top of page In Arts & Entertainment - Extraordinary, inclusive paintings displayed at Downtown church

December 16, 2016

Seventeen years ago, Andrea Bowes received a tarot card reading at a bookshop in Sedona, Arizona. The reader, after looking at Bowes' cards, fervidly expressed to Bowes that she was an artist and the world was waiting for what she had to paint.

At the time, Bowes was not an artist, although she always considered herself artistic.

"I thought, 'come on, this sounds big and inflated,' and then she started yelling at me," says Bowes. "I thought, 'I just paid you 40 bucks and you're yelling at me and telling me what to do?'"

Apparently painting was in the cards for Bowes, because years later, she fell in love with a 15th century Byzantine egg tempera painting technique.

"It's a practice that they've garnered for years and years," says Bowes. "There are hardly any books written on it."

Although Bowes is not Eastern Orthodox, a master of the technique agreed to teach her the tedious process in a Cedarburg church. Bowes says her teacher and other students refer to her jokingly as "the heretic" because she is the only non-Eastern Orthodox person in the group.

"The entire process is a spiritual exercise for me," says Bowes, who uses the term "icon writer" instead of "painter" to describe herself in this role.

Bowes started out painting traditional Eastern Orthodox icons, but gradually incorporated iconography from many other religions, some controversial like a black Madonna, a female whirling dervish and the tarot card, Temperance. At first, her teacher was skeptical about her intention to paint non-traditional icons in a traditional way, but realized Bowes was approaching the art form with deep respect.

"She realized I'm respectful of all religions, including her religion," says Bowes.

Today, all of Bowes' paintings are a combination of symbols and colors from many different faiths.

"I describe them as 'amalgamations of sacred images of all faiths,'" she says. "That's really where my heart is: integrating faiths."

The process is very detailed and fastidious and each painting can take hundreds of hours to create. Traditionally, the icon is painted on poplar board that's prepared with 10 or more layers of gesso, rabbit-hide glue and white linen. These sealants create a permeable marble-like surface which allows the many layers of pigment / paints to saturate the surface.

"With each layer there is an ever-increasing integration of color and depth that takes on a spiritual presence of its own," says Bowes.

The pigments are made from ground-up semi precious stones and minerals and are created specifically for each piece. Egg yolk and white wine or vinegar are used to preserve the painting. After they are dry, the paintings are "christened" with linseed oil.

"They believe these paintings are the window of the divine," Bowes says.

Bole, which is liquid clay, is used on the rim of the board as a medium for the "guilding of the halo." With a special agate, the clay is ardently sanded and burnished. Once it's polished to a smooth surface, Bowes breathes on the clay to warm and moisten it so she can adhere gold foil.

"The gold foil is so fine that a breath could float it away," she says.

Last month,"Cultures of Faith," a collection of Bowes' paintings, opened at The Treasury Room, a gallery inside the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, a Roman Catholic church at 812 N. Jackson St. The show runs through Jan. 20.

The extraordinary exhibit features about two dozen icons created by Bowes over the past 11 years. The icons come from many different religions, from Catholicism and Buddhism to Wicca / Paganism.

"It was lovely the cathedral let me put this collection here," says Bowes.

Two years ago, the church hired Bowes to paint a permanent installation of a historic deacon in the sanctuary.

"It's heady to realize this is something that will be here for a very, very long time," says Bowes. "Something your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will be able to see."

Originally, Bowes gave her paintings away, even though they take more than 100 hours to complete.

"It was a hobby that became a little business," she says.

Byzantine technique used to create religious iconography and felt compelled to try her hand at it.

"Some of these paintings are hundreds of years old and have absorbed the smoke from the incense and the prayers and meditations of hundreds of people," says Bowes. "You can sense it in the piece."

Historically, this style of art is confined to the Eastern Orthodox Church and passed down through people, teacher to student.

Bowes asked a photographer friend to shoot images of some of her work, and when he came to her office to drop off the prints (Bowes is a therapist by trade), there was a seemingly clairvoyant person in the waiting room who saw them and said, "There is so much energy in the pretense of these. You have to get them out to the public."

"I would have never seen them this way, it was more of a spiritual practice for me, something I loved to do, and it blossomed into all of this," Bowes says. "Archetypal images carry spiritual energy. It doesn't matter if you're Christian or Jewish. They speak to everyone universally."

The Treasury Home is open to the public on Wednesdays from 12:15 to 1 p.m; Saturdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact Andrea Bowes at andreabowes7@gmail.comfor more information.

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Deacon Icon Project Recognizes Ministry of Deacons

October 22, 2014

Deacons live out the Gospel daily. They volunteer to serve the church while carrying out their jobs and fulfilling their responsibilities to their spouses and families. The Deacon Icon Project is an effort to acknowledge and thank deacons for their service to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Katherine de Shazer, an iconographer with Sophia Sacred Arts, writes one of the icons on tables set up in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, on Oct. 9. When finished, de Shazer and fellow iconographer, Andrea Bowes, will have put in 300 hours of work on the project. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)A mosaic of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi donated to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist parish office by the Franciscan religious communities inspired the project. The painting acknowledges the ministry the Franciscans have done in the church in Southeastern Wisconsin.

A deacon suggested to Fr. Jeffrey Haines, rector of the cathedral, that the deacons of the archdiocese be acknowledged through a work of art.

“I was fascinated because I’ve been very blessed as a priest to have affiliations with permanent deacons who enrich my ministry,” said Fr. Haines. “They’re members of the clergy with their own service, filling a very unique role in the church. What a way for the archdiocese to have a place where people can come and have some way to honor the deacons and everything they’ve done.”

Their service at Mass is not the only aspect of the diaconate that will be acknowledged by this project, but also their work in the community as they live out the Gospel, according to Fr. Haines.

“Most people see the deacons helping out at the altar, proclaiming the Gospels,” said Fr. Haines. “But the primary work of a deacon is not at the altar, but in the hospitals, prisons, nursing homes and meal programs.”

When Fr. Haines first presented the idea to the deacons, they were hesitant, since their ministry serves the less

A Memorial Mass for all deacons and wives who have died will be held Sunday, Oct. 26, at Holy Family Church, 271 Fourth Street Way, Fond du Lac at 2 p.m. The public is invited to come and learn more about the Deacon Icon Project.

fortunate. They felt they didn’t need to be honored, he said.

“We have to foster our own vocations for this ministry,” said Deacon Tom Hunt. “It’s not about who we are, but getting the word out to prospective men that this is not a secondary ordination; it is an ordination for life.”

Representatives of the deacon senate discussed possibilities for the project and decided to have two icons of deacon saints created — Stephen and Lawrence. St. Stephen exemplifies diaconal ministry in proclaiming the Word of God; St. Lawrence represents its service to the poor and needy.

After researching several iconographers and painters, the deacons chose the local artisans of Sophia Sacred Arts to write the icons.

The word “iconography” comes from Greek roots meaning “to write images.” When writing icons, layers of color are painted, each layer symbolizing the written word.

“With each layer there’s a deeper presence that comes onto the board so that when people see them they will

To contribute to the Deacon Icon Project, send checks to “Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 831 North Van Buren St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 53202. In the memo line on the check, please note it is intended for the “Deacon Icon Project.”

speak to them in ways that are deeper than just reading a book or reading something with your mind,” said iconographer Katherine de Shazer. “It speaks to the heart in a different way than anything really.”

The artists of Sophia Sacred Arts use authentic 15th-century Byzantine egg tempera to write the icons instead of acrylic paint. Egg tempera is an ancient art involving grinding and adding real egg and wine to make the pigment.
Representatives from the deacon senate collaborated with iconographers to determine the colors and symbols that were to be used, adapting the traditional aspects of iconography to the needs of the diaconate and the cathedral.

“It’s been really wonderful to actually experience some of the reality of who these beings actually are,” said de Shazer. “Icons hold the spiritual energy of the beings that they represent.”

De Shazer and Andrea Bowes write the icons in the cathedral and invite the public to become a part of the process, promoting the diaconate at the same time.

“Most people have never seen anything like this before,” said Bowes. “We wanted people to be able to observe it and feel more a part of it, so we can advertise this project to promote the diaconate.”

With many school and youth groups visiting the cathedral each year, the icons will serve as a teaching and inspirational tool, in particular with service to vocations to the diaconate.

“We are trying to bring the sacred art of iconography to communities,” said de Shazer. “To help people understand what icons are, how they’re painted, how the painting imbues their holiness. The community itself can come together in prayer in viewing these icons.”

The project also acknowledges and thanks the deacons who have retired or died.

 “The deacons ask for nothing; they don’t get paid,” said Fr. Haines. “It’s a way for us to thank them for what they’ve done for the church.”

De Shazer and Bowes will finish writing by the end of October, completing about 300 hours on the project. The icons will take about a month to cure, oil, and frame for permanency. The plan is to add lamps and flowers to the sanctuary as well.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki will dedicate and bless the icons in a special service at the cathedral on Dec. 21. 
The deacons have been donating funds to pay for the icons, as well as the protection and display for the icons, the lamps, and the upkeep and care of the shrine. The goal, if enough funds are raised, is to create small reproductions of the icons as gifts to the permanent deacons.

Any remaining funds will be donated to the sister parish of the archdiocese, La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic, for an educational scholarship fund.

“I’m hoping that parishioners will see this as a good tool for vocations and see what deacons have done for them in the past and into the future that they may come forward with whatever financial assistance they might view reasonable for this,” said Deacon Hunt.

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