Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 26, 2010
Icons create epiphanies of beauty
Living Water College of the Arts course in writing icons opens students' hearts, deepens faith
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Catholics wanting to learn more about the art of writing icons are spending two weeks immersed in an in-depth training session on the subject.
A dozen participants are in Epiphanies of Beauty, a course about iconography at Living Water College of the Arts. The students also study Eastern tradition, history and spirituality. The traditional techniques of painting in egg tempera and classic gilding are taught.
The main goal of the program, which runs July 18-30 in Derwent, is to give students the knowledge, skills and love of the icon to continue in the practice of iconography upon completion of the course.
"Over the course of 10 days the students will complete an icon of Our Lady of Tenderness. They will get an introduction to the skills necessary to create other icons on their own," said instructor Frank Turner.
GOSPEL IN PAINT
The result is an icon painted in many layers of transparent paint, with depth that no printing process can reproduce. The icon, as St. Basil said, is the Gospel in paint.
The icon of Our Lady of Tenderness is painted on boards, and those boards are covered with gesso, a type of chalk. They go through the process of making the egg emulsion, which is a mixing of egg yolks and wine. They learn how to make the paint, apply the paint and finish the icon.
Many Eastern monasteries will not allow people with significant artistic experience to be trained as iconographers. Trained artists must rid themselves of their learned habits.
Patricia Laurence, from Vermilion, has been interested in iconography for about eight years. The instructional course appeals to her because it infuses two of her dearest passions - faith and fine arts.
"I've always liked drawing, and I've always liked fine arts, and somewhat that helps when writing an icon. But I think you have to unlearn some things because writing an icon is a very disciplined form of art, and I'm used to very free forms of art," said Laurence.
A mother of two small children, she welcomed the chance to devote two weeks to the project. The workshop is retreat style. That is one aspect Laurence looked forward to, removing herself temporarily from her usual environment and being immersed in praying and writing an icon.
"I find that writing an icon really puts you in contact with that saint. If you are praying while you're working, then it's a very faith-filled experience. It's an exciting contact with your spiritual brothers and sisters.
FEEDS YOUR FAITH
"It sounds hokey to say that to somebody, but it feeds your faith. I think all Christians should write an icon of their favourite saint, just to learn more about them and try to find what that person means to you," said Laurence.
Faith permeates all aspects of the program, and every student is encouraged to integrate their personal faith with dynamic art and challenging thought.
"Over the last 40 years there's been a period of iconoclasm in the Catholic Church. A lot of images and statues were removed from the churches, and now there is a rising interest in the decoration of churches with icons and statues," said Turner.
"We are responding to that hunger and thirst among people. They want to learn how to make contact with that tradition."
Writing an icon is also steeped in the tradition of prayer. In the Eastern rites, the icon is deemed a super-sacramental, beyond a rosary.
"It brings the presence of the person represented, not real presence, and it's not a substitute for the Eucharist, but it is as close as we can get to the Eucharist in prayer," said Turner.
Deacon Jim Nakonechny, of the Edmonton Ukrainian Eparchy, has long been looking for a suitable place to study iconography.
"This has been my first opportunity to take an iconography course close to home, and be able to afford to take it," said Nakonechny.
He has a background in Byzantine architecture, specializing in interior ornamentation. He's done plenty of goldwork, stencilling and restoration in churches. Other than a weekend retreat on iconography at the Star of the North Retreat Centre four years ago, this is his first intensive study of iconography techniques.
SALVATION THROUGH BEAUTY
"One of the things my training and education has always been about is beautifying our churches. Salvation comes through beauty. We can draw people to the Church and encourage our youth by bringing back the richness of our faith and the traditions of our churches through our iconography and architecture."
Aside from learning the technical aspects of iconography, the students have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Derwent countryside and the peace of rural life.
"You're not only learning a technique but you're also building yourself spiritually. Being here at Living Water College is nice because it's away from the busyness and hubbub of the big city," Nakonechny said.
"You're developing yourself artistically, spiritually and hopefully you're better for it and more prepared to go back into the world in two weeks."
Deacon Ken Noster said a blessing of the icons is set for July 30 at 2 p.m., followed by a social. Open to the public, it is an opportunity to meet the students and view their icons.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.