Monday, January 30, 2012

Catholic School Week Art

Am helping out at a local Catholic school for Catholic School Week. I say "helping out," in fact I get paid for the three days I signed up for. Back in December, the head teacher, the principal, and I had a brain storm session and decided that, for an art project, a group mural was the way to go.

The idea is to give each student a square canvas of 8 inches, on which the student is to draw and paint a section of a larger image. In the end all of the squares are assembled in right sequence to form the complete image in the fashion of a tiled mosaic. In keeping with the Catholic School Week theme, the school wanted an image of The Lord, I suggested the Pantocrator icon (which I mentioned in this 2009 post), they agreed, the project was born.

Today was the first day. It was the first time I worked with kids since I started teaching at the university last fall. I found it a welcome change of pace. I stayed on my feet all day, was busy handing out supplies, straightening crooked drawn lines, wiping glue and paint off tables and my own sleeves, washing brushes and changing out dirty water, all the while kept watch of what to do next. But I didn't mind a bit of it all. I like the kids, and think they liked me as well. The preschoolers even made pancakes for me.

As I corrected the initial drawings on each canvas square, I introduced the students and their teachers to the tradition of icons, explained the rich symbolism in the gesture of Christ, use of color and Greek letters, and the basic theology supporting their use.

I'm posting the image of the original Christ Pantocrator icon situated in the Monastery of St. Catherine of Alexandria, on Mount Sainai, Egypt, circa AD 600, along with the altered, thematically simplified version which I re-created as a working model. Notice the lightly marked grids over the latter. Students have transposed the shapes and lines onto their individual, corresponding square. On Wednesday I will help them fill in the color.

I'm fully aware of the risk of posting my own handicraft alongside the exquisite ancient icon. If things don't look quite "right" in my version, the partial excuse is that I had to "bend" the proportion quite a bit to make the figure fit in the format consisting of 8"x8" squares. I've also since noticed that somehow I succeeded in making the Lord appear melancholy in the working model, whereas in the original He radiates sovereign beauty of the Pantocrator: the Ruler of the Universe.

To be continued: by the time the mural is completed, the countenance of the Lord will likely to look different yet again. I told the students that they are not expected to achieve perfection. The key is to do according to their best ability. I steal from Mother Teresa: "God does not ask us to be successful, He only asks us to be faithful."

Christ Pantocrator, Monastery of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Egypt

working model for Christ Pantocrator group mural, acrylic on illustration board, 24"x36"


  1. What bravery! What derring-do!

    You're an inspiration. Can't wait to see the kid's finished work.

  2. Jan, Thank you! Not as brave as teaching teenagers to drive, I think? I will post the final work by the kids.


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