Friday, April 20, 2012

Christian Iconography...But Painted in The Tradition of Plains Indian Pictography

Above is a side view of the icon I wrote.
Christian Iconography
Plains Indian Pictography
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. - Some years back I painted an icon of the Holy Trinity. I thought that I'd take a traditional art like American Indian pictography and attempt to "write" an icon in the tradition of eastern or Russian Christian iconography. Here's my first attempt.

I am no expert in iconography. I took a course of Christian art while I pursued my degree in Theology at the University of Mary from Sister Edith Selzer. 

Traditionally, I believe, and I hope I'm recalling this correctly, iconographers selected a cypress plank upon which to write their icon. They "wrote" the icon rather than "painted" it because many Christians couldn't read or write, but they could understand pictures and colors. 

I chose to use cedar on which to write my icon, for it is a sacred wood. Its an aromatic wood, and the tree itself grows with other cedar trees. The roots of one cedar twine around the roots of other cedar trees and in this way the trees are collectively stronger, and on the Great Plains of North America the cedar needs all the strength it can call on to withstand the winds.

I anointed the plank with linseed oil. I then applied a red cotton cloth to the side on which I was going to write. Iconographers typically use white cloth to represent the shroud of Jesus Christ. I used red cloth, for red is a sacred color and is often used in medicine ties when one prays, and to represent the blood of the Christ. 

From the angle of the above picture, one can see plaster. I had put it on rather thick. Over the past few years, the wood has warped ever so slightly which caused the plaster to crack. 

A head-on view of the icon. The good people at KAT Communications allowed me to use their studio to take these pictures.

A bald eagle flies in the bottom left hand corner, a golden eagle flies in the opposite corner. The two eagle do not fly within the circle of green, they fly above and beyond. In the Lakota tradition, eagles carry the messages or prayers of the people to the Creator above. 

The circle of green has three green rectangles in the top left corner, two rectangles and a triangle in the corner opposite. The green circle and the green shapes subtly suggest a turtle. In the Lakota tradition the turtle represents the world, grandmother earth.

The Holy Trinity stand above or beyond the visible heavens.

A closer view of the icon.

The Holy Trinity stand in front of the Creator's lodge. On the left tipi flap are seven stars arranged in the pattern of Seven Brothers, commonly known as The Big Dipper. On the right tipi flap are also seven stars, these are the Seven Sisters, more commonly known as the Pleiades. In the Lakota tradition, some say that our souls or spirits descend from the heavens from the Seven Sisters, on its descent, the spirit passes through the "spoon" of the Big Dipper, before beginning its worldly journey in a body. 

A closer view yet of the icon.

The "Black Warbonnet" pattern radiates from the heads of the Holy Trinity. The left figure wears a creation robe, the robe with the patterns of the sun, the stars, the moon, and animals which were created before people. The right figure wears a blanket of holiness and humaness, and also carries the gift of the sacred pipe and a pipe bag which features the image of a bison cow. In Lakota tradition, the White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the pipe to the people, a "covenant" if you will, that each Lakota person create a deep and personal relationship with the Creator and the world around. The figure in the center is the Christ. This center figure makes two signs. The first sign is the sign for good in the Plains Indian Sign Language - with the left hand. The second sign is the Christian sign for divinity touching humanity - two fingers are shown, the thumb and the ring and pinky fingers touch, leaving the middle and index fingers straight out.

The icon was blessed by then Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Zipfel of the Bismarck Diocese. The icon now resides in a private collection.