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OACS staff member chosen to be artist in residence

Written on April 14th, 2008

To exhibit, teach at Cambridge Centre for the Arts

Christopher van Donkelaar’s career as an iconographer began with a visit to a monastery in Galion, Ohio, in the 1990s.

While he was there he came upon a monk who was working on a large icon on the floor. Being rather short, the man couldn’t reach the middle of the icon so he asked van Donkelaar, who was watching him, to do it for him

“I did it. That was fine. I certainly have long enough arms,” says van Donkelaar.

When he was finished, the monk told him, “You need to study icons.”

[caption id=”attachment_3390” align=”alignright” width=”150”]Chrisr150 Iconographer Christopher van Donkelaar at an earlier exhibition.[/caption]

Van Donkelaar, who is also director of technologies for the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS), began apprenticing under the monk, Father Nathaniel, and visited the Ohio monastery three or four times a year.

The work he did during that time certainly wasn’t glamorous, says the artist, who remembers sanding stacks of boards. But it got him comfortable with different aspects of creating an icon.

About six years ago, Father Nathaniel told van Donkelaar he was ready to start his own practice, which he’s been doing since.

Last year the artist developed a proposal for an art exhibition that includes an icon created entirely out of materials available within a 100-mile radius of where he works.

Van Donkelaar points out that the idea of relying on local materials for his art is similar to what’s happening in the food movement with its emphasis on local products.

“I think art can belong to a community and the community can be enriched by that,” he says, noting that in some parts of the world artists have been forced to use what was available locally.

Van Donkelaar believes the resulting art has a beautiful, harmonious quality.

He was thrilled when the Cambridge Centre for the Arts selected him to be artist in residence for 2008 based on his proposal, the 100 Mile Art Project.

The selection committee’s vision “is to enhance Cambridge’s cultural landscape relevant to our diverse community, encourage local artists, develop programming and profile, and foster the dialogue between artists and the rest of the community,” says Tamara Louks, arts programmer.

“Christopher will create an icon of The Naming of the Animals using materials naturally occurring or farmed within a 100-mile radius of the Cambridge Centre for the Arts; including chalk, glue, binder and pigment,” says Louks. “As well, a blog of Christopher’s travels, discoveries, refining processes, and painting progress will be updated weekly.”

As an artist in residence, van Donkelaar will also teach workshops to adults and children.

The culmination of the project will include the finished icon of Adam with the animals. The icon will be surrounded the raw materials used to create it. For instance, the pigment, which van Donkelaar makes himself, using egg yolk and pulverized rock, will be a part of the exhibition. The various rocks van Donkelaar ground down for the pigment will also be there.

Some of the materials can’t be brought into the studios so computers will fill in the gaps. One of the pigments is made from the ivory of a mastodon, which came from West Lorne and once roamed all over southern Ontario. Visitors will be able to log on to see the digs where the mastodon remains were unearthed.

Van Donkelaar is especially excited about this exhibit because he believes icons have something of value to add to the art discussion.

“I think art should in some way celebrate what is beautiful and I think iconography has held on to that. The opportunity to be part of that dialogue, to have what I do not simply (secluded) behind a closed door in a stately church is very exciting to me.”

Keep updated on the progress with van Donkelaar’s 100 Mile Art Project. Read his blog entries and see pictures at www.100mileART.com.