Icon by Sean Kramer

Syrian-style icon by Sean Kramer

Thangka by Chuntui Lama

Detail from a thangka by Chuntui Lama

Icon by Jody Cole

Archangel Michael by Jody Cole

Contemporary Sacred Art:
Icons and Thangkas in West Brattleboro

Icon by Keri Wiederspahn

"Mandylion" by Keri Wiederspahn, "written" in encaustic (wax and pigment)

Six contemporary iconographers and one Nepali Tibetan thangka artist bring sacred painting traditions into the present in West Brattleboro over the next nine weeks, with luminous results. New to this year's exhibition are New Hampshire iconographers Keri Wiederspahn and Sean Kramer. Returning from last year's icons show are Pennsylvanians Jody Cole, George Philipos, David Palmer and Peter Pearson (see www.gallerywalk.org/Icons.html for a December 2008 article on icons and that original quartet of artists). Celebrating contemporary Tibetan painting and Buddhist subject matter, Chuntui Lamaís thangkas appear in an exhibition parallel to and concurrent with the icons.

At their foundation, the icons come from a meeting of traditions and cultures. Icons arose almost 2,000 years ago from the cross-fertilization of a number of spiritual and artistic traditions, including Egyptian, Syrian, Jewish, Christian, and Greco-Roman. Found in Egypt, the mystical Fayyum sarcophagus portraits created in egg-tempera and wax encaustic are one of a number of artistic sources for icons.

Thangkas are also part of living traditions, depicting Tibetan Buddhist culture, evoking its values, stories, and legends with most themes having a relevance to other cultures, such as orienting oneself and others with compassion, acting virtuously, and gaining in wisdom. Thangkas often show Buddhist enlightened beings and are visual tools for the onlooker to use in contemplation and visualizations. The painted image of a thangka is generally mounted on embroidered silk brocade in rich colors and a variety of patterns. Thangkas decorate monasteries, temples, and homes. As a scroll that can be also rolled up and unrolled, the portability of the thangka has been useful for lives on the move, such as for nomadic and displaced peoples.

The icons are "written" on wooden panel. The thangkas are painted on cloth. Even though they come out of different religious traditions, they share a canonical treatment of the pictorial composition, the symbolic treatment of subject matter, depictions of the face and figure, and the use of line, color and background elements.

Sean Kramer has studied icon painting with various Russian iconographers, and teaches at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. He is especially interested in how different sacred art traditions can nourish one another. Sean's website is at www.sacredarticons.com.

Keri Wiederspahn has been drawn to early sacred art of pre-Renaissance origins and Russian Byzantine iconography. The organic and sacramental nature of the process of iconography is key to what Keri finds so beautiful, along with the delicate art of working in luminous, handmade egg-tempera paints crafted from egg yolk and raw pigment. She also pulls from the early practice of encaustic painting with pigmented wax. Keri's website is www.iconeyestudio.com.

Chuntui Lama, a third-generation thangka artist from Nepal, now residing in New England, begins with a handmade canvas that he paints with pigments from Nepal and Tibet. He will be offering a day-long Thangka Painting workshop on the closing day of this exhibition.

Gallery Walk receptions are scheduled on November 6, December 4, and January 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. for this exhibition of icons and thangkas at C.X. Silver Gallery, 814 Western Ave. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through January 9 (appointments suggested -- call Adam Silver at (802) 579-9088). Any updated information on gallery hours along with a preview of the exhibition and further artist information is posted online at www.cxsilvergallery.com. The exhibit's closing-day program of events on Saturday, January 9, includes the aforementioned Thangka workshop, a Dim Sum Dumpling workshop, lunch, and a Forum on Icons featuring a panel of iconographers. The full-day fee is $75 per person.

Copyright 2009, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

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