By Susan Klemond
The Catholic Spirit
Anyone looking at the new icon of soon-to-be canonized Blessed Junipero Serra might first notice his Franciscan habit and priest’s stole along with a cross and model of one of his California missions in his hands. But when they look at his eyes, the future saint could draw their gaze to heaven.
The icon, written by local iconographer Kati Ritchie in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization, is meant to help those viewing it enter into prayer, as it did when she wrote it at the request of members of Serra International.
“It’s a window to heaven,” said Ritchie, 71. “He’s looking out at me from heaven, and I’m looking at him.”
Ritchie, who is a member of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington, talked about being guided by the Holy Spirit and conversing with the saint as she created the icon, which she will present to Pope Francis during the canonization Mass in Washington, D.C. The icon, which measures 24 by 30 inches, is unusual because it is written in pastels on brown paper rather than tempera paint like many other icons, Ritchie said.
The icon was sponsored by the USA Council of Serra International with the support of Serrans in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Serra International is a lay Catholic organization fostering and affirming vocations to the priesthood and vowed religious life. Ritchie was asked to write the icon by members of her Serra club, Airport Serra, which meets in Bloomington.
An icon is an image of a holy person or angel written in the ancient language of sacred images which is meant for prayer, not decoration like a portrait, she said.
Ritchie, who has written more than 100 icons in both pastel and paint, said she learned about Father Serra from her father, who was a Serran in the Twin Cities. She said she admires Blessed Serra because of his perseverance through adversity, his creativity, and love of beauty and music.
Serra International will offer items with the icon printed on them, which can be purchased at SerraInternational.org.
The Catholic Spirit Article
By Elizabeth Grams.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of Vine & Branches magazine, a publication of the People of Praise. Kati herself is a member of the People of Praise, an ecumenical, charismatic community with 22 locations in the US, Canada and the Caribbean.
Kati Ritchie (Servant Branch) has spent most of her life looking attentively at the world, and then helping other people to see what she sees. Hundreds of Trinity School at River Ridge alumni know her as a masterful art teacher who taught them new ways of seeing. She's still at it, but nowadays she's looking at the world of the new creation and—through her icons--working to help other people see resurrected life.
Kati has worked as an archeologist, translator and photojournalist. She encountered the charismatic renewal on a reporting assignment in 1971 and soon joined the group that formed Servants of the Lord community. In 1987 she left graduate studies in art to answer the call to teach at the new Trinity School in the Twin Cities, where she established the art program and became the stuff of legend. (Her students remember her weeping at the beauty of a curved line and demanding that they identify reds, blues and yellows in a clove of garlic.) As an artist, she has produced hundreds of paintings and drawings, more than 100 Polish paper cuttings and now more than 100 icons.
In 2001, when Kati's allergies and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis brought on the need for a new job, she went to Joel Kibler (Servant Branch) to ask his advice about what to do next. “Would it give you joy to make icons?,” he asked. Kati realized in a flash that it would, and she's been learning how to create them ever since.
The tradition of iconography dates back to the third and fourth centuries. An icon is an image that owes its distinctive style to a unique use of light and perspective. Icons always contain the golden-haloed figures of one or more saints, angels or the Lord himself.
“An icon is not meant to be a photograph,” Kati explains. “It’s a window into heaven, a vision of a spiritual truth, the uncreated light of Christ shining through a transfigured body. It’s visible proof of the incarnation, God dwelling among us, his people.” She also calls it, “an embodied prayer.”
Icon painters are said to “write” an icon rather than paint it because they do not view their work as art, but as a pictographic form of Christian teaching similar to a sermon.
Over the last 12 years, Kati has traveled across the US and to eastern Europe and Russia in order to study icons and learn from other iconographers. She found a mentor in world-renowned master iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky. Ksenia, a native of Russia who now lives in Massachusetts, taught herself iconography in the 1960s when iconography was banned in her home country. Kati has made several extended visits to Ksenia’s home and workshop in Massachusetts to continue to study her craft.
The language of traditional iconography takes years to learn and master, even for a trained artist like Kati. Anytime she sets out to paint, Kati always begins with research. “I look at a lot of pictures of similar icons—examining them as an archeologist does,” Kati explains. (She once worked as a field archeologist in Mexico and in Israel.) Kati looks past the variations she finds in traditional sources and tries to identify the essential form or prototype of the figure. She then copies stroke for stroke what earlier iconographers did so she can figure out how they did it. (She has a highly trained hand due to her graduate studies in the atelier method of fine art.) Only then is she ready to ask herself, “What can I do to make this more accessible and still keep the form?”
Using an egg tempera paint that she mixes herself, Kati begins creating an icon by measuring and drawing the outlines of the figure or figures, then painting the background. Next she paints the bodies of her subjects, and completes the faces and hands last. As she paints, Kati continues to consult traditional icons and she works prayerfully throughout the process.
“For me,” Kati says, “I have to get more serious when I'm working on the figure. If there's a conflict in my life I have to resolve it to keep on working. If I can't pray, I can't paint!”
From the start, Kati’s interest in icons went hand in hand with her desire for ecumenism. In the centuries after the 11th-century split between Eastern and Western churches, iconography flourished primarily in the East. Icons became and have remained a central part of worship for Orthodox Christians. But a modern renaissance in iconography has spread to Catholic and Protestant churches as well. Ksenia, herself a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, has played a significant role in this movement. In all her years of teaching, she never refused a student for reasons of denomination.
Ksenia’s student and fellow teacher Marek Czernecki shares Kati’s hope that their work in iconography will build unity among Christian churches. “One of the reasons I love iconography,” he says, “is that I see so much ecumenical potential in it. It’s a job, occupation, vocation and ministry, so it’s important to know what you’re doing! I think that’s what’s important about Kati and her work: she’s part of a larger process of ecumenism. Kati and I are part of the same process, and so are thousands of other people of all denominations. It’s a collective effort, and a lot of it is the work of the Holy Spirit.”
Kati has received commissions from a variety of churches and individuals, including a dual-rite parish in Denver which holds both Roman and Byzantine liturgies. For her latest project, one of her largest, she painted four six-foot icons (pictured on pages 16-21) for Pope John Paul II Catholic Church in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where Kati spends her winters. It took her over a year. This April, the local Catholic bishop presided over a ceremony for the installation of the four icons.
The pastor of the church, Fr. Don Malin, explains that his reason for asking Kati to make the icons was to honor the church's namesake, Pope John Paul II, who came from eastern Europe and worked for ecumenical outreach to the Eastern churches. In that same spirit, Fr. Malin invited the Methodist and Episcopal pastors in town to attend the installation ceremony. “We're very happy with the icons,” he says.
Kati sees more hope for ecumenism in the use of icons in Western as well as Eastern churches: “Icons can provide a window into the kingdom where we will all be transfigured like Christ and united with him.”
Vine & Branches Issue w/ Article
Vine & Branches Site
By Roxanne Schick
Bishop Fernando Isern blessed several beautiful works of art at Pope John Paul II in Pagosa Springs on April 13. The first, a crucifix created by Pagosa sculptor, Roberto Garcia, stands in front of the church entrance. Roberto sculpted a bronze corpus of Jesus Christ and then mounted it on an existing ten foot steel cross in front of Pope John Paul II Catholic Church.
He began these sculptures in 2003 and after three years the works were installed in the Prayer Garden.
Roberto is a full time sculptor and painter and believes the best art takes much practice in order to become skilled. Most often he creates art for the sake of art, or to fulfill the creative desire that is unique in all of us. All work represented in the Corpus is done by the artist, including the bronze casting. Information about his art can be found on his website: www.garcia-art.com.
The second piece of art was a set of four icons creating an iconostasis positioned on either side and adoring the crucifix in the church sanctuary. These icons were painted by Kati Ritchie, a part-time resident of Pagosa Springs.
An iconostasis is a screen that goes across the entrance to an Eastern Catholic sanctuary situated in the apse of the church. An image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the beloved disciple, John, are obligatory and found on every iconostasis.
In Pope John Paul II, a Latin Rite church, there is no iconostasis, so the icons were placed on the rock walls on either side of the tabernacle and crucifix. The other icons are of St. Michael the Archangel, to whom many of the parish’s faithful are devoted, and Blessed John Paul II, the patron of one of the two major churches in the parish. The image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the Marian image chosen because she is the namesake of the parish.
Kati Ritchi is a native of Minneapolis, Minn., and winter resident of Pagosa Springs. Kati is a trained archeologist, commercial translator, photojournalist, artist –– trained in classical atelier tradition, art teacher and founding teacher at Trinity School River Ridge, Eagan, Minn. She taught art for 15 years. For 40 years, she has also been a member of People of Praise, an ecumenical charismatic covenant community headquartered in South Bend, Ind.
Today's Catholic Article
By Kati Ritchie
The Pagosa Springs Sun
The word “icon” comes from the Greek for image, representation or portrait. Icons are sacred, visual and spiritual treasures of Eastern Christianity, their basic forms having been preserved through tradition for hundreds of years. They are a visual form of the Word of God, a nonverbal sermon, a form of embodied prayer. It is a window into the invisible, into heaven, the new heaven, and the new earth. Because it is an image of eternity, everything is different. Instead of the direct perspective we are used to, icons utilize inverse perspective — what the world looks like from a heavenly point of view, where parallel lines converge behind the viewer.
The art of icon painting had its roots during the Roman Empire after Constantine converted to Christianity in the early fourth century. After the great schism, that is the rupture of the Latin and Greek branches of the Church in 1054, icon painting flourished only in the Eastern or Greek branch of Christianity.
I trained under master iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky and Marek Czarnecki. Since it is a sacred art, the iconographer must practice prayer. As an iconographer, the first step in creating an icon is much like an archeologist, examining old icons in photos or in real life, to discover the basic underlying form — the older form before each iconographer added bits. Basically, I believe in “economia,” that is the simplest way to convey truth.
An icon is not meant to be a photograph. It is a window into heaven, a vision of a spiritual truth, the uncreated light of Christ shining through a transfigured body. There is a greater and greater contrast between the world the iconographer lives in and the world she/he is painting. Feet barely touch the ground. There are no shadows. The uncreated light of God seems to shine forth from within the saint.
I have been writing or painting — the Greek verb falls somewhere in between these two verbs — for about 10 years. After I could no longer teach because of allergies, my community asked me if it would give me joy to do icons as the Western Church was much in need of image and the only coherent visual tradition was held in the East. Because of my allergies to almost all forms of paint, I began working in a traditional egg tempera paint, where I took powdered, ground, natural pigments from clay and stone and mixed them with an emulsion I made from egg yolk and vinegar. I love the natural harmony of a limited palate of natural pigments.
For the work at Pope John Paul II, I was commissioned to work in acrylic paint, a new media for me. I tried to mix the acrylic colors to approximate the natural pigments I was used to working with. The background color was chosen to harmonize with the lichen on the stone and the shadows in the church.
As to the subjects of the icons, St. Michael the Archangel defends us against evil. Mary and the beloved apostle St. John are in the traditional icon of the crucifixion. Since the parish downtown is the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the traditional image of Mary has been fused with her Immaculate Heart.
The icon of Pope John Paul II was chosen because he is the patron of the parish. It is not a physical portrait of him. I first painted a portrait of him from photographs of him as a younger man, and some of my old Polish friends who had known him, approved the portrait. Then I stylized the portrait. He carries the keys of Peter as pope, his coat of arms. He wears his red travelling cape, white cassock, papal cape, and cross.
It took about a year to finish this set of icons. I began and finished them here in Pagosa Springs and also worked on them in my studio in Burnsville, Minn. As I worked on the icons, a conversation developed between the saint and myself — I suppose you would call it prayer. When a block occurred during my painting the icon, I knew it was time to go to confession. I try to be very careful of moving images such as movies and television as their images last for years in my mind and interfere with prayer and painting. If a person only paints an icon or so a year, they would normally fast, but if a person paints most days as I do, one tries to be moderate in food and drink and maintain a prayerful life. I observe the dietary restriction of my MS — no gluten and very little dairy.
I have no count of the number of icons I have painted/written over the years except for 14 very large ones. Having the icons here at JP II is a small mend in the Great Schism between Orthodox and Catholic churches.
Seeing the icons around the altar makes visible the communion of saints. As I go to communion I can look up and see them looking at me with eyes of love.
Bishop Fernando Isern will be in Pagosa Springs to bless the new icons on Saturday, April 13, following the 5 p.m. Mass. All are welcome to attend.
Kati Ritchie is a native of Minneapolis, Minn., and a winter resident of Pagosa Springs. She is Catholic, a member of the John Paul II Catholic community in Pagosa Springs and the St. Bonaventure Catholic parish in Bloomington, Minn. Kati is a trained archeologist, commercial translator, photojournalist and artist. She was trained in classical atelier tradition and is an art teacher and founding teacher at Trinity School River Ridge, Eagan, Minn. She taught art for 15 years. She is also a member for 40 years of the People of Praise, an ecumenical charismatic covenant community headquartered in South Bend, Ind.
The Pagosa Springs Sun Article
Kati Ritchie in the News