About Me

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Douglas, Alaska, United States
I have lived in Alaska since 1978, having come to Juneau as a Jesuit Volunteer. I fell in love with Alaska and now live on Douglas Island with my husband and two dogs.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Icons and Biscochitos

Icons and Biscochitos

My husband, Deacon Charles Rohrbacher, is an iconographer. He has been painting icons since 1980. He studied with a Russian emigre' iconographer, Dmitri Shkolnik in San Francisco early in his career. He had been working in San Francisco for a non-profit agency (The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors) and was also an artist. He wanted to find an art form that was an expression of his faith, so he started to study iconography with Dmitri. Charles tells stories of attending the Easter Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Church in San Francisco, about the five hour long liturgy followed by a huge banquet for the attendees (or "the survivors", as Charles puts it!). He then moved to Juneau (to marry me!) in 1982 and continued studying on his own.

We often reflect on how he became a full time iconographer. It was a perfect fit for him. Iconography is a mix of theology, history and art, all of which Charles is passionate about.

Two months after we were married, on December 12th, 1982 (the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), I was making cookies for the office cookie exchange. Of course, I wanted to make Biscochitos, the traditional New Mexican Christmas cookies that my mother made every year. It's an old family tradition, not to be broken (at least not by me) and so, when I discovered that we were out of sugar (planning ahead not being my strong suit), I sweetly asked my new husband to trek to the grocery store in the icy slush and get some sugar for me.

In those days, Foodland (then, and still, the only grocery store in Downtown Juneau) was closed on Sundays, so the only option was J&J Deli, a convenience store/deli on the other side of Evergreen Cemetery from our little cabin on the hill/newlywed love nest. Because Charles is such a good sport, and possibly because I had been singing the praises of Biscochitos to him, he agreed to walk to the store to get the sugar. It had snowed earlier in the week, then frozen, and then thawed so the conditions were just right for Charles to, as he stepped from the path in the cemetery to the sidewalk next to the Chief Kowee memorial, slip and break his ankle in four places.

Fortunately, a person walking by asked if he could help and instead of saying: "Please call an ambulance", Charles asked the Good Samaritan to help him get to J&J Deli, a few yards away. Once there, he asked to use the phone, dragged himself the length of the counter, called me and said that he had fallen and thought that he had broken his ankle. I started to cry hysterically until Charles remarked mildly that HE was the one in pain and could I arrange a ride to the emergency room. I called friends who showed up with a Volkswagen bug (thanks Danny!) and off we went to the ER where they determined that the ankle was indeed broken and that Charles needed surgery.

When he was discharged from the hospital, he was ensconced in the living room of the little cabin, our bedroom being up a set of narrow and very steep stairs (read: honeymoon over) and, unable to work, or even get out of the house due to the very deep snow, slippery conditions, and no car, he began to study more about iconography, thanks to the Interlibrary Loan program at our local library. Studying led to sketching and painting, then more sketching and painting. He was out of work for six weeks and we were surviving on my paycheck as a newly-minted State of Alaska employee, who, after being a volunteer for two years, a preschool teacher for another year and a drug store clerk for six months, thought that this cushy State job with health benefits for both of us was a huge jump ahead, finance-wise. We agreed that we could indeed live on my salary, so Charles became a full time artist after his ankle was healed, and an iconographer was born.

So, to all of the people and churches for whom Charles has written icons over the past 29 years: you have my mother to thank, the woman who taught me to make Biscochitos.

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