Wrestling with Angels
Icons from the Prosopon School of Iconology and Iconography

July 19-October 20, 2019

Listen to this interview from WICN radio with Lynette Hull, curator of Wrestling with Angels.

The Museum of Russian Icons will premiere Wrestling with Angels, an exhibition of forty-six luminous contemporary icons by sixteen iconographers from the Prosopon School of Iconology and Iconography, July 19-October 27, 2019. Exploring the recent renaissance of this ancient tradition, the exhibition will feature icons by the founder of the Prosopon School, Vladislav Andrejev, along with works by master iconographers, instructors, and apprentices.

Visitors to the exhibition will encounter the icons as they would within an Orthodox church, beginning with depictions of events and persons from Hebrew scripture that would be found in the narthex (or vestibule); and continuing with icons that would surround the congregation in the nave including images of Jesus and his mother Mary (known in the Christian East as the Theotokos, Greek for “God-bearer”). The exhibition concludes with icons that would be found on or behind the iconostasis (the screen or wall that separates the nave from the altar), including icons of the principal feasts of the Christian liturgical year as well icons of mystical subjects that point to the second coming of Christ.

Wrestling with Angels is a reference to the first icon on view, a work depicting the mysterious wrestling match between the patriarch Jacob and an unidentified stranger as described in Genesis. After struggling all night without prevailing, Jacob insists on a blessing before he will relinquish his hold on the man. Although the stranger will not disclose his name, he renames Jacob as Israel (Hebrew for “he who contends with God”), inspiring Jacob to exclaim “for I have seen God face to face and my soul has been delivered.” Not only the inspiration for the title of the exhibition, but it is also an apt image for the timeless universal struggle between humankind and the mysteries of the unknown.

A centerpiece of the exhibition is the deisis (Greek for “supplication”), a group of five large icons with Christ in Glory at its center. A deisis is a prominent image on an iconostasis and depicts the Theotokos and John the Baptist on either side of Christ interceding on behalf of humankind and often flanked by other saints. The deisis in this exhibition includes portrayals of Saints Gregory Palamas and Gregory the Theologian, whose mystical theology is central to the Prosopon School’s teaching.

Another group of icons forms the Synaxsis (Greek for “assembly”) of the Archangels, which surround a large icon of the Logos Emmanuel, an image of a youthful Christ as the Logos (Greek for “word”) through whom God “spoke” creation into existence. This is he who Christians also call Emmanuel (Hebrew for “God with us”), as foretold by Isaiah. The depiction of Christ with wings is rare but not without ancient precedent, evoking the movement of God with, and within, the faithful.

Zhostovo: A Russian-American Odyssey

April 6 – October 20, 2019

Combining traditional Zhostovo tray painting techniques and American educational methods and materials to kindle interest in this beautiful painting style around the world

Every journey begins with a step. The first step of this odyssey was taken when Tricia Joiner went to Russia as the Soviet Union was collapsing. She was driven to make the trip by her intense interest in European decorative arts and their traditional techniques. A chance connection led her to the Zhostovo Tray Factory just outside of Moscow, where she met Master Zhostovo Artist, Vyacheslav (Slava) Letkov. What happened there changed her life and the lives of thousands of painters around the globe that they introduced to the Zhostovo style of art. For almost 20 years, Tricia and Slava traveled around the U.S. and the world, teaching painters the beautiful techniques and style that grew out of their collaboration.

Tricia was a well established American decorative painter, teacher, and author when she went to Russia to learn more about that country’s extraordinary decorative arts. Slava is one of the world’s most outstanding and prolific artists, but is not a teacher and had never used acrylic paints. Using Slava’s artistic skills and Tricia’s knowledge of teaching, they developed a program, teaching the traditional Zhostovo techniques across the U.S. and four continents.

Many of the works in this exhibit of Tricia’s collection were painted by Slava Letkov, Merited Artist of Russia and recipient of the Repin Award, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year. He was the youngest of seven masters recognized during the factory’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in 1977 and is the only one still painting. Slava no longer travels but does continue to paint. Tricia continues to paint and teach, including online classes.

See examples of factory and exhibition trays demonstrating the breadth of the Zhostovo art form. The traditional trays were painted in oils with mostly floral designs and dried in ovens to save time. There are furniture pieces and household items painted in acrylics, which are examples of the increasingly challenging class projects. Learn how thousands of students from dozens of countries have been taught to paint a Zhostovo rose. The educational process that Tricia brought to Zhostovo painting is illustrated. A large panel demonstrates this style of painting used to tell a Russian fairy tale. Join one of Tricia’s classes or lectures and learn more for yourself.