BLOOMFIELD – In one room, Marek Czarnecki was showing art students how to apply layers of color over a painted icon of a saint. Across the hall, Jonathan Pageau led a workshop on how to carve icons in soapstone or boxwood and achieve fine details in bas relief.
It was all part of “Six Days of Creation,” two separate courses by two renowned iconographers June 7-13 at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary. Mr. Czarnecki, who owns a gallery in Meriden called Seraphic Restorations, has been offering iconography writing workshops at the seminary for several years. Mr. Pageau, owner of Pageau Carvings in Montreal, Canada, has been creating carved and statuary icons for about 12 years. This was his first workshop in this location.
Orthodox iconography is an ancient art dating back to the earliest days of Christianity. Primarily an Eastern Rite art, it provides authentic, traditional images intended to “exemplify the larger consciousness of the Christian Church,” according to Mr. Czarnecki’s website, www.seraphicrestorations.com.
“Remember, the colors are translucent,” Mr. Czarnecki reminded his students. “Paint darker colors first, then lighter colors. And paint a little here, a little there, not all in one area.”
In Mr. Pageau’s workshop, everyone was silently engrossed in painstakingly chipping away at 7.5” x 10” slabs of soapstone imported from Kenya, trying to achieve a consistent bevel and background depth. A traced image of a saint was their only visual guide.
“This is a drawing based on traditional models,” said Mr. Pageau. “You try to stay within the tradition of [each saint’s] image. It’s a fully traditional art where you basically take what has been there and you create variations on that.”
When creating a bas relief image, he says he likes to challenge himself and round out the form, then work on the details, and do the face last. “I like the pressure,” he said. “When you make the face of a saint, it’s as if that’s when the image comes alive.”
When creating an image of Christ, he said, he holds his breath. “You know you’re going to create an image that will be part of someone’s life,” he said.
He once was commissioned to carve the image of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) for his bishop. “When I did the eyes, I showed it to some friends and a friend said it looked like the bishop,” he said. “I had not planned it. It was a magical moment.”
Both Mr. Czarnecki and Mr. Pageau are on the faculty of Hexaemeron, a nonprofit organization based in Lexington, Ky., that offers courses in ecclesial arts, including iconography. The name derives from the Greek term that signifies the six days of creation.