Friday, August 1, 2014


Our Lady of Vladimir
Our Lady of Czestochwa

Through his “artistic creativity” man appears more than ever “in the image of God”, and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous “material” of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him. With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in his creative power. Obviously, this is a sharing which leaves intact the infinite distance between the Creator and the creature, as Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa made clear: “Creative art, which it is the soul's good fortune to entertain, is not to be identified with that essential art which is God himself, but is only a communication of it and a share in it. That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their “gift”, are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission.  (St. John Paul Letter to Artists, 1999)

Next to our new Chapel, is the parlor, which I call the ICON room, as there are 16 Icons, some hand "written" for us, hanging on the walls.  I have found several woman who paint or write lovely examples of this art form which I present here.  But what is an icon and how does it differ from other religious art?

ICONOGRAPHY is the original tradition of Christian sacred art, and has been an integral part of the worship and mystical life of Christians since apostolic times. Referred to in the Eastern Christian tradition as "windows into heaven," they have inspired and uplifted millions of the faithful, and have at times been the instruments for demonstrating God's miraculous intercession in the life of mankind.  The most famous are  Our Lady of Vladimir  which is one of the most venerated Orthodox icons, regarded as the holy protectress of Russia.

One of the most exquisite icons ever painted, Our Lady of Vladimir is imbued with universal feelings of motherly love and anxiety for her child. Throughout history miracles were attributed to this image of our Mother, the most recent in December 1941.As the Germans approached Moscow, Stalin ordered that the icon be taken from the museum and placed in an airplane and  carried around the besieged capital. Several days later the German army started to retreat.

The Black Madonna of Częstochowa is a 14th century Polish icon which is credited with miraculously saving the monastery of Jasna Góra from a Swedish onslaught.

In Christiantity, an icon (from Greek  eikon, "image") is a flat picture of Christ, Mary, or other saints. Most icons are painted in egg tempura on wood, but some are created with mosaic tiles, ivory, or other materials. In Orthodox Christianity, icons are sacred works of art that provide inspiration and connect the worshiper with the spiritual world. The scenes depicted in icons usually relate to liturgical celebrations rather than directly to historical events.

In addition to the style of the painting (or writing as it is called), the actual technique of making an icon is rich with symbolism. Icons are a visual form of prayer in line and color that seek to tell us something true about God and the saints. They follow a long tradition of truths that are communicated visually rather than through words, a theology passed on from one artist to the next. They are meant to help us open ourselves to God's love.

Mother of God- Elizabeth Lemme

The first of our modern artists is ELIZABETH LEMME who is originally from Spokane, WA. Her studies cover a wide range of disciplines, including classical music, theology, philosophy, and psychology. In visual art, she received a formation in drawing, painting, ceramics, and jewelry. Mrs. Lemme earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in piano performance and pedagogy from Whitworth University, and a Master of Music degree in piano performance and pedagogy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Her conversion to the Catholic faith led her to discern the contemplative monastic life. During her four years as a contemplative nun with the Sisters of St. John, she devoted her life to prayer, and study of medieval sacred art. Her studies in iconography led her to attend intensive icon workshops in Rome, Denver, San Antonio, and Omaha. .

Elizabth resides in Lincoln, NE where she is in the process of creating a new studio of traditional sacred art: Ad Orientem Sacred Arts.  She paints in the traditional style and her use of colors is exquisite.

Jodi Simmons- Pieta

JODI SIMMONS from Massachusetts  had never given much thought to religious art, until a near death experience turned her life around, and she felt the desire to express her new found faith in visual terms. She took art courses but a friend suggested she see the icons in a Ukrainian Catholic Church in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The experience was so moving, Jodi knew this was the kind of art she was meant to make.  “I began studying, painting, and praying with what has become the greatest mystery, joy, teacher and friend in my life: the icon.”

Transfiguration of Christ-  Jodi Simmons
 Jodi is an example of modern icon writers who cross over canonical boundaries in her handling of sacred subjects. Why, for example, is Christ shown so often without a beard? Jodi points out that early Christian imagery, like the 5th century mosaics in Ravenna, shows a beardless Jesus.

Maid of the Snow
St. Francis

(Any artist who uses birds in her art is a friend of mine!)

"From beginning to end, a lot of time, attention and care goes into my work. The work gives back to me too. I learn from the research. The slow and often tedious methods teach me patience (ha!). When I finish an icon, it always looks back at me as if it were its own, individual entity...a lively gem - and the traditional, quality methods and materials ensure it will shine for many years."

The Gift- Jodi Simmons

Mary Jane Miller

Our last artist MARY JANE MILLER is the least traditional- at least in her new phase of work, but her message is the same:  "I want to paint icons always with the hope of bringing people closer to God. Even when painting modern icons the artist entices people to come closer to God, through the beautiful image. We copy traditional images as doctrine and discipline as well as prayer. The painting of the image is considered service".

Mary Jane Miller
Her work is prolific, she has written books on the art of writing icons, and she has  started a school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (a place I "know" as my god-son's family just moved there- so maybe when I visit them I can search out this amazing artist).

The prayerfulness inherent in icon painting drew Mary Jane to the writing of icons 18 years ago." I found myself consciously looking for an answer to the question 'Why we are Here?” Dating back to 500 A.D., iconography is thought to be divinely inspired. Each layer of the icon has symbolic meaning".

Mary Jane Miller
Mary Jane describes the experience of painting icons as “an ongoing revelation for the individual who is looking for a spiritual life. You can find yourself in the paint and in the image. - the spiritual side of it and the physical side of it - and I love the way they harmonize together. The technique is an organic process that allows me to play in the dirt with million year old stone pigments".

"I have used the orthodox tradition yes, with absolute respect. Contemporary Icons challenge the idea that there is still an ongoing understanding of the divine story through image and doctrine.

 Remembering we are all children of God. There is no limit to the imagery in iconography or the expression of God, but many".

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