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Library Celebrates Seventh Anniversary of the Eastern Church Resource Center
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Library Celebrates Seventh Anniversary of the Eastern Church Resource Center with Icon Exhibit and Lecture

In conjunction with the seventh anniversary celebration of Notre Dame College’s Eastern Church Resource Center, the Clara Fritzsche Library Gallery will host “The Art, History and Theology of Romanian Icons on Glass,” a display of icons from Transylvania. The exhibit is made possible through the cooperation of the Rev. Fr. Remus Grama, D. Min., Parish Priest of St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Cathedral, Mr. George Dobrea and the Romanian Ethnic Art Museum (REAM).

An opening reception will take place on Thursday, March 30, 2006 from 7 to 9 pm with a multimedia presentation by Fr. Grama set for 7 pm. A brief question and answer session will follow and refreshments will be served.

Cleveland is considered to be the oldest Romanian community in the country and St. Mary’s is the oldest Romanian parish in the country. It is also unique in that while the church architecture retains the Old World style of the wooden churches indigenous to Transylvania, it includes a modern cultural center. The center includes an art gallery and houses examples of folk art, fine arts and artifacts that span the centuries including a valuable collection of ethnic costumes. While some of the museum collection has been leased to the Romanian Ethnic Art Museum, located within the parish complex, the church still manages others, such as a collection of statues, mosaics and an historical frieze depicting the 2000 year history of Romania. The parish collection of icons is made up of a number of older icons received as donations from parishioners or other sources.

The exhibit will be comprised primarily of icons from the collection of George Dobrea, Director of the Romanian Ethnic Art Museum and Honorary Consul to Romania for Cleveland. Dobrea acquired his icons from the late Archmandrite Timotei Tohaneanu from the Brancoveanu Orthodox Monastery, Sambata, Romania. Fr. Timotei is a well-known iconographer on glass who painted, or in Orthodox Christian terminology, wrote thousands of icons and exhibited internationally in Western Europe and the United States mainly during the years from 1970 through 1980.

Transylvania, a province of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, like Austria, Moravia and Southern Germany was famous for its glass industry, especially during the reign of Empress Theresa (1740-1780). In this context, glass became a readily available means of expression for peasant artists who started to employ it for icons. Religion is an integral part of domestic life in Romania, with icons, especially those painted on glass, being found in every home. Hand painting with especially fine brushes and pen has been Romanian folk tradition since the 18th century. This knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, from parents to children, many artists remaining anonymous.

Folk icons on glass are painted on the reverse side of the glass, making execution hard to control and requiring great skill. The method of creating icons on glass was imported to Transylvania through Austria, from Tyrol and Bohemia. A monastery near Cluj started to produce reverse painted glass icons by interpreting engravings. The genre became so popular that soon entire villages specialized in producing icons on glass. Older icons are painted on a glass produced in the original glass mills, with somewhat imperfect wooden rolls. The wavy appearance of the glass makes it easy to recognize them. Somewhat naïve, they remain typical of the genre, sketchy and symbolic with a use of brilliant colors.

The upcoming exhibit will feature icons from the various schools of painting existing in Transylvania. Today artists from all walks of life create icons, including academy-trained artists, monks and village folk artists. In Europe there are specialized museums focusing on such items in the village of Sibiel and many Romanian monasteries such as Sambata and Nicula, where iconography on glass was first seen in Transylvania.

Icons on glass have held a fascination for Fr. Remus Grama since 1967, when he entered high school in his native Romania. In 1976, Fr. Grama received his Master of Theology degree from the Theological Institute in Sibiu. He came to the United States in 1980 and became a U.S. citizen in 1987. He attended McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and has a Masters of Science degree in Counseling from Youngtown State University. He completed courses toward a doctoral degree in history at Kent State University and recently earned his Doctor of Ministry degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary/ Antiochian House of Studies. In 1982, Fr. Grama was ordained a priest at Holy Trinity Church in Youngstown, where he served as Parish Priest until 1989, when he was appointed to serve St. Mary Church (now Cathedral) in Cleveland Ohio.

While at Holy Trinity, Fr. Grama served as Orthodox Chaplain and instructor at Youngstown State University, co-chaplain of St. Basil’s workers, sponsor of the International Institute in Youngstown, Ohio and was a member of the Youngstown Clergy Association and the Eastern Orthodox Men’s Association.

Since 1997, he has served as the External Affair Representative of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America/OCA. He has also been a member of the Episcopate’s Council and a member of the Episcopate’s Commission on Religious Art. Father Grama has also served in an executive position on the Greater Cleveland Orthodox Clergy Council. He serves as an instructor during the Vatra Summer Camp and as a lecturer at Ohio State University, Cuyahoga Community College and Notre Dame College and was a member of the Cuyahoga Community College Advisory Board.

In recent years Fr. Grama headed several local campaigns for International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and organized the Ohio Western Pennsylvania Deanery celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Consecration of Archbishop Nathaniel with a banquet to benefit the Archbishop Charity Endowment Fund. He speaks Romanian, French and Russian and has published several books and articles on Romanian history, iconography and theology. Fr. Grama has been a member of Notre Dame College’s Eastern Church Planning Committee since 1990.

The exhibit will run from March 30 through April 30, 2006 and may be viewed during library hours: Monday-Thursday 9 am-10 pm; Friday-Saturday 9 am-5 pm; Sunday 1 pm-10 pm. For more information, contact Karen Zoller at 216.373.5267 or kzoller@ndc.edu, or visit the library website.

Karen Zoller is the Director of the Clara Fritzsche Library.