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Some English-speakers will say that an icon is “written” or that one “writes” an icon. The verbiage has been adopted from the Russian fine arts vocabulary and adapted to English usage. Other English-speakers strongly object to the verbiage. This article, published in the Orthodox Arts Journal, attempts to survey the positive and negative implications of the usage.

See full article HERE.

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Inscribing the halo on the icon of St. Anthony

Excerpts from the article “Is “Write” Wrong?: A Discussion of Iconology Lingo”.

“Saying that one ‘writes’ an icon can be, and sometimes is, ‘affected jargon’ – a kind of NEON Orthodox-speak of the cognoscenti who insist upon the verbiage as the only proper way to refer to the process and the product.”

“At the same time, those who police the verbiage to exclude the use of ‘write, writing, written’ in English can be equally totalitarian to the point of correcting Russians.”

See full article HERE.

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Anna (Pokrovsky) Gouriev had the rare advantage of growing up in the household of one of the world’s most prominent icon painters, Ksenia (Xenia) Mikhailovna Pokrovskaya, her mother. And so Anna learned the art of icon writing in the gradual and natural way that daughters learn to cook by watching their mothers.

“I never planned to be an iconographer” says Anna, “it wasn’t a decision; it is just my life.”

Anna does not advertize her “life.” People find their way to her by seeking treasure. It’s hard to explain. You look over hundreds of same subject icons by as many iconographers and find one so full of grace your heart stops.

Anna had many years of training in the seriousness of icon writing before taking up the brush. From earliest childhood days in Moscow, Anna was surrounded by the steady coming and going of artists, theologians and intellectuals who were in one way or another involved in the clandestine operations of her mother’s network of secret iconographers. Describing those days, Anna considered the “real world” to be what was going in her parents’ flat. “When we came home from school” (there were five children born to Lev and Ksenia Pokrovsky), “and closed the door behind us, the fantasy ended.” Outside that door “we could never talk about what our mother did; we had to pretend we were a part of that strange outside world where everything that really mattered to us was forbidden.” During Soviet times creating new icons was a crime on same order as trafficking in firearms, narcotics and pornography.

Sought after as experts in icon restoration, the entire Pokrovsky family worked illicitly in various capacities to repair hundreds of icons brought to them from all over the Soviet Union. It was an education by discovery to uncover layer by layer the nearly lost technique and palette of generations of iconographers that preceded them. In her book “Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography”, Irina Yazikova traces the history of icon writing from the catacombs of First Century Rome to the bonfires of communism that consumed millions of icons in 20th century Russia.

Included in the organic chain of heroes who saved iconography is Mother Juliana (Maria Sokolova) and many courageous men and women, among them Anna’s mother.  Ksenia and her associates established Izograph Society in the 1970s and 80s, which became an underground fellowship of iconographers and iconologists who prepared the way for the “New Spring”, as Ksenia calls it, the great renaissance of icon-writing and restoration of churches currently enjoyed in Russia. At the first open celebration in Moscow of works produced by members of the Izograph Society in 1989, Anna exhibited her icons.

Ironically, the Pokrovsky family left Russia in January of 1991 just as the first signs of rebirth of iconography were becoming publicly visible. It was politically and culturally a volatile time, and for the Pokrovskys a time of great personal grief because their beloved spiritual father and friend, Fr. Alexander Men, had been brutally murdered in September of 1990.

St. Mary Magdalen Orthodox Church

News followed Ksenia’s arrival in the U.S. Articles in the Boston Globe and the patronage of the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and that of many priests who knew of her reputation in Russia led to her establishing a studio in Sharon, MA. While assisting her mother with grand scale projects for churches, such as St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Lexington, Ky., individual orders for icons started coming Anna’s way nearly two decades ago.  Ksenia and Anna continue to work as a mother-daughter team adorning the interiors of churches like the ongoing project for St. Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church in Manhattan. Other large commissions like the one for Holy Annunciation in Maynard, MA, keep Anna busy.

Anna also shares responsibilities for teaching courses in iconography with her mother and Marek Czarnecki, who has received world-wide recognition for his beautiful panels under Ksenia’s tutelage. While Ksenia often refers to Marek as her mouthpiece because his uncommon gift for articulating difficult concepts and imparting Ksenia’s teaching with great accuracy, no one complains that Anna’s method of teaching is practically wordless.

Watching this taciturn instructor demonstrate the glories of her brush and correct the stray passages of her students is the same way that Anna came to inherit a share of the mantle passed from her mother. If Anna never consciously chose to be an iconographer,  her work reveals the nature of gifts bestowed when there is no ambition to gain them for ones self, only years and years of practicing the life that is hers by both blessing and toil.

Mary Kathryn Lowell

SIX DAYS OF CREATION 2012 SCHEDULE

“There is no doubt in my mind that Six Days of Creation is the best icon workshop in the country and, with the help of our Lord, we will be able to improve and expand for the benefit of all involved.”     V. Rev. D. Alexander Atty, D. Min., Dean of St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary

The Six Days of Creation icon-painting course concluded its fifth year in residence at St. Tikhon on June 25, 2011. Hexaemeron wishes to thank Fr. Alexander Atty, Matushka Olga, Fr. Nilus and the rest of the staff for a wonderful week in the Poconos at South Canaan, Pennsylvania. We are especially grateful for the cooking skills of seminarian Alexis Baldwin who was able to make us enjoy abstaining from “flesh foods” during the Apostles Fast this year (is that a sin?).

It is always a blessing for us to hold this course at St. Tikhon. It feels appropriate bringing students from all over North America there to learn the ancient art of icon painting. Many American saints walked the grounds of St. Tikhon Monastery and Seminary: Saints Tikhon of Moscow,  Nicholai of Zicha, Raphael of Brooklyn, and  Alexis Toth.  I like to believe that these holy persons are praying for us in our mission to provide a traditional Orthodox approach to the icon. At St. Tikhon, our students are able to take part in the daily schedule of Vespers, Vigil, Holy Hours, and Divine Liturgy services in St. Tikhon Monastery church. These services become the prayerful foundation for the temporary community formed by our coming together as students of the icon. The services also provide the context for realizing the meaning and purpose of the icon.  We are thankful to Fr. Nicodemus who annually leads our students on a tour explaining the history of the icons in the monastery church and the collection in the icon museum.

Our students created some amazing panel icons this year. Besides having first-time students, we have many dedicated friends who come back every year to learn from Master Iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky. Ksenia has been restoring old icons and painting new icons, and teaching iconography for 50 years, first in Russia and now in America. Her store of knowledge and experience is a treasure that seems bottomless. Some of the work produced by students who have been participating in the Six Days of Creation at various locations over the years is breathtaking for its beauty and its spiritual grace.

Marek Czarnecki, who shares in many aspects in guiding our courses, has worked with Ksenia Pokrovsky for more than 12 years.  He has become well known as an iconographer and teacher. The value he adds to the overall success of our program is immeasurable. Ksenia’s daughter, Anna Pokrovsky-Gouirev, is also one of our teachers. Anna has been working alongside her mother for many years on commissions for Orthodox churches. Her icons are deeply moving, and her quiet teaching style communicates that depth of achievement.

This year, more than ever, we desire to begin establishing a fixed residence for our school in order to train iconographers toward certification. We see the great need for authentic training on the one hand, and on the other, the great desire for such a program.  The traveling crash-course workshop model in this country has turned iconology education into a roadside market for spiritual tourists and bargain shoppers. Students who come to us are weary of this largely ineffective method. And so are we.

Hexaemeron Inc, Non Profit Organization

Mary Kathryn Lowell