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Talking icons at All Saints

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Susan Neville, in her Butler office, holds her icon of the Virgin Mary. Her 2003 essay collection Iconography chronicles her experience making the icon during a class at downtown's St. Andrew Rublev School of Iconography. - DAN GROSSMAN
  • Dan Grossman
  • Susan Neville, in her Butler office, holds her icon of the Virgin Mary. Her 2003 essay collection Iconography chronicles her experience making the icon during a class at downtown's St. Andrew Rublev School of Iconography.

Russian-born Ludmila Pawlowska's paintings and sculptures are much more abstract, and colorful, than traditional Eastern Orthodox icons, and are sometimes made of very unusual materials. One is made of mirrored glass; looking into it, you can see, or imagine, that you are the icon.

Pawlowska's 180-piece show, Icons in Transformation, is currently on display at the Episcopal Church of All Saints, after stops at the Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, among other European venues.

And who better to cast light on Pawlowska's work than Susan Neville, whose 2003 essay collection Iconography - which began as a vow to write during the 40 days of Lent - documents her experience making an icon of the Virgin Mary during a class at downtown's St. Andrew Rublev School of Iconography?

Neville, a professor of English at Butler University and a frequent contributor to NUVO through the '90s and '00s, will read from Iconography Friday as part of a First Friday event related to Pawloska's show at All Saints, which opened Feb. 1. Call it an all-Butler night: Paul Valliere, a professor of religion at Butler, will also be in attendance to talk about and lead a tour of the artwork on display.

Ludmila Pawlowska's icons have been exhibited at Christ's Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, as well as other European venues. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Ludmila Pawlowska's icons have been exhibited at Christ's Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, as well as other European venues.

Icon-making is an activity intrinsically tied to the Eastern Orthodox religious tradition. But Neville describes herself in the book as "not Catholic - not even a Protestant - not a Buddhist, or a follower of Islam, not New Age, not Wiccan, not Nationalist, not an art critic." So why did she take the class?

"If you look at the eyes of icons looking at you and then start looking around at people, you'll see them as icons," Neville told told me from her office crammed with books, Adam Zagajewski's Without End and James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake among them. "People think of icons as something that you worship. But it's actually more of a window." A window onto the soul perhaps - and to that end, it's of interest that Pawlowska's work is largely abstract, save for one identifiable human feature: the eyes.

As Iconography closes, Neville relates a story of going to the Joy for All Who Sorrow Church to get her icon blessed. She witnesses there a mother and father grieving for the loss of their first child. Looking into their eyes, she said, she saw that "the social masks are gone and there are the icon eyes again."

What's Neville's latest literary project? It seems that another loaded word - like icon or fabrication - has garnered her attention.

"The word that I'm fascinated with is curate," she said. "Everyone's using it. It feels the same way that it felt when I started thinking about fabricate. At that time you could hardly read an article that it wasn't in. And it seems that curate has become such a word. I mean, we have curated beers."

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