07 September 2009


I have a confession to make: I love icons. No, not Elvis and Marilyn--religious icons (although, I think there's an argument to be made that Elvis and Marilyn still count). I love the (Greek Orthodox) religious icons I grew up with, the ones I saw at church and in my relatives' homes. Most people who know about my collection assume I'm particularly devout, or superstitious, or a little wacky (funny that no one actually asks what the deal is), but those who know me well know that, to me, icons are art. Elaborate, gilt- and silver-laden, occasionally morbid art. I love Orthodox and Catholic churches for the same reason, even as my practical side winces at the money that's gone into all that stained glass and gold. I hope money keeps going into it, too. The tradition of over-the-top, exalted beauty like this needs to endure. Anyway, it's not healthy to always be practical.

I thought I'd share a few highlights of my icon collection, some of which I inherited, some I bought, and some I even made. I do apologize for the quality of some of the photos--my camera is having issues. Hope you enjoy (click on photos to enlarge)...

Yes, that is a Last Supper needlepoint front and centre. It's actually one of the first I completed, done in half-stitch on a pre-printed canvas cloth, as is the preferred Greek style of embroidery (known as "kedima"). My parents were going on a trip to Greece, where the canvas designs are far cheaper than in Canada, and offered to pick me up a few. I really wanted something in a Renaissance style, but the only one I could come up with as an example that my parents would have known was Da Vinci's Last Supper. So that's what I ended up getting. My skills were still pretty raw, so it's not the best job, but it is a good anchor to the collection.

By the time I completed this needlepoint, which I picked out myself on my last trip to Greece, my skills had improved quite a bit. This is Saint (or "Hagio") Pandaleimon (his name is even shortened to Pan/mon on the icon because it's so long!). He's not the most well-known saint, and I really just chose him because he wasn't Jesus or the Virgin Mary and I liked the colours.

Now this is my most recent and one of my absolute favourite icons. I picked it up at the One of a Kind Craft Show and Sale a few months back, at Utility Grade's booth. I love her work in general, and her subjects range across the board to everything from saints to sock monkeys. The minute I saw this icon of Saint Michael, I knew I had to have it.

Charms hanging from L to R: Scales of justice, St. Michael medallion, sword, dragon, cross.

Now this actually is my favourite icon. It belonged to my father and it's of his namesake saint, Konstantinos (as well as Konstantinos's wife, Eleni). My dad had it at least since the 1950s when my grandmother (his mom) sent it to him in Canada (and she probably had in her house for a while before that). The picture actually seems to be the standard for Konstantinos and Eleni icons, but I've never seen a frame like that anywhere else.

Hagio Nikolas icons are everywhere in Greece. He's probably the most popular next to Jesus and Mary. Silver icons are also easy to find, although on the pricey side.

The mini icons used to hang over my bed when I was a child.

The one to the left is a metal and mother-of-pearlish material with a Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. The one to the right depicts the resurrection (although I never realized it when I was a kid--it always seemed vaguely creepy to me).

This style of icon is common and affordable in Greece--paint on wood. I should mention that all the Greek icons are actually approved by the Church as authentic. The next time I go I'm heading to a shop I found outside of Mystras and splurging on a custom icon (the saint of your choice!) by an artist who makes the icons you find in churches and monasteries. My relatives go to Greece and shop for shoes and jewellery. I go and shop for religious paraphernalia. I get some odd looks at Customs. The icon above is of the Archangels, Michael and Gabriel.

This icon is unusual--made from a piece of olive wood (when paganism and Christianity combine! Olive being the sacred tree of Athena, of course). It was a gift from my grandmother's neighbour, a truly lovely lady.

This icon is definitely not church approved: I made it years ago. The background is tissue paper. The frame is from one of those stores that perpetually have "going out of business" sales. And the picture is a postcard of St. George my parents gave me. The starving student's guide to making icons!

The Virgin and Child on the left was a gift. I'm not sure now where the crucifix came from (probably also a gift). The oil burner is one my family had for years and which I found disassembled and buried in a drawer. Did I mention my immediate family don't quite share my love of iconography?

Another paint on wood icon--this is probably the most common design you'll find in Greece. Don't get excited about that apparent glow over Jesus' heart--that's just a bit of glare from the window and the camera.

Another elaborate silver icon, you can get a better glimpse of the workmanship in this photo. These silver icons aren't supposed to tarnish, but this one didn't get the memo. I'm still trying to figure out how to clean it without ruining their faces.

I'm curious: what are your unusual/unconventional collections?

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