diamond in the rough.' While it may not be aesthetically appealing, conceptually the location of Christ's death and resurrection is the most beautiful church in the world. By the end of my trip,the only thing I disliked about the church were the restrooms." Currently in the US, Schneider is focusing on finding exhibition space for her oil paintings. Organizing a traveling tour, she plans to share her unique approach to the stations with churches throughout the Pittsburgh area during the season of Lent, after which she will pursue more secular venues such as galleries and museums. Painting the Stations of the Cross was a spiritual exercise that enabled Schneider to feel closer to the gospels, she said. She tentatively plans to return with her work to the International Peace Center in Bethlehem in the spring of 2007. And when she returns to Jerusalem, she says, she would like to paint some Jewish and Muslim sites, she added. "While I am happy with the work I completed in the past six weeks, there is so much of Jerusalem that I did not have time to capture. I am looking forward to returning and showing a more complete view of the Holy City and its neighboring sites."

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