Living Gallery recreates artwork with human models that move and speak


Hal Cook

BJU presents the Living Gallery annually during the week leading up to Easter, but the accompanying drama and specific paintings included vary.

Bob Jones University hosted its 26th Living Gallery this week from April 6-8. Paul Radford, a professor in the department of communication, directed this year’s performance. 

Since 1997, the purpose of the Living Gallery has been to bring classic art depicting the ministry of Jesus Christ to life through a dramatic performance with music and classical artwork. Works by da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and others are recreated onstage with live models portraying the characters, painstakingly prepared until they are nearly indistinguishable from the original paintings.  

But what makes this Living Gallery unique from previous ones? One difference is the music — instead of 10 pieces of music to go with 10 pieces of artwork, there was one piece, Requiem for the Living by internationally-known composer and award-winning BJU graduate Dan Forrest. Requiem for the Living, a five-movement composition based on the Requiem, has been performed around the world hundreds of times. 

For the first time in six years, models talked to the audience. Of the 10 works of art, half of them had models walking in and out, sharing the story of Christ’s life in dramatic fashion.  

“What would she say if she could talk to us?” Radford asked, referring to the Samaritan woman in Christ and the Samaritan Woman, created in 1704 by Francois de Troy and currently owned by BJU’s Museum & Gallery. “That’s what we imagined. … We have characters walking out of the artwork and talking to us or talking to us and walking into the artwork.”  

The Samaritan woman and other characters step out of the paintings and become part of the drama. (Hal Cook)

Hope Gardner, who is the costume supervisor for the Living Gallery, said the Living Gallery is different from any other production BJU puts on stage. “The combination of drama, art and music is very powerful,” Gardner said. “Each piece of music and artwork is perfectly matched to carry along the storyline with the drama. No other production we put on has these elements combined in this way, and that makes Living Gallery quite special.” 

This is the seventh Concert, Opera & Drama Series event that Radford has directed and his third Living Gallery. One of the things Radford enjoys about the Living Gallery is the opportunity to collaborate with many talented artists, both past and present. “This type of art you can’t do on your own,” Radford said. “I need a whole community. Actors. Models. Stage crew. Makeup. Hair. Lights. Props. Musicians. So when we get the whole community together, it’s very rewarding.” 

Hal Cook

Every year the Living Gallery presents an opportunity for BJU students to be a part of something exciting and meaningful. “What I enjoy the most about Living Gallery is the heart of everyone working on this project,” Gardner said. “There’s a great understanding of the outreach ministry of this production. People travel from all over the country to hear a story about Jesus. It’s such an incredible opportunity! I also just love seeing models come back year after year, as well as bringing in new models that grow to love the process. We all have a great time together.”