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Nun reaches back through centuries to create religious icons

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  • Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
    This story is taken from News at sacbee.com. Nun reaches back through centuries to create religious icons By Bob Sylva -- Bee Columnist - (Published September
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2004
      This story is taken from News at sacbee.com.

      Nun reaches back through centuries to create religious icons

      By Bob Sylva -- Bee Columnist - (Published September 4, 2004)

      In a tiny basement studio of a big house on L Street that serves as a
      modern convent for a pretty hip posse of five Catholic nuns, Anne
      Sekul sits at her drawing board and blasts Gregorian chants on her CD
      player. The solemn music sets a divine mood.

      She fasts, she meditates, she contemplates the beyond. At a precise,
      illuminating moment not of her own authority, the spirit arrives -
      this wet brush of flame - and the holy image is slowly revealed.

      Then, in the aura of grace, in a yielding of control, in a technique
      of illustration that is centuries old, Sekul begins to paint on gesso-
      surfaced board. Her subdued colors are extracted from vegetables and
      crushed rock, mixed with egg emulsion to form tempera. She also
      applies a haloed radiance of gold leaf.

      Hers is an expression of faith, not artistry.

      Sekul paints - the proper term is "writes" - icons. Not those
      clickable doodads on computer desktops, but rather these gorgeous and
      timeless renditions of Jesus Christ, the saints, the archangels,
      Blessed Mary, which, among the faithful, are cherished for their
      inspired ability to divulge the eternal.

      Icons are typically a fixture of the Eastern Orthodox tradition,
      Greek, Russian, Serbian and Armenian among them. But not the Roman
      Catholic, whose devotional objects are less stylized and more three-
      dimensional. Moreover, icons usually are written by specially trained
      iconographers authorized by the patriarch. Not rendered by a bold
      Catholic nun, however devout in her spiritual purpose.

      "I try to follow and respect the tradition," says Sekul, cognizant of
      her encroachment on sacred ground. "When I begin an icon, I fast, I
      pray, I meditate. This is a spiritual endeavor, not an artistic one.
      But I'm just learning the theology."

      Now one afternoon this week, a pool of sunlight afire on the cool,
      shady sidewalk, Sekul is sitting in her basement studio. There is a
      shelf of texts, a cup of brushes, a chapel-like quiet. On one wall,
      there is a gallery of sacred figures: Christ, the Holy Mother,
      Archangel Gabriel, St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Teresa de Avila -
      all rendered in grave, extenuated figures that recall El Greco.

      "You can call me Sister or you can call me Anne," offers Sekul, who
      herself is a picture of informality. Later, of her appearance, she
      quips, "Would you put down that I'm blond, 5-foot-9, weigh 120

      Sister, that would be cause for deceit.

      In truth, Sekul, 52, is energetic and fit, with a bowl of brown hair
      and watchful brown eyes. She's wearing cropped cargo pants, a blue T-
      shirt and sandals. She doesn't look like a nun. But, then, upon
      reflection, what does a nun look like?

      Sekul grew up at 42nd and J and graduated from St. Francis High
      School. "I didn't want to be a nun," she confesses. "I know that
      sounds terrible to say. But it didn't seem like a lot of fun. But I
      also knew that I couldn't do anything else in life until I tried the
      community (of Mercy sisters)."

      That was 30 years ago. After a satisfying, even fun career of
      teaching and administration, of starting the Mercy Education Resource
      Center, Sekul, a lifelong painter, took a sabbatical five years ago
      to pursue icon writing. She studied under a demanding teacher at
      Mount Angel in Oregon. "I feel a call to do this," she says of
      contemplative icon writing. "I think it has been in me for a long

      Lately, Sekul is doing small commissions for local Catholic churches.
      She believes the sometimes overly secularized Catholic decor could
      benefit from an infusion of the more splendid Byzantine ritual. The
      holy icons have amplified the light in the niche of her own soul.

      "I think this has changed me for the better," says Sekul. "I think I
      am more aware of my faith, my prayer life. I think it has reminded me
      to be more patient and kind to people. When you think about life, the
      meaning of life, it is about relinquishing control. It is about
      letting God enter your life with goodness."


      About the Writer

      Reach The Bee's Bob Sylva at (916)321-1135 or bsylva@.... Back
      columns: www.sacbee.com/sylva.
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