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Mastering the symbolic language of iconography

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WHITEFIELD (Catholic Online) - When members of St. Mary's Faith Formation invited Kristina Sadley to Maine, she jumped at the chance.

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Highlights

By Dan Harrington
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
3/30/2009 (1 decade ago)

Published in Living Faith

"I grew up in the Roman Catholic faith and have been an art person since childhood," she said.

Sadley is a Roman Catholic iconographer who specializes in the Byzantine tradition of icon writing. After living in Maine for 30 years and earning a degree in art education from the University of Maine at Orono, Sadley moved to New Jersey in 1999.


As part of her job, she travels throughout New England to offer workshops in iconography.
She recently held a weeklong workshop at St. Denis Church in Whitefield. The event sparked enough interest that she has already made plans to return later this year.

"It's a wonderfully intense workshop and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.," Sadley said. "One lady wanted to come at 7:30 a.m. Everyone was really into it."

Wendy Ford of Waldoboro had already taken Sadley's workshop but also attended a lecture that Sadley gave on Feb. 26 to explain her work.

"I took the class with Kristina because I didn't like icons. The more time you spend with them, the more you realize they're not portraits," Ford said. "They're a way to see what I believe."

According to Sadley, icons are more about faith than art. She said that the word "icon" means image and "graphy" means writing.

"It's painted with a brush technically, but spiritually we say the icon is written. The images are based on the word [of God]," she explained. "It's a symbolic language. You should be able to read the icon."

Those who are versed in icon reading are able to decipher spiritual and biblical messages, even in the smallest details of the work.

For example, in icons of Jesus, his halo contains horizontal and vertical lines. These represent the sacrifice Christians believe that Christ made on the cross.

Similarly, floral patterns in a halo represent the garden of paradise and would typically be found in halos of angels or saints.

Unlike other religious artwork, icons are created on wood and blessed with special oil.

Sadley said that the ancient process she follows for icon writing has twenty-two steps and requires her to pray and fast.

"You pray to hear God's word and put that image out in the world," she said.

Sadley has commissioned her work to churches and private homes. She uses all natural materials and grinds minerals to create colors. All the halos on her icons consist of 24 karat gold leaflets that she must be careful not to scratch.

She stressed that her work is based on a passage in the book of Genesis.

"The Bible says we were made in the image of God. That's scripture. We're all icons of God, and we can share that image with each other in what we do," she said.

Andrew Williams of Gardiner took a special interest in Sadley's message. At 7 1/2 years old, he was the youngest person to attend her lecture last month.

"I really like icons and want to learn more about them," Andrew said. "I like to draw Christ and different saints."

The youngster is a member of St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church in Richmond and attended the event with his sister, 24-year-old Catherine Williams.

The siblings grew up with icons both in their church and in their home. After the lecture, Andrew presented Sadley with some artwork of his own as a gift.

Touched by the young man's interest, she said she hopes more people will appreciate icons and what they represent.

"A true icon exists in us all. My prayer is that each of us would be open to recognizing that possibility and put forth the image of Christ into the world," she said.

Kristina Sadley can be reached at prophecydesigns@verizon.net.

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