‘Iconography in Advent’ introduces artistic form of prayer

By Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass | December 19, 2013

TWO RIVERS — Icons are written, not painted. And the liquid used to create them is comprised of egg yolks mixed with crushed colored powder.

Participants in a recent “Iconography in Advent” class at St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Two Rivers included Donna Beath, left, Shirley Beath, Alyssa Weiss, Mary Schmitt, Elizabeth Weiss and the instructor, Sr. Regina Rose Pearson, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)
Participants in a recent “Iconography in Advent” class at St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Two Rivers included Donna Beath, left, Shirley Beath, Alyssa Weiss, Mary Schmitt, Elizabeth Weiss and the instructor, Sr. Regina Rose Pearson, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

Those were just two bits of information Sr. Regina Rose Pearson taught nine people during an “Iconography in Advent” class, which was held the evenings of Dec. 4, 11 and 18 at St. Peter the Fisherman Church.

“Icons are meant to be read, not just looked at,” Sr. Regina Rose emphasized. “And at the same time, the icon also reads the viewer, so it’s something like a conversation. You’re very engaged in the piece.

“I’ve enjoyed teaching things like that about icons to other people. I enjoy art, and I saw a parallel between this art form and themes in Advent. So I thought it would be a good time of year to do this,” she said. “Icons are very much rooted in the incarnation, which is perfect for Advent. … I’m just really glad we had so many people interested in taking the class and learning.”

Sr. Regina Rose, a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity, spent the first 2 1/2-hour class sharing her knowledge about the history and concepts involved with iconography. The other two classes were spent learning the process of egg tempera — combining crushed colored powder with egg yolks to create the “paint” — and then writing the icons.

Each person selected a picture of an icon, then tried his or her hand at duplicating it.

Among the students was Mary Schmitt, a former teacher at Holy Cross in Mishicot who’s in her 80s.

“I’ve never painted before, but I decided to do this because I like to learn — you never stop learning,” said Schmitt, who has 11 children — one of whom is James Schmitt, the mayor of Green Bay, and another who is Fr. Carl Schmitt, the pastor at Corpus Christi Parish in Sturgeon Bay.

Schmitt chose an icon of Christ the Pantocrator.

“I was drawn to it because I didn’t knew what Pantocrator meant. I liked it, too, because the two sides of his face look different — one is divine and one is humanity,” said Schmitt, who then added with a chuckle, “And if they look different, I thought, ‘Well, with my painting skills the sides will almost certainly look different, so that’s perfect for me.’”

On the other end of the spectrum, the class’ youngest participant, 9-year-old Elizabeth Weiss, said she chose her icon “because I liked the big faces and colors I could use on that one. Blue is one of my favorite colors.”

She added that she loves art and painting “and I wanted to learn more about writing icons.”

Elizabeth was joined in the class by her sister, Alyssa Weiss, 15, and brother, Andrew Weiss, 13, as well as adult participants Julie Weiss, Dan Tegen, Jerry Levanetz, Donna Beath and her mother, Shirley Beath.

At the front of the classroom were several icons displayed on a table. The largest one was brought from the St. Peter the Fisherman Convent, where Sr. Regina Rose and three other Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity live. The others were borrowed from Fr. Peter Mitchell, associate pastor at St. Peter the Fisherman.

Because of the strong interest in the session — the class size was limited to allow for individual instruction when needed — Sr. Regina Rose said she’s hoping to schedule another iconography class during Lent.

“People are hungry to find ways to pray more deeply, and this is one of those ways,” Sr. Regina Rose said.

MORE PHOTOS: To see more photos, go to this link.

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