Paintings move, breathe at ‘Living Gallery: Somewhere Forever’

"The Crucifixion" can be seen in this year's "Living Gallery." Photo by Bob Jones University.

Larger-than-life artwork leaps off the walls and onto the stage once again for Bob Jones University’s “Living Gallery: Somewhere Forever” leading up to Easter.

“The Ascension” remains a must-see in “Living Gallery.” Photo by Bob Jones University.

A unique Upstate tradition since 1998, “Living Gallery” blends live paintings and sculptures with music and an original play to tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Director Jeff Stegall says this year’s play, which was first done in 2012, is his favorite — and not just because his wife, Kim, is the playwright. Set in a coffee shop called Java Babble, “Living Gallery” shows various characters’ lives intersecting on their individual journeys.

“It’s not all wrapped up in a tight bow that everybody is on the right path at the end of the play, but I think that’s probably true to life, too,” Stegall says.

Jeff Stegall has directed about five of the 22 “Living Gallery” productions. Photo by Bob Jones University.

In addition to favorite masterpieces like Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” and Adam Lenckhardt’s “Descent from the Cross,” audiences will see a live painting new to the 21-year-old production.

“We’re starting the program with our first secular painting that we’ve ever used,” Stegall says. Edward Hopper’s iconic 1942 “Nighthawks” takes the stage to show four isolated individuals occupying a diner in the middle of the night. 

“There’s no door that you see, so they’re sort of trapped in there,” Stegall says. Many believe the painting to be a statement about loneliness and isolation in even the most populated of places. 

The production then transitions to show the modern-day gathering place of Java Babble. Kim Stegall, who frequents many local cafes, found herself overhearing interesting conversations through the years. So, she decided to create characters from snippets of these real-life interactions. 

The fictional drama is set in a coffee shop called Java Babble. Photo by Bob Jones University.

With the tableau vivant-style artwork accompanied by music shown between scenes of the drama, audiences are guided through multiple spiritual journeys.

noun: tableau vivant; silent and motionless group of people arranged to represent a scene or incident, usually in costume, posed with props and scenery, and theatrically lit. French for ‘living picture.’

Makeup is applied to live models for them to appear nearly indistinguishable from the artwork. Photo by Bob Jones University.

“Ideally, we like it if the characters’ conversation gets us to think about our situation, and then we go and look at the art where Christ is depicted throughout his ministry and during the Passion week,” Jeff Stegall says.

As the only place in the Eastern U.S. to see tableau vivant, “Living Gallery” draws the university’s largest crowds each year. “It’s been an exciting ministry for the university and an outreach to the community,” he says.

‘Living Gallery: Somewhere Forever’

When: April 18-20
Where: Rodeheaver Auditorium, 1700 Wade Hampton Blvd., Greenville
Tickets: $14-$16


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