Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Icons and Prayer

Your face I am looking for...
I think the universe may be telling me to stay home. I ventured out today to the most amazing exhibit by Russian artist Ludmila Pawlowska and had a flat tire. I would not have missed this opportunity though. Icons in Transformation was shown at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn. Mila's work (150 contemporary icons and 15 traditional Russian icons from the Vasilievsky Monastery) was shown in the sanctuary, chapel and fellowship hall. To see religious works in a church setting was perfect. The docents could not have been more pleasant answering all my many questions and allowing me to take photographs.  

Mila uses mixed techniques including oil, acrylic, metal, copper, lime stone and granite on wood panels. I found myself drawn to her work that had eyes and loved her use of texture, layers and the color red. I could see the influence of her work in textiles in her paintings.

I wish I had gotten the opportunity to meet her. It took her more than a decade to put the exhibit together and it has been traveling since 2001. Do not pass up the opportunity to see it if it comes your way. I wish I had remembered about it sooner because today was the last day. I spent two hours looking and reading and wish I could go back and look again.

Mila's story is an incredibly moving one. The Russian Revolution shattered her family. Her grandfather was deported to Siberia in 1936, when her father was two years old. Her uncles were taken by the state, separated and scattered across the nation to homes for children of state enemies.

Gravity of Love
Her father was a dissident, too - always limited by his refusal to join the Communist Party. Her parents were exiled to Kazakhstan. She was born in 1964. She and her father were not close, but her mother was her soul mate. Art was her refuge.

She had no religious upbringing, but chose to be baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church when she was 18--an act that was illegal at the time.

She was considered a child prodigy. At 15, she left her beloved mother and went to Moscow. She worked her way into textile design and magazine illustration.

She met Jan Lech - an early music specialist and lutenist who had moved into the business side of the arts and they started dreaming of a rural life together. They wanted to start a center where artists and art-lovers could come together, and Jan knew of an area in Sweden. There they started the Scandinavian Art Center.
On the Way

So 20 years ago, they left Russia. Her early work in Sweden was all about the natural beauty she saw around her: florals and landscapes, somewhere between realistic and abstract and influenced by her work in textiles. After a few years, her mother was able to come for an extended visit. A few months into the visit, she had a massive stroke and died. Her life changed overnight.

She traveled, looking for answers. In Russian monasteries- opened up by growing political liberalism- she found her answer. "All the art over these last years has been a spiritual journey."


  1. The art is breathtaking and her story gave me goose bumps. Thank you, thank you for sharing.

    1. You are more than welcome. I can't stop thinking about it!

  2. Karen, thanks for posting the story and pictures of the icons. It was especially interesting to me because the book I am currently reading is titled The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister, born late 1920s, who kept secret hand-written diaries all her life, finally showing to her husband in 1990s. He helped her translate from the six different languages she had written in and honored her wishes not to publish until after her death (2004). She grew up in Russia, was taken with her mother to Germany to a work camp. There are many references to icons. I'm only 1/3 way in book.
    Martha Ginn

    1. Martha, This book has been on my list so keep me posted. Maybe I should just move it up. Thanks! Hugs, Karen

    2. Karen, I hope you will read the book; some of it painful to learn how deprived and brave people in occupied countries were and what atrocities they saw and endured. I had always known about persecution of the Jewish people but did not realize how it extended to other groups. She had a passion to let the world know so these things would not happen again. Sadly, such suffering has not been eradicated.

  3. thank you for sharing, very interesting.

  4. what a great review of an installation of art and the backstory of the artist herself, a workinprogress,no?
    very satisfying !

    1. Thanks! I can't stop thinking about it. Hugs, Karen


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