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Home / Blog / Artists & Art / Apprenticeships Matter

Apprenticeships Matter

Maggie Holtzberg, Folklorist

Faith Riccio, (left) and Ksensia Pokrovsky. Photo: Billy Howard.
Faith Riccio, (left) and Ksensia Pokrovsky. Photo: Billy Howard.

Back in 2005, we funded an apprenticeship in icon writing that supported renowned Russian iconographer Ksenia Pokrovsky to work with apprentice Sr. Faith Riccio. The centuries-old artistic tradition of iconography requires the application of very specific techniques and image representations that have been passed down from artist to artist through the ages.

Triptych of the Holy Nativity of Christ, Russian Orthodox icon by Ksenia Pokrovsky. Photo: Jason Dowdle.
Triptych of the Holy Nativity of Christ, Russian Orthodox icon by Ksenia Pokrovsky. Photo: Jason Dowdle.

Detail from Triptych of the Holy Nativity of Christ, Russian Orthodox icon by Ksenia Pokrovsky. Photo: Jason Dowdle.
Detail from Triptych of the Holy Nativity of Christ, Russian Orthodox icon by Ksenia Pokrovsky. Photo: Jason Dowdle.

Ksenia Pokrovsky is widely credited with reviving the writing of traditional Russian icons. She learned at a time when Russia nearly lost the old method of writing icons, due to Soviet restrictions on religious expression. Ksenia was encouraged to learn in 1967 by a priest, Reverend Aleksander Men, whom she considers her “spiritual father.” Students from all over the world come to study with Ksenia Pokrovsky.

To hear Ksenia’s distinctive voice, listen to an excerpt from a radio feature we did with her on WUMB radio.

Livegiving Spring, Russian Orthodox icon by Ksenia Pokrovsky. Photo: Jason Dowdle.
Livegiving Spring, Russian Orthodox icon by Ksenia Pokrovsky. Photo: Jason Dowdle.

Sister Faith Riccio lives in an abbey on Cape Cod, where they are interested in keeping old art forms alive. She explains how she came to icon writing, “. . . My prioress asked if I would learn icons. I started out kind of on my own . . . I found [Ksenia] on the Internet. And she said, ‘Well, you really don’t know what you‘re doing,’ in her just wonderful, diplomatic way. I said, ‘No, I don ‘t. And I ‘ll keep doing that if you don ‘t help me.'” A  Traditional Arts Apprenticeship awarded by the Mass Cultural Council’s Folk Arts & Heritage Program was added incentive. Sister Faith spent significant time in the Pokrovsky household working under Ksenia’s guidance. Ksenia considered Sister Faith one of her best students, “She has the time to devote to this; she works very hard. ”

The Holy Trinity, Russian Orthodox icon by Sister Faith Riccio. Photo: Jason Dowdle.
The Holy Trinity, Russian Orthodox icon by Sister Faith Riccio. Photo: Jason Dowdle.

The two women were in close touch until 2013 when Ksenia Pokrovsky passed away. The world lost a remarkable artist. Fortunately, her technique and artistry lives on in those she mentored. We were delighted to learn that Sr. Faith has just published a book,  Icons: The Essential Collection. A large collection of her icons are currently on display at the  Church of the Transfiguration, which includes installations of mosaics, true fresco, bronze and glass. Sr. Faith will be speaking at the Community of Jesus on Friday March 17 at 2pm.

This blog post originally appeared on our Keepers of Tradition blog on March 20, 2018. 


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