Iconographer shares skills, tradition through seminars
He'll go any distance to tell the love story, which began when he was 12.
The Rev. Peter Pearson will visit Pittsburgh to lead an icon retreat at the Mt. Alvernia campus of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Millvale from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. March 11 through March 15. After 43 years, he still is exploring his passion for this ancient artistry and has created hundreds of icons for private collections, churches and institutions.
As a boy, he remembers seeing his first icon, “The Mother of God with Three Hands,” a painting connected with St. John of Damascus, who defended the continued use of this Orthodox devotional art style in the eighth century. As the story is told, the saint's written defense was so fiery that in punishment, his right hand was cut off. But after many prayers of healing in front of the icon, his hand miraculously was restored. In thanksgiving, St. John added a silver hand-shaped token to the painting.
“It's kind of a ‘Where's Waldo?' thing,” Pearson said about when people see the icon for the first time.
“Then, they say, ‘Oh, three hands.'”
Pearson was struck by the beauty within the image.
He used cardboard and markers for his first exploration of the art. Then, with his mother's ceramic paints and an old drawer, he created a kind of “Mary in a Shadow Box.”
“There's so much more than technique. There's history, theology, technology,” he said, “but the most significant component of the process is prayer.”
By continuing to pray, he said, “you paint what you know, not what you know about.”
In his Irish-Catholic household, there always were plenty of holy cards and statues to give the young artist inspiration.
“There were trappings of religion always around us in Williamsport, but no experience with the Byzantine Catholics,” Pearson, 55, now of Scranton, said.
Because of this interest in icons, he became “the alien artist.”
“I was always the kid doing something unusual,” he said. “My parents rolled their eyes a lot.”
He became a Catholic priest and a well-known iconographer who has studied with teachers all around the country. Today, he is an Episcopal priest and has conducted hundreds of seminars of his own. He also has written books that explore icon traditions.
When he lived in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood, a little more than 10 years ago, he welcomed Sister Rosaire Kopczenski of Mt. Alvernia and others to his icon studio once a week. There, they would paint and drink tea.
“Peter was always guiding us to touch the ‘world behind the icon' we were painting…” Sister Rosaire said. “As one learned the depth of meaning behind the icon, a kind of quiet reverence for our work grew.”
That is Pearson's hope for any student.
The group at the Mt. Alvernia retreat will paint an angel after Pearson draws the pattern and sets the tone.
“We'll start with the face and work our way out,” he explained, “beginning with the darkest shadow tones and building light upon it. It's a backwards kind of painting.”
As they gain confidence and learn from each other, he'll remind them, “Be gentle with yourself. Michelangelo did not begin with the Sistine Chapel.”
Sister Rosaire finds icon painting, which she still does, to be contemplative.
“In the icon classes, a sacred bond develops among the students,” she said.
After 15 to 20 years, Pearson said, if students practice, study and pray long enough, they'll be able to design their own icon.
“In painting icons, you learn the tradition and forget yourself,” he said, “unlike in Western art, when you express yourself.”
When the piece is finished, there are no signatures to scrawl across the painting. Rather, iconographers sign the reverse of the piece.
“We do our best and step back,” Pearson said.
Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- ‘Singin’ with Santa’ concert to ring in holidays at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Allison Park
- North Hills Community Outreach’s Community Auto program giving away vehicle
- McCandless center helps residents make beautiful music
- McIntyre students hope Buddy Bench is beneficial to all
- Retiring custodian described as ‘heart and soul’ of Richland Elementary
- Youth Planting Change program aims to grow horizons for North Allegheny students
- St. Sebastian STEM class makes learning fun for students
- North Hills students collect food for families
- Etna, Millvale homes go solar
- Plan calls for discount grocery store in Richland
- New Mexican restaurant to open in McCandless