SASKATOON — An exhibition entitled “Iconography in Our Time: The Power of Visual Prayer” was launched with a reception at the Musée Ukrainia Museum (MUM) in Saskatoon Nov. 19.
“Today, we celebrate iconography,” said curator and instructor Anna Mycyk. “In a world of chaos and uncertainty, it is an expression of faith and a beacon of light. Icons invite contemplation, and are inseparable from prayer. Their purpose is to engage the viewer.”
The icons in the exhibition were written by local iconographers over the past several years.
“We have rules and guidelines in iconography, one of which is to share the joy and love of writing icons with others,” continued Mycyk. “Museums are fascinating settings for preserving and sharing culture, ideas, heritage, and art, and we are pleased to show this exhibition at the MUM.”
Of the icons on display, Mysyk said they are both “deeply personal and universally accessible.”
Together, she and her collaborator, Giselle Bauche, offer classes, workshops, and retreats in iconography.
“These offerings have garnered enthusiasm throughout Saskatoon over the past 15 years,” said Bauche. “It has grown beyond our expectations.”
While rooted in the Eastern Catholic tradition, the practice of icon-writing transcends denominational lines.
Cathryn Wood, program co-ordinator for the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism and an exhibition participant, remarked that “Lutherans and Anglicans, Catholics and Baptists” attend the classes offered by Bauche and Mysyk: ”We come together from different denominations to find a commonality in icon writing.”
“We have become an ecumenical community,” said Bauche. “It’s been an honour and a gift to us, and we are grateful.”
Wood began writing icons after being invited by her father, Rev. Larry Mitchell, a semi-retired minister within the Anglican Diocese of Saskatoon.
“I loved it right away,” Mitchell said of his first experience of icon-writing. “There’s something about looking at that icon and the face looking back at you that hits you inside. You get connected.”
“Anna and Gisele start each class with Taizé prayer,” continued Wood, “and so the whole experience becomes very meaningful.”
Of attending iconography classes together as father and daughter, Wood said, “We’ve always been close, and this has given us another opportunity to connect.”
Longtime iconography student and exhibition participant Rev. Paul Matheson,a Baptist minister, says he was drawn to the ancient practise after being exposed to icons on a trip to the Holy Land many years ago.
“The process of writing the icon itself is a prayerful, meditative experience that uses a different part of the brain than I use in my everyday working life. For me, it’s a time to come apart from all the activity of being a pastor in professional ministry and nurture my soul.”
Kate Hodgson, exhibition participant and a graduate of Saskatoon’s Lay Formation program, described the launch as a family reunion: “Being part of the community has been wonderful. It’s a great mix of people from different traditions and that has enriched our prayer and our sharing.”
Originally a student of fine art, Hodgson found iconography to be a way of exploring her love of art as prayer.
“It was wonderful to put away the egocentric aspects of the visual arts and move into something more spiritual,” she said. Icon writing “is like meditation. It’s soothing and relaxing. It takes you to another space, and at the end you have a beautiful icon to take home.”
Mycyk and Bauche extended their appreciation to all of iconographers involved in the exhibition. “Iconography is an expression of God, love, and prayer,” they affirmed. “For this we are grateful.”
The exhibition runs until Jan. 30, 2018. For more information, see http://www.mumsaskatoon.com