Bachelor of Fine Arts sculpture graduate lives to make with her hands

Sophie Hass Schenkel makes art just to make it, and shares how The University of Iowa inspired her craft.


Cody Blissett

University of Iowa senior Sophie Hass Schenkel poses for a portrait at the Visual Arts Building in Iowa City on Friday, May 5, 2023. Schenkel is an interdisciplinary artist that specializes in several art forms like sculpting.

Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter

Sophie Hass Schenkel has always liked working with her hands. Even when there wasn’t a physical product, she was always making something. Gardening, woodworking, and crocheting were instrumental parts of her childhood.

Schenkel, an Iowa City native, graduated from West High School at 16 years old. She originally didn’t plan on going to college and took a gap year, but her mother helped her enroll at the University of Iowa at 17 years old.

Schenkel started on the pre-business track then moved to environmental science. She finally settled on sculpture and is the first artist in her family.

“As soon as I took my first sculpture class, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love doing this. I wish I could do this all day every day,’” Schenkel said. “I’ve just never felt that way about something before, and that was really exciting. I just, I can’t stop doing it.”

Schenkel said that finding her love for sculping at the university gave her creativity a purpose. The UI allowed her to learn material skills like welding, woodworking, and metalworking. She said the sculpture department has pushed her to think outside of the box, and her professors never gave the impression that there is an objectively right way to do something.

Being around other talented artists taught Schenkel to move her work in a more authentic direction. She said she has felt tremendous support for her craft.

“I didn’t know why I was here. Finding sculpture kind of gave it all a purpose, and then I was glad I was here. I have something to work on,” Schenkel said. “I can learn all these materials skills like welding, woodworking, metalworking, that sort of thing. I have found a lot of value in that, and there’s a lot of
different skills I can carry out of it.”

Schenkel said her professors have always supported her.

“My professors have all been really supportive of whatever I want to try, even if they know it won’t fully work. I’ll figure it out if it doesn’t work,” Schenkel said.

Schenkel’s Bachelor of Fine Arts exhibit “Purity & Plastic” took place in a Visual Arts Building gallery from April 24-29. The exhibit itself was in development for a year and a half, but the techniques Schenkel used for the exhibit were in practice for years before.

“Purity & Plastic” consisted of person-height wireframes with crocheted overhangs made from found plastic materials and VHS film.

“I started by breaking down T-shirts into T-shirt yarn by cutting it down into strips, kind of like how I do it with the plastic in my exhibit,” Schenkel said.

The first sculpture Schenkel said she made was a figure of a woman made from wire that she wove yarn around, suspending it in the air. The sculpture was the spark that made her continue pursuing different materials to impose shapes into wires.

Schenkel said the biggest challenge in making the sculptures was creating her own patterns and working architecturally to create defined shapes.

“The first one was very shapeless,” Schenkel said. “As they progressed, they got more and more defined and sharp and chiseled, and it’s changed my perspective a lot.”

Schenkel’s favorite piece she made during her time at the UI was from last year. The piece allowed her to be creative in ways she had never explored before.

“I carved a head out of clay. And then I made my own mold out of it, which I was already pretty proud of,” Schenkel said. “Then I poured Jell-O into it and I made a Jell-O head. I was just so proud of myself for making something.”

Schenkel said that her parents are very supportive of her and her craft. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year as a time to reset and consider graduate programs. Her dream, however, is to live an 1800s lifestyle on a fishing boat on the coast of Alaska while making art.

“Make as much as you can,” Schenkel said. “And eventually something will resonate with you.”