With a short deadline to meet, I worked quickly with the team, exchanging ideas and layouts for the figures, legends and symbols they elicited.My sketches had all been completed and approved, and I was on the starting blocks, (so to speak) with paintbrush in hand, motivated and eager to make a start.
However, when there was a sudden change of plan… I was informed that the icons were now to resemble something closer to photographic portraits.
Although the new September term was looming, I adjusted figures, recalling Abraham Lincoln's warning the dangers of "changing horses’ midstream..." And although sudden changes of plan can be unsettling, I have come to accept that it is usually part of God’s plan.
Creating contemporary icons of saints has its problems. There are many pre-conceptions about what an Icon is and what painting methods should be used. I feel the main ingredients are prayer and inspiration, yet I had been troubled by depicting St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) in casual clothing rather than her in Carmelite habit. However, one morning before mass, I imagined her holding up the brown scapular. (In this way, she would still be wearing the carmelite habit). This is something the school children may never have encountered had she been portrayed in her full Carmelite habit.
After this I found myself able to jump the hurdles set before me like a Grand National equine; obstacles were overcome and the icons completed with a few days to spare!
I hope the children will learn not only about the life of St. Teresa Benedicta, as a victim of the holocaust, but also of that important event in their English Catholic heritage; when the Blessed Virgin favoured St. Simon Stock with the brown scapular of Carmel.
"St. Simon was an Englishman, a man of great holiness and devotion, who always in his prayers asked the Virgin to favour his Order with some singular privilege. The Virgin appeared to him holding the Scapular in her hand. In its original context, the meaning of this promise was that Carmelite religious who persevered in their vocation would be saved. Beginning in the 16th century, the Carmelites began giving the brown scapular to lay people who wanted to be affiliated with the Order, and it became increasingly popular as a religious article.
Research showed that hangman's noose at the neck, and a dagger in the chest was the usual motif.With twenty characters to depict, the dagger and rope may have got a bit "samey". Variety was needed to pay tribute to each individual Saint.
Putting Faces to Names
I though it best to follow convention where "portraits" of the Martyrs were concerned, working from historic images of them.
Unable to find any portraits of Blessed Thomas Maxfield, I had to decide on his appearance, and what symbols I could use to identify him;
and so here is what I chose:
The flowers he holds signify more than just the fact that both the Gallows and his path to them were strewn with wild flowers; I chose species which represent the blood of the martyrs and their association with the passion of Christ.
The butterfly is a nod to his having suffered biting insects when imprisoned; though I have used here the symbol of "Eternal Life".
Balancing act with colours
The composition of the mural was to echo the paintings of Giotto and Fra Angelico.
As both had distinct styles, I chose elements from both to achieve the desired marriage between the two!
These artists did not use perspective as a contemporary artist would, and they favoured large discs of halos, and layering of their figures.
Last year we restored a Marian Retable for a church in Accrington.
The original shrine statue was long gone, and the replacement didn't quite fit.
To accommodate her size, some carved swags had been removed.
Despite her pretty face, stylistically the figure was rather stiffly posed; the overall impression was one of tension,
Our Lady under this title is traditionally portrayed in a shade of Royal blue, with a red gown.
As I painted the wine (precious blood of Christ) within the chalice, it felt right to continue this colour onto Mary's gown; (mindful that Jesus is of Mary's blood line.)
I decorated the hem of Mary's gown with orpherys of gold, similar to the ornament found on ornate tabernacles, for both are places which house Our Lord Jesus.
In making the statue, I felt it was important to have the Christ child assimilating the same gesture as the priest. (Who during the celebration of the Mass, serves in persona Christi, that is, in the very person of Christ, who is truly present.)
The new statue of Our Lady had to fit exactly into the existing aperture, and this was one reason Fr. S had problems finding a replacement. The apse was chamfered on both sides, so measurements had to be exact.
" Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: he is the minister of their salvation, their happiness and their authentic liberation, developing, in this gradual assumption of Christ's will, in prayer, in "being heart to heart" with him. Therefore this is the indispensable condition for every proclamation, which entails participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church." - Pope Benedict XVI 24 June 2009
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