Icon: Mission to America

  • Mission to the New World, icon by Patricia Reid rscj
For a long time I had wanted to paint an icon of St Madeleine Sophie and St Philippine. The pressure of backed-up icon commissions, however, made me postpone this subject: I never felt free to do it just for my own satisfaction.

In 2003 I had an accidental but providential conversation with Susan Maxwell, Headmistress of our school at Sheridan Rd in Chicago. Eventually the subject of my icon ministry came up.  I mentioned my desire to do one of our two saints at the moment of the mission to America.  Susan was delighted and said the school would commission one - a large one - for their chapel. So our two desires coincided perfectly.

I thoroughly enjoyed researching Society history as well as the clothing (especially the hats) and sailing ships of the early nineteenth century. While painting, I felt immersed in the scene, prayed to each of our saints for guidance–and for patience: this is a 3 x 4 foot wooden panel, requiring a specially elevated table and another pair of hands (not readily available) to set the icon upright for critique. With egg tempera one cannot use an easel because the thin washes would run right down the surface. Because I could not reach the top of the icon except from either side, I sometimes resorted to painting upside down with a mirror!

For me the highlight of the dedication of the newly restored Sheridan Road chapel was the moment when the Bishop anointed the new altar. I couldn't help smiling as I watched him do exactly what I had done to the finished icon a few weeks before: pour oil on the center and four corners of the plane, and, with the flat of the hand, spread it across the surface until all is covered. It is a moment of sensuous delight and of consecration.

Patricia Tighe Reid rscj