Nationally known Mary Jane Miller has been invited to St Cecilia’s Episcopal Church in Round Top, Texas for a first-time modern icon painting retreat, March 6 th to 10 th 2023.
Three decades ago, Mary Jane Miller invited her friend JJ to a workshop being given at a local Catholic church in Johnson City Tenn. An Orthodox priest named Father Brennan was going to teach and give short lectures each day about iconography. His presentation, images and ideas were given as a classic approach to icon painting for beginners. By the end of the week, JJ had proposed painting icons in the church basement on Wednesday afternoons. She thought he was crazy. “We don’t know a thing about icons! And we are not Orthodox” she protested.
Still, her friend persisted, and the two had their hands blessed by the Orthodox Father. Despite no formal training or experience with egg tempera, they purchased dry pigments to begin their journey. Mary Jane began to explore the limits of modern icon painting in the church basement just under the altar. She hasn’t stopped since.
Byzantine iconography dates back to 300-400 AD. The orthodox church’s visual interpretation of the Christ story; was perfected by the Greeks and the Russians over 1500 years. Iconographers are comparable to scribes: they depict the Bible story while remaining as true as possible to the text and image.
How Mary Jane’s story changed into Modern Icon Painting
A native of New York, Miller graduated from the Boston Museum School, and later studied abroad in Mexico. In her early twenties she met her husband of 47 years, Valentín. While living between Mexico and the United States, Mary Jane made a living off of painting “on anything paintable.” She painted walls, window frames, old furniture, tin roof scraps, and even a coffin. During those years, she described herself as a “closet Christian. When she opted to take an iconography course in Tennessee thirty years ago, she had no idea it would change her life completely.
After the class, she slowly began devoting more time to icons. First, she vowed to devote one whole day to icons per week. Next, she dedicated one week every month. And then she realized that even that wasn’t enough time. When she proposed to take six months off for only icon painting, Valentín laughed. He claimed that, if she took six months to paint only icons, she would never go back to icon painting for beginners but become a dedicated practitioner of sacred art.
She took the time anyway. And she has been a full-time iconographer, dedicated to egg tempera and the tradition. Mary Jane and Valentín now live full-time in San Miguel, Mexico full time, where she holds an open studio every Thursday. This March she will be in Roundtop, Texas sharing her love of painting icons. Her Sacred Icons: Windows into Stillness retreat, which runs from March 6 to March 11th will include prayer, solitude, materials, plenty of painting along with lunch.
No Experience Necessary
Everyone is welcome to attend, Mary Jane thinks the retreat is time out from our busy lives. Art students, religious people, contemplatives, and all levels of iconographers will get a chance to focus their attention. She emphasizes, No previous experience or knowledge of iconography is necessary to make this prayerful art an enriching experience.
Participants begin with an introduction to this ancient tradition as a language. Mary Jane also says that her retreat isn’t about the icons themselves; it’s about reflection, solace, and fostering a connection with the divine. For her, modern icon painting is a way to focus our energy on something greater than ourselves.
“I offer an opportunity and time for people to come closer to God,” Mary Jane says. “Not church-God or my God or iconography’s God— I just mean God, the energy which is in you and the whole earth, the light source of intuition and the mind of quiet surrender. Iconography is like a window in a wall: if you go right up next to the window and push your face up against the glass, you’ll see more light and great vast space that is beyond the confines of the room.
Modern icon painting today still provides a discipline and spirituality that unfolds with time, a long slow, and rewarding process. After studying iconography for over thirty years, she says that it’s an endless exploration of her ever-deepening relationship with the divine. Of course, she doesn’t plan to stop painting icons anytime soon.
“I’m still exploring the Jesus story,” she says of iconography, of her relationship with God, of her art. “the images seem to be limitless in their meaning and their beauty.” Mary Jane explains. “I’m hoping those who join us have a peaceful encounter with themselves and walk away with a beautiful image. If I can do that for the group, the workshop will be fortunate for everyone.”
For more on Mary Jane Miller, visit sanmiguelicons.com
Her books are available for purchase through Lulu self-publishing.
Rev Bill Miller from St Cecilia’s Episcopal Church https://stcecilias.org/ is hosting this event in Round Top, Texas, situated close to Houston. The meeting rooms are comfortable, and the small tourist town is a destination that makes you feel welcome and cared for. Transportation and lodging are not included but several parishioners might sponsor you as a house guest upon request. Maximum 18 participants.
For more information please contact Kelly Barnhill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Iconography is alive today and flourishing as a prayer form— beautiful and peaceful insights arise during teaching, studying, or meditating.
Please Contact Rev Bill Miller +1 832-656-8814
St Cecilia’s Church
1 Henkel Circle Round Top, TX 78954
COST USD $600.00 per participant (includes supplies and lunch).
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