You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Marek Czarnecki’ tag.

Ksenia Pokrovsky fell asleep in the Lord on Sunday, July 7, 2013. Her long-time student and assistant instructor Marek Czarnecki composed this tender tribute to her. May her Memory be Eternal!

After a long weekend of iconography lessons with Ksenia Pokrovsky, my inner monologue had a Russian accent. It’s the same this week after her funeral. I’m trying to remember the sound of her voice. Not just what she said, but how she said it.  She was self-conscious of her English. I reassured her, “Don’t worry, you are always clear.” Besides, no one who lives here is without an accent, that’s the music of American English.

Thinking about her as a teacher, I wanted to write about an ongoing conversation we had between us.  It started many years ago, and continued for more than a decade. It’s connected with a greater dilemma – what to do now that she’s gone?  I never imagined it would be so hard.

marek-ksenia

Marek Czarnecki with his teacher Ksenia Pokrovsky

I bought my first book on Russian icons while I was in art school, many years before studying iconography.  Even then, the contemporary icons by Mother Juliana and Father Zenon were my favorites. Ksenia was showing me a folder of her drawings when a simple pencil drawing of a hand fell out. “Ah, Marek, this is one of Mother Juliana’s drawings, she was teaching me about hands”.  When she told me Mother Juliana was one of her teachers, and Zenon one of her friends, I wanted to fall off my chair. Thank you, God. This was more than I could have ever asked you for.

Many iconography students ask where they can find the “canons” or rubrics of iconography.  I repeat what my teacher told me, “mostly inside old icons, there are some manuals of rules, church council teachings, pattern books, in churches and museums, and in the writings of the saints.” The best place, if you are lucky enough, is to have a living canon in front of you, in the life and example of your teacher.  It’s not in any book, or any one icon, but synthesized in the reality of a human being. Ksenia was my canon.

I loved how she put together all the pieces of iconography and life. “The icon connects us to reality” was one of the most important things she taught me. When we were studying hands, or hair, she would pull out a scrap book full of her “photo-pictures”- hands and hair cut out of fashion magazines, advertising flyers, wig catalogues, the Boston Globe.  “Let us look at our reality” she would repeat, “now we will open it up, inside the vision of the icon”.  She looked at students’ icons the way an English teacher would correct an essay. First she checked for content, then grammar, and lastly, graceful expression.  The highest compliment Ksenia could pay anyone about their finished icon was a calm “yes, fine, that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.” When someone asked her about the “secrets” of iconography, she looked bewildered. “What do you mean? The icon must be open,” she said.  “The expression on the faces must look open. The meaning should be direct and open. Otherwise, how will it penetrate our minds and sink into our hearts?”  I had never heard anyone talk about icons like this. Open, yes, of course. Icons must be open…

She knew what authority she could claim, but also had enough self-awareness to know where she lacked understanding.  “We can’t be perfect; we need to be good enough. The problem is most people are not good enough.”  When I told her she was the best iconographer alive, “no,” she replied (firmly, modestly, honestly) “there are many living iconographers much better than me”, citing Father Zenon as the prime example. “I’m the only iconographer you’ve known. There are some things I understand very well. Those things I want to be able to leave somewhere, so it’s not lost.”  Provocatively, she added, “I want my students to jump over me”.

My exact reply to her was “That’s impossible!”, and I added, “you must be high, lady!” She answered even more provocatively, “then I don’t want to teach you”.

Maybe she said this, because I said she was high?  Thinking about this now, I know she was high, but not the way I jokingly meant at the time. She was talented and smarter and wiser above and beyond anyone I had ever met.  When I admitted that I could never live up to her standards, she said “Then promise me you will be a good place keeper. Otherwise, we will go backwards together.” I’ve never seen her happier than when she met another iconographer whose work she admired, or when a student’s work was successful. She beamed.

I read her this passage from “The Joy Luck Club”, about parents and children: “We’re like stairs, we go up or down, but we are all going in the same direction.”  We talked about the playground game of leap frog. She explained how all the generations of iconographers that lived before us are lining up like that human chain, interceding and pushing us forward with their momentum.  Like those invisible witnesses, she wanted to build a good foundation in a new country that lacked roots or foundations, where “iconoclast” was high praise. She wanted to give criteria that was stable, simple, direct and authentically Orthodox. She knew that is was thankless and invisible work but it’s what was needed here. “Just don’t fall backwards, and don’t take me with you if you do.”

We didn’t build the “staircase” of iconography.  Generations of anonymous icongraphers and saints paved it with their real human lives.  It’s their selfless gift to us. It transcends us individually and will be there after we are long gone. Ksenia’s provocative challenge was please leave this path cleaner, more clearly lit and sturdier than you found it. Make it smoother and easier to travel for the next person, so they can go higher than your limitations (“…what took me thirty years to learn, I teach you now in a week”).  She knew she had a responsibility to something bigger than herself – to God, of course, to her students yes, and, looking back over her shoulder, to the expectations of her teachers.  If you don’t fall backwards, prepare to let someone crawl over your back, and stand on your shoulders.  Iconography is a tradition without a ceiling. Like all spiritual work, it’s hubris to imagine it can be realized in one lifetime.

Today, I doubt Ksenia would put out such a challenge, “jump over me”. With time, she became very discouraged about the lack of understanding of iconography, a lack of awe for its integrity.  Few advanced its depth or quality.  Especially worrisome were the ambitious commercial websites of iconographers who had studied with her once or twice (it’s one thing for you to claim your teacher; it’s another matter for your teacher to claim you).  She was happy that students worked independently, but at the same time, deeply saddened that what she saw was regressive. She astutely observed “this is the exploitation of the icon,” for personal profit of one kind or another.  If we think of iconography as a language, she was like a great author reading a newspaper full of misspelled words and garbled sentences.

Recently, a 22 year-old student complained to me “I’m too old to start; I wish I had begun earlier”. The bell in my mind rang “good potential here!”  He’s right. It can be overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be paralyzing – this is why we pray “Lord have mercy on me” while we work, over and over.  No one is worthy, and no one will get it all done. At a workshop, a very discouraged student was crying after her first frustrating, clumsy icon. Ksenia very patiently explained “It’s only your first icon. It’s like the alphabet, A-Z.  You just started on “A”. She pointed at me and said, “Marek is starting ‘B’, Anna is on “C”, I’m on ‘D'” she said, “but no one gets to ‘Z’”.

Right now, I am wondering whether we will be good place-keepers, or weak links.  “We put ourselves in the hands of God as a tool, but our work makes us sharp tools. Maybe then he can use us.” She smiled when saying things like this, because she knew how simple her directive sounded, but how hard it was to put into real practice.  “It’s so hard to become invisible, to be completely transparent! It takes years of hard work”.
st ben n
Spasiba Bolshoi, Ksenia. We will work with hope in our hearts that we won’t be perfect, but good enough.

News that Ksenia Mikhailovna Pokrovskaya had fallen asleep in the Lord on Sunday, July 7, 2013 was a profound shock. Though she had chronic hypertension, she had not been ill. She was tired, yes, for many years, but still actively sharing her wisdom and knowledge with clarity and generosity.  For both her family and friends and for those who only knew her by reputation, a light has gone out of the world. The universal response of those closest to her and of her many students is that of having suddenly become orphans.

Ksenia Pokrovsky: May her memory be eternal!

Ksenia Pokrovsky: May her memory be eternal!

Ksenia’s funeral on Wednesday evening, July 10 at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Salem, MA was followed by the all-night chanting of the psalter. When morning came she was carried from the church to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery in northeastern Pennsylvania to be buried beside her son Dmitri († 2001). Keeping the Russian custom, the mourners themselves closed the grave with shovels and hands full of earth. The labor helped to lighten their burden of grief.

The main elements of Ksenia’s biography (see Wikipedia) are well known. She was born in Kirghizstan in 1942 during World War II when many Muscovites were evacuated because the Nazis were less than 100 miles from the city. Ksenia’s heritage flowed from many streams, including Tartar and Jewish ancestors, as well as Russian, Polish and Bulgarian. She described her mother as “a romantic communist.” It was her paternal great aunt Katya who taught her what a Christian is and cultivated in Ksenia a love of art.

Ksenia met her future  husband, Lev Alexeyevich Pokrovsky, while they were students at Moscow University. They were married in 1960 and lived together for 53 years. Lev became a teaching professor and researcher of theoretical physics while Ksenia pursued biophysics. As she completed her studies and worked in the field, Ksenia realized she was more interested in the laboratory of metaphysics than in gathering data in the halls of science. The Pokrovskys were a part of Fr. Alexander Men’s parish in the village of Novaya Derevnya located a short distance from Moscow. When Ksenia told her dilemma to Fr. Alexander, he was forthright, “Alright then, you will be an iconographer!”

Her life’s work as an iconographer reflected a scientific mind that constantly investigated every field of knowledge from chemistry and geology to psychology and history, to philosophy and theology.

After Fr. Alexander was murdered in September of 1990, the family with the exception of one son immigrated to the United States in June of 1991. Together Lev and Ksenia reared four sons: Yevgeny, Dmitry, Nikolay and Ilya; and a daughter Anna.

Beyond the facts of her life there are stories, a bottomless repository of stories that would fill many books. Her family, friends and students will be telling these stories for the rest of their lives. Besides being one of the finest iconographers of contemporary times, Ksenia Pokrovsky was one of the great personalities of the 20th and 21st centuries. Everyone who met her recognized this instantly. For all her great knowledge, she remained simple and approachable. She was very clear about the vocation of the iconographer, and she was keen to separate it from the sometimes ego-satisfying aura of the artist.  “An iconographer can never have ambition,” she would say.

Her long-time student Marek Czarnecki tells this story which illustrates Ksenia’s goal as an icon painter.

“I once told Ksenia that I thought she was the best iconographer alive. ‘No’, she said (modestly and honestly) ‘there are many living iconographers much better than me’, citing Zinon as an example.  She did know, however, where she had authority. ‘I understand some things well, and I want to be able to leave what I do know somewhere, so it is not lost.’  She said she wanted her students to “jump over” her. ‘That’s impossible, I said, ‘you are too high to jump over.’ Playfully but emphatically she answered, ‘then I don’t want to teach you.’”

As an iconographer her influence is immeasurable: a hero and pioneer to many generations of icon painters in Russia; a consummate teacher of the sacred art and a peerless example of the profession to hundreds in the West. Truly the light of her accomplishments continue to shine forth in the world and will only grow more bright as future generations come to know her.

Synaxis Of All Saints Who Have Shone Forth In North America

Synaxis Of All Saints Who Have Shone Forth In North America

Ksenia Pokrovsky was the author of many new icons. Her “Synaxis Of All Saints Who Have Shone Forth In North America” has become famous as the prototype for iconographers to follow. The icon is owned by the Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and is housed in OCA headquarters in Syosset, New York. It was commissioned by Metropolitan Theodosius after Ksenia arrived in America. It is fitting that Ksenia fell asleep on the Feast of the Saints of North America, Sunday, July 7, 2013. The icon appeared on the OCA website that Sunday. For us it was an unforeseen synaxis of events, though surely appointed by God since before the foundation of the world.

SIX DAYS OF CREATION 2012 SCHEDULE

Something beautiful happened in Maggie Valley, North Carolina last week, September 11-17, 2011, and not just in the upper reaches of the Appalachian Mountains where leaves are beginning to turn gold ocher, burnt sienna and venetian red (pigments familiar to the iconographer’s palette).  During the last session of the Six Days of Creation for this year, 19 students gathered at Living Waters Catholic Reflection Center in Maggie Valley from 11 U.S.  states, Brazil and New Zealand to learn the ancient technique of icon making in the egg-tempera medium.

As usual, our students were a mix of first timers and veterans of Hexaemeron’s Six Days of Creation courses, now in our ninth year of offering the highest quality of instruction available on the North American continent in terms of thoroughness, aesthetic honesty and faithfulness to the tradition. This is not a self-assessment (boastful effusion), but the report of many of the hundreds of students who are grateful to have found the treasure of Ksenia Pokrovsky’s teaching.

True to our motto, “Iconography is Hard Work”, lessons began after sun’s first light at 7:30 A.M. for Morning Prayer and breakfast, and continued until artificial light was switched off in the workshop studio between 8:00 and 9:00 P.M. each day (and on the last day, near midnight).  If you are searching for a workshop that advertises lessons in iconography and are shopping for a bargain, nothing can compare with having access to Team Pokrovsky with Ksenia, her daughter Anna Gouriev and Marek Czarnecki for 10 to 12 hours a day.

Now, I am boasting, but not exaggerating.  Ask anyone who has “survived” Hexaemeron’s icon boot camp where three expert instructors mother every step of the progress students make toward birthing a sacred face on a humble wood board. Ask Fr. Stuart Sellar who traveled 8,500 miles from New Zealand or Dr. Gilberto Safra who has made the 4,600 mile air-trek from Sao Paulo, not once but four times.

Icon boot camp with Hexaemeron is not all hard work; it generates a temporary community that evolves lasting family like relationships among persons who desire to enter into the tradition of the art of the icon. Part of that evolution takes place in the light-hearted comradely enjoyed after work hours in the hospitality room.  For the fifth year in a row, one of our long-time students, Fr. Alexander (Sasha) Lisnichuk, treated us on Thursday night to a concert of traditional Brazilian ballads and Brazilian inspired rhythms of his own, which he plays on his seven-string violão (acoustic guitar). Next year we hope to enjoy some of Fr. Alexander’s music played on the cavaquinho, a four-string ukulele-like instrument brought to Brazil by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. Dr.  Safra, another member of our Hexaemeron family, presented Fr. Alexander with the beautiful little cavaquinho made in his home country.

Conversation around the hospitality tables sometimes turned philosophical. Discussions about the primitive state of iconography in America sparked many questions and concerns about how the serious student can significantly progress without structures of apprenticeship in place, such as exist under ecclesiastical guidance in Russia, and other predominately Orthodox countries. Even in our seminaries, training in the sacred art of the icon is not included except sporadically and on a very low level.

In such an underdeveloped environment, churches often yield to one of two options: importing iconographers from Russia and Greece or hiring an amateur practitioner.  We have seen many times that clergy sponsor parishioners to go through our icon boot camp in order to use them gratis as resident iconographers.

The reason given for this is that congregations cannot afford the work of professional iconographers and therefore turn to artists within their midst who will “gift” the services of adorning.  This is often the case with mission churches that may not be able to even provide a permanent space for worship. It is troubling, however, that achieving permanency sometimes means priorities favor providing corporeal comfort over spiritual essentials for Orthodox worship. Hence, the proliferation of laminated photographs substituted for icons or iconesque folk-art taking the place of works aesthetically and theologically appropriate. This mentality is so pervasive that it threatens the livelihood of accomplished iconographers and lowers expectations for and recognition of what the icon is. All of which only serves to keep iconography in the primitive state that we see it now.

Our seasoned students understand this catastrophe and genuinely desire to become equipped to meet the needs of their churches for sacred adornment. The quality work they produced in Maggie Valley is a testament to their talent and sobriety of purpose.

Again, as with the workshop held in the remote setting of St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary, June 19-25, 2011, the fundamental question of Hexaemeron’s mission is raised.  We have never claimed that the workshop model is capable of graduating iconographers. In fact, we have stated such in all our literature and in our classes. We return from a glorious six days, surrounded by the natural beauty of mountain streams and forests, happy to have reconnected with long-time friends and to have made new ones. Yet again, we are aware that we must find a way to help them become fully literate in the language of iconography in which they have invested themselves to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ by means of line and color.

Again, we turn to the Holy Trinity and ask for divine direction on how to establish a permanent shelter for the thorough training of iconographers.  Again, we find ourselves evaluating our mission after wandering these last ten years, pitching our tent where we may to spend six days providing lessons that can hardly be apprehended in six years of close apprenticeship with a master teacher like Ksenia Pokrovsky.  In a completely unforeseen way, we have become a  part of the Izograph Society of Iconographers that Ksenia and her fellow pioneers founded in Russia  in the 1980’s when making icons was a crime on par with trafficking in firearms, pornography and narcotics. Under Ksenia’s uncompromising guidance, we are helping to recover icon writing, not as an indigenous art of America, but as an organic link to the ancient tradition of iconography, a rescuing and resurrection of sublime models upon which to base what comes after us in gratitude for what we have received.

On these shores we are pioneering works of beauty for which an aesthetically and spiritually starved culture desperately yearns, though perhaps unaware. Our students’ work reminds us that God provides beautiful things in the wilderness that may someday change the world. Iconography is hard work, but Our Lord’s burden is easy and His yoke is light.

And, as Dostoevsky has famously said, “Beauty shall save the world.”

Mary Kathryn Lowell

“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

One of the sweetest men we have ever known, Fr. Seraphim Scheidler, reposed in Our Lord, January 17, 2011. He had struggled with a weak heart condition for many years. We first met him in 2003 at our inaugural icon-painting workshop in Lexington, KY. Father became a regular at the Six Days of Creation workshops, sponsored by Hexaemeron non-profit organization, and led by Ksenia Pokrovsky.

Fr. Seraphim loved the Orthodox mission in Indonesia, which he visited twice in an official capacity. In fact, he was ordained to the sub-diaconate at Holy Apostle Thomas Orthodox Church in Jakarta, February 23, 2006,  and was initially assigned to work with Fr. Daniel Byantoro, founder of the Indonesian Orthodox Church.  Fr. Seraphim’s poor heart-health held him back from realizing his desire to serve in Indonesia along side Fr. Daniel.

Truly, an un-self-conscience servant of love, Fr. Seraphim’s  focus was always on the person before him. What a shining light of kindness he was, he is, even more brightly now! Fr. Seraphim was (and is) loved by everyone who has been blessed to know him. We at Hexameron are honored to be among this blessed company. We will greatly miss him.

Memory Eternal, our dear Father and friend!

Read more about Fr. Seraphim Scheidler’s life:

http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2010/07/18/the-story-of-fr-seraphim-scheidler/#axzz1BKwjYNll

 

 

Fr. Seraphim and Marek Czarnecki taking a break from icon painting, June 2005, St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Lexington, KY


Excerpted from Lesson 5 of  THE TECHNIQUE OF ICONOGRAPHY: Method and Teachings of Xenia Pokrovskaya and the IZOGRAPH SCHOOL OF ICONOGRAPHY. Text written by Marek Czarnecki, copyright 2003 held by Izograph.

Drawing, designing and composing an icon is the subject for an entire book.  As we begin to learn to write icons, paint icons if you will, the best way is to copy good, solid, classical, fundamental prototypes.  How do we determine which are the best to use?  For the outsider or beginner, all icons look the same ― whether Greek, Russian, classical Byzantine, Old Believer style, folk types, icons influenced by western naturalism and icons mass-produced in artistic workshops for tourism revenue.

Before we discuss technique, we need to establish some criteria.

What kind of icons will we write?

Today, iconography is at the stage of archaeology; we are rediscovering a phenomenon that for the most part remains hidden, remote and unpracticed. As you write icons, you will see the puzzled astonishment of family and friends who will say to you: “You mean people still make icons? I thought they were only in museums and old churches!”  Here in the United States where the tradition is very new, we know icons only from reproductions in books. We cannot venture off to St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai desert, the Benaki Museum in Athens, the Tretkyov in Moscow or even our parish church to examine prototypes first hand.  As an iconographer, one of your most important resources is your own library of books on iconography, which contain good clear, color reproductions of prototypes.

Nothing substitutes for seeing actual icons. If you are able, make every effort to travel to where you can observe the great icons masterpieces first hand.  Reproductions in books never accurately convey the living presence, the human touch, material construction, texture and subtlety of the colors in the real icon.  Books are a pragmatic, and for most of us, necessary tool, but they can only be trusted up to a point.  Try finding the same icon reproduced in different books and you will see this is not an argument about nuance or taste —the differences are radical.