When I was asked by Fr Ray Bucko, S.J. to paint the Icon of St Peter the Aleut, I had no idea how intense the work was going to be. As a relatively new and still apprentice iconographer, I set to the challenge with an open spirit and great curiosity about the person of St Peter. I embarked on the task keeping in constant and very close contact with my benefactor, Fr. Bucko, and this gave us both the opportunity to create in our minds and with a sense of wonder the idea of how this young and brave Kodiak Native would need to be portrayed.
In the process of acquiring the imagery needed to create the Icon we used the internet and search engines to rescue what was available out in the cyber space in documents, pictures and accounts of the story of St Peter. We also used ethnographic materials out of a variety of sources.
There are very few images of previously written icons of St Peter, enough only to count with the fingers of one hand, but there were many pictures of Aleuts, Kodiaks, and their cultures available: from the place where he came from, as well as the kinds of clothing attires and objects he may have used, various utensils and important symbols for Aleut and Kodiak cultures.
Given the rich cultural heritage of the Aleutians and Kodiak Islands we found many interesting and educational sources where we could learn about the culture and history of these places.
Choosing the format and the colors was not a problem but trying to portray the Saint both as close to his Native Kodiak heritage and as a new Orthodox convert was not easy to do. It was important to have him wear his ceremonial hat, the clothes he must have worn as a otter hunter, as well as an allusion to his coming from Alaska and going to California to die for his beliefs.
It was important to show him as traditional as possible and portray his condition of martyr, glorified by his sacrifice and always faithful to Christ and the Cross.
That is why his humble and traditional gut parka is portrayed with highlights “similar to fire” all painted with small brush strokes of gold paint.
Many decisions in the design where done intuitively like the designs on the halo and the ceremonial hat, but later they became very much a unity and incredibly meaningful in the end.
There is an idea that the iconographer needs to keep empty of emotions and very still in the process of painting an icon, I have to confess that I found this very hard to do. I became emotionally involved, I prayed and cried and laughed, the image of St Peter became a symbol of my own interior life.
Many of my own deep and personal wars seemed to surface, and creating helped me to confront these areas, in a way I had only felt in a very superficial manner earlier in my short career as an iconographer, bringing both grief and consolation and ultimately healing.
I am grateful to God, to Our Blessed Mother Mary and to my friend Fr Ray Bucko, SJ. for offering me the opportunity of bringing St Peter the Aleut to life in the creation of this Icon.
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