An affair to remember

'Chair Affair' benefits school scholarship fund

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A famous self-portrait by Frida Kahlo depicts the painter naked except for a brace she had to wear to offset a broken back. Her chest is torn open to reveal her spine as a cracking Ionic column. Her bare flesh and face are full of nails.

Kahlo's body was broken in a bus accident. She underwent 30 operations and withstood intense pain her entire life.

Jeanne Schneider stared at Kahlo's emotional painting during an exhibit in Houston. Schneider saw herself.

"I identify with her," she said. "I don't have the same physical pain. I have my health, but I am trying to impart my emotions in my paintings the way she did."

Before the exhibit in Houston, Schneider had never even heard of Kahlo. Since then, she has read the artist's autobiography and watched a recent movie about her life. And when it came time for Schneider to paint and decorate a chair for the annual "A Chair Affair" live auction, she chose Kahlo as her inspiration.

"Her work is so personal. It's so in your face," Schneider said. "I just love her. She paints her feelings and emotions and what her life is all about, which was a lot of pain."

Schneider's piece is a ladderback chair topped with a tin Mexican folk-art frame that holds a picture of Kahlo's stern face.

The slats of the chair are a collage of images from Kahlo's paintings and images painted by Schneider. From each rung, Schneider hung clay and tin pieces that symbolized Kahlo's life -- a dead blackbird, a heart, skulls and a winged foot, representing the one Kahlo lost to amputation.

Schneider, who lives in Steamboat Springs in the summer and Texas in the winter, attended the chair auction for several years before garnering the courage to participate. She is an artist who dabbles in everything from canvas to clay but has never shown her work outside of her own home.

This is Schneider's first year participating in "A Chair Affair," a fund-raiser for the Mixed Media Painting School of Steamboat Springs Scholarship Fund. The fund-raiser attracts artists from all over the valley whose interpretations of the task are as varied as the minds of the artists themselves.

Sandy Ihlenfeldt dedicated her chair to her three granddaughters. She matched her chair with a small leather stool and turned it into a little girl's vanity. Each surface of the chair is painted with flowers and nursery rhymes. A mirror hanging from the back of the chair converts it into a miniature vanity table.

The top of the stool opens to reveal a little compartment designed for brushes and other beauty supplies. On the back of the chair, Ihlenfeldt attached a little purse, hair clips and shiny ribbon, perfect for playing dress up.

"I wanted the piece to stay childlike," she said. "I didn't want to be sophisticated. Everything I did, I asked myself, 'Would a little girl like this?'"

Ihlenfeldt spent 20 years of her life as a graphic designer, but in retirement she spends less time at the computer and more time with paint and canvas.

"Making fine art is hard work," she said. "I heard about the Chair Affair, and it sounded like pure fun."

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