Earlier this year, Everett artist Melinda Hannah garnered national attention with her project “The Hero’s Journey of the LGBT Mormon,” a touring show of 20 large, high-quality portraits of lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender Mormons and their families from around the country.
The exhibit will be displayed Dec. 17 through Jan. 30 at the Schack Art Center, just downstairs from where Hannah lives in the Artspace Everett Lofts. It was shown in Provo, Utah, in September, and will be going to San Francisco in mid-February.
The brightly colored and light-filled paintings express love, and that’s what it’s all about for Hannah, who recently returned to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I wanted to remind people that they need to love their friends and family no matter what,” Hannah said. “The portrait project is about opening people’s hearts and minds.”
The project began after Nov. 5, 2015, when the LDS church announced a new policy requiring church discipline, leading to ex-communication, for those in same-sex marriages. The policy also prevents children of same-sex parents from being baptized in the church until they are 18, and it requires that they renounce same-sex marriage.
For Hannah and many others, this meant that these young people had to openly disavow their gay parents to stay in the church.
After protests and promises from some church members to resign, church leaders revised the rules slightly to apply it only to children whose primary residence was with same-sex parents; so visits to same-sex parents did not prevent children from receiving blessings from the church. And the policy is not retroactive, so it doesn’t apply to children already baptized.
Hannah believes the stance from church leaders resulted in a spike in deaths by suicide among Mormons, and that it was time to speak up.
“My personal relationship with Christ means that I have love, and I have felt the presence of God’s love for my gay friends,” she said. “LGBT Mormons are greeting the world with courage, strength and compassion, and they are building an inspirational legacy. The project gives names and faces to the stories of some of our LGBT fellows.”
This isn’t the first time Hannah has painted to bring attention to a cause.
In 2014, she painted portraits of women with terminal illnesses.
“I am not the best portrait artist, but I am good at revealing the tangible, spiritual, internal essence — the inner beauty and dignity found in all people,” Hannah said. “I wanted to show a depth of beauty I do not think these women saw in themselves. When the body is at its weakest, people need to know their beauty is still there.”
That project — “Illuminating Essence” — was the first Hannah funded with gofundme.com.
She employed a similar crowd funding campaign for “Hero’s Journey.”
The show has a fundraising goal of $20,000, which will pay for materials, 17 months of Hannah’s work, travel to Provo and San Francisco, and the opening reception at the Schack.
“At first I only asked for $5,000 because many Mormons believe that one’s gifts, even artistic, should be given for free,” Hannah said. “But art should never be undervalued.” The fundraiser is now at about $17,500.
Hannah believes in the healing power of art, something she has relied on since she was a kid.
Now in her 50s, the artist said that despite her LDS upbringing, she had a troubled childhood and survived by relying on her imagination and encouragement from a teacher who noted Hannah’s talents working with color.
Hannah also has dealt with mental illness since her college years at Brigham Young University, where she fought an eating disorder, trying to be slim at a school where women outnumbered the men 3 to 1.
She left Utah, moved to Seattle and found a job with The Seattle Times, first as a delivery truck driver and then as an illustrator for the real estate sales department. Still she fought depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and other illnesses.
Hannah was 26 years old when she was accepted to Cornish College of the Arts. But after three years, she had an emotional breakdown. After a lengthy time away, she returned to Cornish to finish.
“When I graduated, there was a line around the block to see my final art show,” she said.
Mitch Mayne, a gay Mormon from San Francisco, praised Hannah for her activism and work on “Hero’s Journey” in a piece he wrote earlier this fall for the Huffington Post.
“It’s her passion for healing through art that has inspired this show,” he said.
If you go
“The Hero’s Journey of the LGBT Mormon” by Melinda Hannah
Dec. 17 through Jan. 30, the Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett. Open daily, except Dec. 25, 26 and Jan. 1.
More about the fundraiser is at www.gofundme.com/melindahannah.