SURING — It’s an expression of faith that does not require words.
Sitting in her art studio, Ardis Poquette recalled the countless hours she has poured into the religious icon paintings that allow her to share her faith with family, friends and her parish in a way she never could.
“When I grew up, people didn’t talk about their feelings, they didn’t talk about religion and they didn’t talk about anything,” Poquette said. “I have trouble talking about those things to this day, but this is the way I can express it.”
Poquette and her husband, Rick, lived in Suring before moving to Minneapolis, where they spent the next 35 years working and raising their three children, Ray, Val and Joe. For 24 years, Poquette worked at the Wooden Bird Factory, carving intricate decoys of ducks and other wild birds.
“This was an eight-hour-a-day job,” Poquette said. “I really worked. And what’s funny is most people do this type of thing when they retire. I thought, ‘No, I’m not going to do this when I retire because I just did it as a job for how many years.’”
Around 15 years ago, Poquette and her husband moved back to Suring to retire. With her newfound free time, Poquette began looking for hobbies that she could pursue. That is when she stumbled across a class for creating icons, an art form developed in the early centuries by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
“I saw an ad in the Green Bay Press-Gazette that a gal was coming to Green Bay for a six-week class and I thought that sounded like a good opportunity,” Poquette said. “It was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.”
Icons feature etched depictions of religious figures and scenes on specially-prepared wooden boards. The paint, made from a combination of pigment, egg yolk and vinegar, is meticulously mixed and then layered onto the board with small brushes until the colors are perfected.
“If I finish about one of these a year, I am doing pretty good,” Poquette said. “It’s very tedious, but I love it.”
Now 70, Poquette said icons have become her medium for expressing her faith and she feels others may also benefit from practicing faith without words.
“I think it’s very spiritual,” Poquette said. “You get very involved in it. If you paint the face of Christ, you are just involved in it. I am sure there are other people out there who can’t talk about faith either, but you can always find some way of expressing it. If people are taking care of little kids or old people, that’s kind of their way of showing faith.”
Once Poquette completes her icons, she gives them to her friends and family. Some of them now hang in St. Michael Church in Suring, where Poquette and her husband are members.
“That’s just the best thing, to be able to give them away to whomever you want to give them to,” Poquette said. “It’s kind of nice. People really seem to enjoy receiving them.”
Some of the icons Poquette has completed include the Hospitality of Jesus; Moses removing his sandals in front of the burning bush; Mary; and the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. She has also painted a variety of other scenes that are not based on the ancient icons, but she said these are also very meaningful to her.
Recently, Poquette and her husband moved to a retirement community nestled in the woods of Cecil, where they plan to pursue their interests together and enjoy visits from their kids and four grandchildren.
“That’s really why we sold the house and the 15 acres, because I want to do my paintings and hobbies, and my husband has other things he would like to do other than mow the lawn and shovel snow,” Poquette said. “There is always stuff to do and you just keep doing it.”
Picking up her paint brush, Poquette looked down at her next icon, the Annunciation of Mary, and explained how to fill the white scene with the brilliant colors that bring the image to life.
“Most paintings you start with light and go to dark, but these you start with dark and go to the light,” Poquette said, mimicking strokes on the white scene. “You go to the light. You start with the darkest colors and build up your paints to go to the light.”
It’s a simple lesson many may benefit from. By expressing your faith, you too can find light in the darkest of colors.