Woodcarver Ezine
Back Issues
Carvers' Companion Gateway


by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 19, Page One of Three


Page One:
- Dino Muradian: A Project Unfolding

Page Two:
- Dino Muradian: Varied Themes
- Book Review: Step-by-Step Pyrography Projects:
For the Solid Point Machine
by Norma Gregory
- Sue Walters Newsletter--Smokin'!

Page Three:
- From Spain: FFERDEZO
- Tom Schulz Update on Alaska
- Remembering September 11th

Dino Muradian: A Project Unfolding

The Annunciation
by Dino Muradian
after the painting by Leonardo da Vinci

Pyrography on Birch panel
This pyrograph forms part of the central panel of an iconostasis

Image courtesy of the artist

An Important Commission

While living in California, Dumitru (Dino) Muradian was working on an important commission to do a series of works for a Romanian Orthodox church in the Bay Area near San Francisco. When he decided to return to his native Romania, he continued the project there using DHL express mail to send back his work as he completed it.

by Dino Muradian

Birch panels in the early stages of construction

Image courtesy of the artist

The Project Begins

The commission for the church project calls for a large number of pyrographed images to adorn the church interior including and especially an iconostasis, which is like a wooden wall or screen. Dino began by building the iconostasis structure itself.

A close call. In the picture above, the structure is well underway but still in an early stage. The picture shows the room where Dino built the sections. He recalled a particular day when he got quite a scare: "I was almost killed once when one of them fell to the ground, and the 'wind' it created caused another one to start falling. It fell very close to me and scratched my right shoulder pretty badly."

Iconostasis--Figure of Christ
by Dino Muradian

Pyrography on Birch panel

After a Byzantine painting by an unknown (probably Greek) artist
Words in the book in Christ's hands are in Romanian
(in Greek in original painting) and translate as:

I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Nobody comes to My Father but through Me.

--John XIV, 6

Image courtesy of the artist

History and Elements of an Iconostasis

The iconostasis is no doubt the most characteristic feature of an Orthodox church. A typical iconostasis is a wall or screen of wood, dividing the sanctuary from the body or nave of the church with rows (or tiers) of icons displayed on it.

The icons are the images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist (also known as John the Forerunner) and many other apostles, saints, and prophets of the Orthodox religion, as well as the important feasts and mysteries of that religion. The number of these images depends mainly on how elaborate the iconostasis is. Some Russian Orthodox iconostases may have five tiers, for example. The tradition of the iconostasis dates from about the sixteenth century [1].

Historically, the Orthodox churches represent not a doctrinal but a political separation from the Latin church and the authority of the Pope in Rome. Once the last attempt at reconciliation between the two ecclesiastical powers failed (Council of Florence, 1438), perhaps as a means of creating distinctions, each took on its own traditions different from the other's. After that, whereas in Western European (Latin) churches ornamentation of the sanctuary was focused on the wall, the redodos, behind the altar, in Eastern European (Orthodox) churches, it was the iconostasis--the barrier or partition dividing the altar and sanctuary from the rest of the church--that became ever more elaborate and grand [2].

1. The Iconostasis
2. The Iconostasis

Iconostasis--In Place
by Dino Muradian

Construction is well underway, and the iconostasis has been placed in the church

Image courtesy of the artist

Over time a protocol developed for iconostases, indicating where the most essential icons must be placed. Some of these iconostases are very elaborate and can be immense. However, it seems the only truly essential icons are one of Jesus Christ to the right of the Royal Doors that constitute the central panel and another of the Madonna and Child to the left of the Royal Doors. Besides the central Royal Doors are two more doors called Deacon's Doors (one on the right of the Royal Doors beyond the icon of Christ and another on the left, beyond the icon of the Madonna and Child).

There is usually a cross at the top of the central panel, which constitutes the Royal Doors. The Annunciation and the Last Supper are two other themes of traditional importance often used in the central panel, just as they are in Dino's where the Last Supper is right underneath the central cross at the top, and the Annunciation (shown in detail at the opening of this segment) is on the lower portion of the central section. Because the central panel actually opens as the Royal Doors, there is a decorative divider running vertically through the pyrograph of the Annunciation, which was done in two panels.

Iconostasis--Madonna and Child
by Dino Muradian

Pyrography on Birch panel
After a painting by Giovanni Bellini

Image courtesy of the artist

Project Underway

Dino consulted a book describing the rules of Romanian Orthodox iconography. He found a prescribed order for icons on an iconostasis, as well as other details of this complicated process.

From there he proceeded to build "every section of the seven that form the iconostasis." He writes, "I mounted everything on it, I painted it, I finished every square inch of it. "

Dino Muradian Detailing the Iconostasis

The artist at work staining and finishing the iconostasis structure

Image courtesy of the artist

A Church Service

Partial view of the iconostasis
with pyrographic paintings
With the faithful present during a service

Image courtesy of the artist

There are six large pyro-icons on this wooden wall standing 9 ft. tall (2.9 m) that is Dino's iconostasis. Above these six large icons are rows of three smaller ones. On top of the smaller pyro-icons is another large one but in a 'semi-circle' shape. In addition to the pyro-icons on the iconostasis itself, there are quite a few large pyrographic works on the walls of the church.

Wood used. The pyro-icons are all made of Birch, 1/2-inch thick, plywood. The iconostasis itself is also made of Birch.

St. John the Forerunner Baptizing Jesus
by Dino Muradian

Pyrography on Birch panel
After a painting by Alessandro Allori

Image courtesy of the artist

Choosing the Art Work

The figures depicted on an iconostasis have a protocol, as was discussed previously; however, the style of the art work has not heretofore been touched on. In a traditional iconostasis, the medieval or Byzantine style (such as the figures of Christ and the Madonna and Child) is the most typical for icons, which are also often covered in metals and gems, revealing only the painted faces and hands.

Perhaps because the client church is modern and "Romanian-American" Orthodox, it was decided (surely not without controversy, as in all these sorts of stylistic, and more importantly--traditional--issues) that many of the images be early Renaissance and Renaissance paintings from the Catholic tradition.

Dino's job was to choose images that would satisfy the tastes and traditions of as many of the faithful as possible. Wherever appropriate he modified details of the original images to accommodate the Orthodox religious traditions and artistic sensibilities.

The Three Central Panels
by Dino Muradian

Four pyrographic paintings on Birch panels comprising the three central panels of the iconostasis: Central panel, top: The Last Supper (after the Leonardo da Vinci mural), bottom: The Annunciation; left panel, The Virgin Mary (after a painting by Bellini); right panel, Jesus Christ (after a painting by Caravaggio)

Image courtesy of the artist

Finishing the Project

As this article goes to publication, three small works are left to complete. An additional contract that is anticipated would mean doing the twelve Apostles in the rounded niches at the top of the iconostasis panels.

Dino Muradian's Iconostasis Nearing Completion

Pyrographic paintings on Birch panels mounted on the seven panels of the iconostasis

Image courtesy of the artist


View more of Dino Muradian's works on his beautiful new website www.geocities.com/dinumuradian
and as always in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

The Entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem
by Dino Muradian

Pyrography on Birch panel
After a painting by Santi di Tito

Image courtesy of the artist

Looking to the Future

Now that the end of this big project is in sight, I asked for his comments about this church project, his future plans for his art work, or if he plans a return to the United States.

Dino is realizing how much he has enjoyed this project. He is thinking of possibilities of commissions he would truly like as an artist and he is thinking big. His first thought is how much he would like to work for the Vatican, or do some more biblical scenes for different Churches or art collectors.

"Working for this Romanian Church," Dino says, "I took it like a big honor and pleasure--I'm Romanian, don't forget."

"Yes, if a big project comes up, I'll be back in the States [or presumably the Vatican!], but, you know, this planet is so very small, I can do my work even from the Moon, as long as I have a FedEx or DHL... and internet."

And then at the end he puts his own (very characteristic) little happy face: [:o)
(If that didn't make sense, see his self portrait at the end of the next segment on page two....)

Click here to go to page two >>>

2002, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.