Icons (2014)

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Images courtesy of Kathryn Fenton.

Artist Statement from Kathryn Fenton

Icons are traditionally used in the Orthodox Church as sacred images in prayer and worship. Historically, images in the Catholic Church help educate the illiterate. To create Anabaptist icons, I chose seven pillars of Mennonite theology based on four of the Mennonite confessions: the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, the Mennonite Confession of Faith of 1963, and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective from 1995. My artwork depicts seven pillars of Mennonite theology: the Trinity, the Two Natures of Christ, Scripture, Salvation, the Sacraments, Discipleship, and Non-violence. These tenets are the foundation of how we understand what it means to be Christian and Mennonite.

My creative process has several components. When beginning a piece, I read through each confession concerning the subject. I then ask myself, why do we care about this? Why is this so important to us as followers of Christ? I read through the confessions again, looking deeper and reading the related scriptures. After grasping a fundamental understanding of the tenet, I then read several articles on the same topic from different Anabaptist writers. I also have conversations with members of different Mennonite churches since our actions speak louder than our words. The conversations are a key part to understanding why this part of our theology is so important to our faith. I can then find an image that is complex enough to speak to our past, present, and future theological understandings, but simple enough to put into one piece of artwork. I work through images as I read and interview, and constantly rework the image to reach beyond traditional symbols and images.

In order to connect with our tradition of folk art, I choose wood panels rather than canvas. Each panel was built by hand, helping me enter into the creative process from the beginning. To convey my message, I rely on medium and traditional color symbolism consistently so the icons are easier to read.

Gold Holiness, used for God and the Holy Spirit.
White the transfigured Christ
Red the body and Blood of Christ
Blue heaven and cleansing water

Using the four Mennonite confessions of faith I have written a summary statement for each icon.

Trinity

In this icon there are four components: God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and you. Although we are not part of the Trinity, we are surrounded by it. This is an important part of this piece because it reflects, literally, the complexity and reality that we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, it has been poured out for us and is within us. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" John 3:16.

The trinity consists of: God the Father who is steady, strong, and constant; the living, transfigured Christ; and the empowering Holy Spirit, moving where it will, guiding us as we faithfully come to Him.

Christ

Jesus Christ our Lord portrays two natures: human and divine. It is also important to remember the blood he shed for us on the cross, and his Ascension into heaven. Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh; fully human and fully divine. He is the son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. He reconciled us to God through his death on the cross, and ascended into heaven after his Resurrection. Jesus Christ is the head of the church and we are the body.

Scripture

The holy scriptures are the inspired word of God and the essential authority for the Church. As Anabaptists we recognize the authority of the scriptures. We do not look to church fathers or theologians to interpret it for us; scripture alone is the source of God's word. Interpreting these scriptures is the task of the church, the body of believers. The Holy Spirit aids our interpretation. Our interpretation is tested by the faith community and must be in harmony with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The scriptures are the living word of God, and God continues to speak through his Word. So the cyclical process of interpreting starts over, always incorporating our prior understanding.

Salvation

Salvation is a gift from God offered to all people. Like the morning dawn that gives light and new birth to the world, the gift of salvation breaks through the darkness of sin to bring new birth to our own lives. Christ, the light in the darkness, offers us salvation from sin and rebirth into a new life.

Sacraments

Sacraments in the Mennonite church are Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Foot Washing; visible signs of the sacred. All three are interdependent. The movement of the piece is focused at the center. The cleansing ritual of foot washing and the water baptism swirls up. The sacrificial blood of the lamb, and the body of Christ, flows down. Flowing through both the water and the blood is the gift of the Holy Spirit, blessing and leading us. These three elements, working together and separately, represent our covenant with God and cleanse us of our sins, thus bringing us into God's kingdom.

Discipleship

The texture, movement, and color in this piece represent the body of Christ. Individuals, acting as one, are striving to become the image of Christ—sharing Christ's light and love to the world. We are woven into one large body, overlapping and supporting one another. We are all equally dependent on the other to make up the whole. As an interdependent community, we can discern how to be the body of Christ. So the colors and movement work as one in this piece. We are all sinners seeking the Kingdom of God. As the body of Christ, we look towards heaven. We grow from reaching to recognizing Christ as our Lord and seeking him. Through love and commitment we evolve to truly be the body and blood of Christ. As a Church, our lives model Jesus around the world. The Holy Spirit moves the body of Christ according to God's will, until one day we will become the truly redeemed Church, the perfect and holy image of the transfigured Christ.

Nonviolence

This piece speaks to our belief that peace is the will of God. We are guided by the Holy Spirit to bring peace and reconciliation to a world full of violence and bloodshed. In our culture blood is inextricably tied to war and violence, but as a peace church we believe that the blood shed by Christ has the power to heal, unite the body of Christ, and end violence. Christ has created an upside-down kingdom and we are here to show the world that the blood uniting us is stronger than the blood shed through violence.

Hear an interview with Kathryn about the icons.
Learn more about art installations at CMC.