Kimi Vlahakis Volunteers Her Talent
O Lord, bless my humble effort; and let my labor be for the salvation of my soul, and for the glory of your most Holy Name. Amen
Kimi Vlahakis begins writing every icon with this prayer. Iconographers use the term writing because they are re-telling the lives of saints. Kimi is contributing her artistic talents and her prayers to providing the icons that we reverence during our most important liturgical celebrations. She has completed the icon of the Resurrection and the icon for the Feast of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). She is currently working on the Transfiguration of Our Lord, which is celebrated on August 6. Each icon requires about 200 hours to complete.
Kimi was born in Herriman, Utah, in 1956, one of nine children. She now lives in Williamsburg, with her husband, Nick. Kimi met Nick in Utah while working at the same aeronautical company. Growing up in rural Utah, she remembers walking to the local book mobile for all the art books she could carry. She has always been fascinated by art and in particular sacred art. She remembers the first time she entered a Greek Orthodox Church, she was awed by the beauty of the icons and how they spoke to her. She discovered icons combined beautiful art with a deep spiritual meaning. Her love of iconography grew with her conversion to the Greek Orthodox faith and a visit to the great Orthodox Churches in Russia. In her heart she knew that she wanted to learn how to write icons. She could feel a need to preserve the stories and traditions of the Church to spread Christ’s word – through her talent, guided by the Holy Spirit as she works.
Shortly after moving to Williamsburg, Kimi heard about an iconography short course conducted by a monk from Charlottesville. She attended and realized her dream of writing icons could be achieved even in Williamsburg. She went on to take other classes both in the US and abroad. She still participates in the monthly meeting of the Williamsburg Iconography group that meets at the Ascension Of Our Lord Parish.
Icons are holy images or visual scriptures, which are prayerfully written by iconographers. Icons are a spiritual tool that helps to unite ourselves to Christ. They provide us with material for our meditation, representing strength and urging us to mature in our faith. Only pure and natural materials are chosen for the writing of icons. An icon begins with a solid piece of wood that is sanded and routed to make the frame and writing surface. The wood represents the three trees of Paradise. Then the wood is covered with linen. Next, Gesso (a mixture of chalk, marble dust, and glue) that represents the purity of life is applied. The image is transferred as lines are etched into the gesso. The clay is applied under the halo and on the outside of the panel. The final preparation step is the gilding process which requires the iconographer to breathe on the clay in order to adhere the gold leaf – symbolizing God breathing life into Adam.
Finally, the iconographer is ready to begin the journey of writing the icon. It begins with the Red Crown, the red line that encircles the gold halo, then moves into chaos, as the painting is loose, ill defined. From chaos the lines bring order. The next six stages are alternating layers of floating paint with highlights of increasingly lighter layers. As the journey comes to an end, the final lines and details that unite the visible and the invisible in one image are revealed. Next the white lines that enliven the icon are applied. Finally, the white crown surrounding the outside image and halo brings us back to the beginning of our journey.
As Kimi proceeds through this journey, when there is doubt or concern, she stops and says a prayer for guidance. As she works she slowly sees the icon come alive, to truly represent the saint being transfigured. Kimi’s favorite time to paint is in the evening when the house is quiet. She paints for several hours. At times she becomes so engrossed in her work, she is surprised as she looks up to see the sunrise, knowing her prayer for the evening is complete.
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From the Archdiocese