Bold, Daring Iconography


Artist/iconographer William McNichols dedicated this icon of Matthew Shephard to the memory of the near 1500 gay and lesbian youth who commit suicide each year, and to the countless others who are harmed or murdered for their sexual orientation.

It is common when painting/writing icons for the artist to use a historic model for reference, as Luiz Coelho has written in a two-part series for Daily Episcopalian this week. Without an historic model, McNichols turned to the reports from police who found Shephard bound to a fence post, left for dead, covered in blood, save for the white trails on his cheeks where his tears had fallen.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;

my eye is wasted with grief, my soul and body also.

Strong, as I am, I stumble because of my inequality,

and my bones waste away.

I am the scorn of my adversaries, a horror to my

neighbors, an object of dread to my

acquaintances; when they see me in the street

they turn quickly away.

1 have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have

come to be like something lost.

Yea, 1 hear many whispering -terror on every side! -as

they scheme together against me, to take my life.

But 1 trust in thee, O Lord, I say, “Thou art my God.”

Rescue me from those who persecute me!

I will rejoice and be glad for thy unfailing love,

because thou hast cared for me in my distress

and thou hast not abandoned me

but hast set me free. ~ A Rereading From Psalm XXXI (RSV/NE/SE)

Shephard’s tragic story has received consistent attention from the press in the 10 years since the vicious hate crime that took his life erupted the quiet veneer of the Wyoming plain. Episcopal Cafe writer Ann Fontaine has her own reflections on the person of Matthew Shephard, before and after his death here. Fontaine’s questions lead me to my own questions about the appropriateness of titling this icon ‘The Passion of Matthew Shephard’ – simply because of the title’s stark similarity to the Passion of Christ. Surely Christ’s Passion was quite different from this young man’s. Or was it? My inability to measure the suffering of another answers my own questions. And I conclude, for myself, that this use of the word ‘Passion’ is appropriate when it broadens our collective memory for all those who suffer for the truth of their own identities, regardless of how long that suffering endures.

On View:

Above and Homepage Masthead: The Passion of Matthew Shephard, icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols.

Homepage Daily Episcopalian: Beato Fra Angelico, Patron of Artists, icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols.

Homepage Speaking to the Soul: Jesus Christ Extreme Humility, icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols.

About the Artist: William Hart McNichols has been “drawing and coloring in his room” since he was five years old. In September 1990, he moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to study the technique, history and spirituality of icon painting (technically “icon writing”) with Russian-American master, Robert Lentz. He has also been assisting with sacremental ministry in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Father Bill lives with his cat, Nino and hens, Rose and Catherine. In January 2007, Father Bill began to work on the Publication Ministry of the Icons. Artist representative and director of daily communications of the ministry is Pamela Scalora.

Read Luiz Coelho‘s articles, The Sinai Pantocrator: Iconography 101 here and here.

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