What do you know?
You know the rings,
The silver circles of light,
The roundness of the rim of the flower pot,
The roundness of pupils of the eyes,
The depths of their wells.
You know the roundness of pebbles on sand.
Steven Schneider, a poet and Professor in the Department of English at UTPA, studied the picture his artist wife, Reefka, had drawn and the words came to him for “Wise Woman with Rings.”
“What struck me about this picture was the roundness of the rings, the pot, her eyes and face along with the wisdom in her face. The circle is an image of wholeness and fullness,” said Steven. “This woman understands the circular nature of life. That’s what I liked about her. It’s a very spiritual poem.”
Since 2001, Reefka has been drawing people of the border, becoming one of the foremost artists of “la Frontera,” the binational region of the Rio Grande Valley. Her artwork reflects the social and economic realities of the border while celebrating the local culture, people and music.
Having done projects together before, (About Love), this was a natural for them. The culmination of this collaboration is the book Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives.
“I met the publisher — Wings Press, Bryce Milligan — at the Texas Book Festival a few years ago. We handed him a card with one of our poems/pictures,” Steven said, with a grin. “He said, ‘I really would love to do a book with you both.’ One thing led to another and today, we have a book.”
When you look at Reefka’s drawings, the very soul of her subjects come alive.
“That’s how art is different from photography,” said Reefka. “As an artist, I have more elements to work with - lines, tones, textures — which communicate a deeper feeling.” Blending charcoal, conte — a technique taken from the old masters, and pastel, Reefka brings the reader in unity with these people.
From Nuevo Progresso to the flea market on Conway they found their subjects and after Reefka finished the piece, Steven would write a poem. Deciding he would like to have a variety of poetic forms throughout the book, the poetry reflects a myriad of poetic styles. Some pieces were named after their form — “Sestina” and “Triolet.”
“Some of these poems are formal and follow certain particular poetic forms,” Steven said. “Those poems follow certain rhyme schemes and meters. Other poems are free verse and are not strictly formal. One of the ways we want to use the book is to educate students about poetic form and the relationship between art and poetry.”
Flipping through the book, absorbing the exquisite detail Reefka showers on her subjects, the reader can flow through a gambit of emotions. The “Boot Seller” brings a bit of joy - “You are happy to be selling these leather boots…You are a man comfortable.”
Heart strings are pulled through “Three-Year-Old Street Musician” - “…You play for all the lost children Who have disappeared in wars, In the crevices of earth, In floods of the seas.”
“This project is especially meaningful to me because it’s a collaboration between my writing and my wife’s artwork. The poems and drawings speak to one another. They work together to create a greater whole,” he said. “We’re also talking about issues along the border here in terms of literacy, poverty and education. We think there’s a social component to our book as well as an esthetic one.”
“These pictures and poems are about real people and real life,” said Steven. “There are real stories behind them.”
“Most of the time we were actually able to meet the people,” Reefka said. “We want to share with others what the people here at the border are about - one person at a time.”
The official book launch will be at Nuevo Santander Gallery in downtown McAllen, Friday, April 2, during the Art Walk from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. with a book signing, an exhibit of Reefka’s newest work and a celebration.