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Icons connect art and faith

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September 2013

By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph

St. Gertrude parishioner and artist Jenny Ward has found icons to be a “very direct path to the Lord,” and now hopes the faith of others will also be deepened through the opportunity to learn more about sacred art.

Ward became interested in icons about 10 years ago when she took a workshop during which all students painted an icon of St. Michael the Archangel. Over the years, St. Gertrude Parish in Madeira has hosted various workshops on iconography during the summer months conducted by the Prosopon School. Founded by Vladislav Andrejev in 1985, the school introduces students to the practice and theory of the ancient Christian art of icon-writing in the Byzantine-Russian tradition. According to the school’s website: “Icon-writing reached its apogee during the XV century. Today, the iconographer within the School attempts to produce icons reflecting the same state of inner, contemplative depth evident in the greatest examples of that tradition, through refinement of artistic nuance and attention to the iconographic canon and principles. As is fitting to the icon’s sacred function, only natural materials are used: wood panels gessoed with natural ground, genuine gold leaf applied by the bole method, egg tempera using ground pigments, and linseed oil finish.”

Ward said the workshops at St. Gertrude were well received and attendance increased each year. Many of the participants had a background in art, but she stressed that isn’t necessary. The purpose of an icon, she explained, is not to call attention to the artist’s skill, but to “really present image and the theological meaning behind it.”

“Iconology is a meditative process,” she added. “Each layer has such dimension to it that it takes you to that spiritual depth. It’s a prayerful process. Icons become a witness to our faith, and I think our world needs more of that.”

Ward and her husband, John, have take on a new venture to expand on the workshops held at St. Gertrude by founding Iconic – the Studio for Ancient Christian Painting Techniques. The non-profit studio, located in Madeira, is a division of the Michael J. Ward Memorial Foundation, started by John Ward in memory of his brother who died of brain cancer in 2009. The foundation has also brought family members together to work on various other charitable causes.

Nancy Kammer, also a member of St. Gertrude, first learned about iconology during a presentation at the parish and, while not an artist, was drawn to its methodology and technique. “Especially in this Year of Faith, it’s a way of expressing our faith in the Lord in a graphic way,” she said. “The beauty of the images teaches our faith.”

The studio is offering two upcoming iconography workshops with St. Michael the Archangel and the Nativity as the subjects. Both workshops, which will include prayer, lectures and time for the process, will be conducted by the Prosopon School. No experience is necessary for the workshop on St. Michael the Archangel, scheduled for Sept. 23-28. The Nativity, scheduled for Sept. 16-21, requires previous Prosopon School experience. Five or six additional weeklong classes are planned in the coming year.

For more information, contact Ward at jward7400@yahoo.com.

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