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Ancient Art Comes To Syracuse

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.staceypageonline.com/2012/11/22/ancient-art-comes-to-syracuse/ Ancient Art Comes To Syracuse November 22, 2012 8:00 AM Rebekah Whirledge When local
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 24, 2012
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      http://www.staceypageonline.com/2012/11/22/ancient-art-comes-to-syracuse/

      Ancient Art Comes To Syracuse

      November 22, 2012 8:00 AM
      Rebekah Whirledge

      When local artist Brian Whirledge reached a plateau in his craft, he
      sought a teacher who could instruct him further. Unfortunately, teachers
      of Byzantine art and music are few and far between, and hundreds of
      miles from his home in Syracuse.

      But when this art teacher learned of the creativity grants for public
      school teachers offered by the Lilly Endowment, he submitted a proposal
      to study these ancient arts abroad. He hoped to take his training from
      mostly self-taught to securing apprenticeships under master artists in
      these fields. His dream became reality when his proposal was approved
      and funded by Lilly this past summer.
      "I have always been an artist, both musically and visually. When I
      encountered the Orthodox Christian church, I was struck with the
      unapologetic role of the arts in the church," said Whirledge, a six-year
      elementary art teacher in the Fairfield Community School District. "The
      walls of Orthodox churches are covered with icons (painted artwork of
      Jesus, Mary, Saints) and the services are entirely sung. Singing and
      painting were natural avenues for me to serve the church."

      Whirledge spent five weeks from May to July in Athens, Greece, receiving
      lessons from Ioannis Arvanitis, a master Byzantine chanter. Under his
      mentor's guidance, Whirledge also sang with the St. Irene's Church choir
      in Athens several times per week during church services.
      "Byzantine music requires learning oral traditions through experience.
      St. Irene's showcases the best Byzantine chant in the world," said
      Whirledge. "A surreal moment was when a Greek friend in Chicago heard me
      singing in English on a radio podcast. St. Irene's services are
      routinely broadcast on Greek National Radio."

      While in Greece, Whirledge also made side trips around Athens, as well
      as north to Mount Athos and to Naxos and Aegina, Greek islands in the
      Aegean.

      "An experience of a lifetime were the days I spent on Mount Athos, which
      has been a Christian monastic refuge for over 1,000 years," he said.
      "The most moving experience was the feast of St. Paul in Athens. The
      service took place on Mars Hill, steps from the Acropolis, where the
      Apostle gave his famous speech recorded in Acts 17 and converted the
      first Christians in Athens. Church bells were ringing throughout the
      whole city. There were thousands of people including dignitaries and
      military."

      Once back in America on July 4, Whirledge began the second part of his
      Lilly-funded trip in Long Island, N.Y.
      "I assisted master iconographer Tom Clark on a project at Archangel
      Michael Greek Orthodox Church. I helped with borders and gold leaf
      gilding around a huge icon of Mary Mother of God, about 16 feet tall and
      24 feet wide," said Whirledge, who had never before created an icon
      mural of that caliber.

      For two weeks, he assisted his mentor for as much as 16 hours a day.
      Despite long hours, Whirledge says every minute spent painting the icon
      confirmed his passion for this type of art.

      "As an Orthodox Christian, icons are essential to our faith. They date
      back to the earliest Christians who worshipped in catacombs. While in
      Naxos, Greece, I saw iconography dating back to the fourth century,
      which is when the church first canonized the Bible as we know it," he
      explained. "Being surrounded with images of Christ and the Saints
      reminds us of the great act of our salvation."
      By working with Clark, Whirledge learned valuable lessons on the
      technical process of creating large-scale icons, as well as the hard
      work that comes with being a professional iconographer.

      "Being able to pursue my passions was amazing," said Whirledge, who has
      implemented many musical techniques learned in Greece at his home
      parish, St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Goshen, where he serves as the
      choir director. He has also recently completed the painting of a large
      icon, which will be installed in the church by Christmas.

      "The best memory I have from Greece was how pervasive the faith
      permeated the culture. Churches were always filled with people, either
      going to services or lighting a candle before they went on with their
      days," he said. "My goal is to continue improving the music at my own
      church and continue studying iconography, eventually painting icons for
      other churches."
      For more information about Whirledge's iconography or to contact him, go
      to www.brianwhirledge.com <http://www.brianwhirledge.com/>.



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