Recently, parishioners and volunteers with the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Greenwood worked with icon artist Suzanne “Sue” Zoole of Spartanburg.
They began work on a Madonna and Child icon for Advent -- part of the church year that includes the four Sundays preceding Christmas.
The finished icon will be about 8 by 8 feet square, depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. It will be displayed in the church at 700 S. Main St., during the latter Sundays of Advent and into Christmas.
To create it, Zoole said they used layers of red, yellow and gold paint, along with tracing and cutting techniques.
Zoole said the image is inspired by Scripture, Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
Zoole, 76, of Equinox Studios, has painted icons in the Byzantine style and pursued contemporary art at the same time. She has degrees from Agnes Scott College, University of Colorado and University of North Texas. She is also recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, completing graduate work at University at Goettingen, Germany. She has exhibited her work in solo shows and juried exhibitions.
Zoole has worked with Church of the Resurrection in Greenwood before.
The Rev. Nicholas Beasley, rector of Resurrection, said Zoole was commissioned by Bill and Becky McDaniel of Ninety Six, to paint an icon for the church, as a memorial to their son, George.
Beasley said that icon was dedicated on Easter Sunday in 2009, and it depicts the risen Christ and Mary Magdalene in the garden, “in the moment of recognition, after she had mistaken him for the gardener.”
Inspired by John 20:11-18, Beasley said that icon has the Latin phrase for “do not hold on to me” inscribed on it.
Zoole said she has been painting icons for about 20 years.
According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, icons (from the Greek “eikones”) are sacred images representing the saints, Christ, and the Virgin, as well as narrative scenes such as Christ’s Crucifixion.
Beasley noted icons are important in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, but the theological basis for using them is not limited to Eastern Orthodox churches.
“When the second person of the Trinity became human, he gave a visible image to the invisible God and thus made possible his own visible depiction in devotional and inspirational art,” Beasley said. “Some Christians find images of Christ moving in prayer and worship. They do not worship the image, which would be idolatry, and a violation of the second commandment, but (they) allow the image to draw them into a deeper consciousness of Christ.”
Today, the term icon is most closely associated with wooden panel painting. In Byzantium icons, from the Eastern Roman Empire, they could be crafted in all media, including marble, ivory, ceramic, gemstone, precious metal, enamel, textile, fresco and mosaic.
A member of the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Spartanburg, Zoole said she has done religious-themed art for churches and diocesan gatherings. She has also been inspired by other artists such as Nancy Chinn, who produces large-scale liturgical art.
Zoole said a trip to Russia sparked her interest in painting in the Byzantine style.
“I was just taken with them,” Zoole said. “They weren’t beautiful, but they were kind of archaic-looking. Then, I found out people continue to paint icons.”
Zoole found books on the subject and started looking into classes.
For the Madonna and Child icon for Resurrection, Zoole said photographic background paper and acrylic paint were used to start with, along with a template for the design.
“You then pencil in a pattern and cut out all the little folds that make this lacy pattern,” Zoole said. “The design that we used is old, 700 A.D., or maybe older than that, from the 4th century A.D., based on Eastern Orthodox icons.”
Sandy Singletary, who attends Church of the Resurrection and is an assistant professor of art at Lander University, is among those who helped with the project.
“It’s going to be a beautiful final piece and steps are pretty simple,” Singletary said. “We did layers of paint. We drew a stencil and we cut them out with X-acto knives...To be able to get involved with something that is a service to the church and to the congregation, that also includes art, is really exciting.”