Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Library of the Icon School of St Peter - Melbourne Inc.

Members of the Icon School of St. Peter with the completed panels of the iconostasis
 for installation above the nave of St. Peter's Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne

                                               Report by Philip Harvey

John Bayton founded an icon school in 1982, when he was vicar of St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, Melbourne, initially working in the vicarage kitchen.  In its heyday, the Icon School of St. Peter was both a teaching institution and a workshop for established and novice iconographers. There was a waiting list to join the School, which met every month on a Tuesday morning at Eastern Hill. It is one of a number of such schools and groups operating in Melbourne, firm in its adherence to Byzantine practice. Several past members went on to found schools themselves. Some thirty-six years later the School this year made the decision, after some discernment, to close.

Over time, members of the School contributed to the building up of a considerable resource library. There are folio size books of different vintages containing reproductions from all the great traditions – Orthodoxy in its different forms, especially Greek and Russian, Coptic, Ethiopian – as well as the immense work of the churches of East and West in the latter half of the twentieth century, as the interest in icons spread throughout the world. Then there are standard works on icons, their history, theology, and aesthetics, as well as handbooks for iconographers and supporting art literature, especially in Byzantium. Pamphlets, monastic guidebooks, calendars, anything that assists the iconographers in their work, were collected as well, by members and friends of the School.   

Names inscribed in the books provide their own history, giving some idea of the many iconographers who were part of the School: Connie Barber, Susan Basset, Bp John Bayton, Judy Bink, Rose-Claire Boyd, Brian Bubbers, Mary Casey, Sr Jean Coutts, Fr Lawrence Cross, Sr Sheila Ann Erasmus, Pat Gravette, Anne Gumley, William Johnston, Molly Longfield, Kay McLennan, David Rogers, John Round, Frank Upfill, and Helen Young. The Very Revd. Fr Nicholas Karipoff, Dean of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral Brunswick East, facilitated many visits to the cathedral and as guest of honour, spoke at the 30th year anniversary dinner of the School.

The collection was housed in a locked utility cupboard at St. Peter’s. It would be unlocked during sessions of the School and referred to regularly.

Because the School became an incorporated entity, the winding up of its business required a divestment of assets. The School, under the guiding hand of its Librarian and Treasurer Brian Bubbers, elected to donate the asset of its book collection to a theological library with strong holdings in icon books and a commitment to this ancient practice: the Carmelite Library of Spirituality.  In November the collection was transported from Eastern Hill to Middle Park, where the books were gradually processed and added to the existing Carmelite holdings. This means the Carmelite Library now has the strongest icon book collection, both for pure and applied reference, in the University of Divinity. It is one of the best in Australia.

The transfer of the School’s icon book collection happened to coincide with an exhibition during November of over fifty icons in the Library made by the Seraphim Icon Group. At the lecture night for this exhibition, I talked to the many practising iconographers in attendance about the availability of the collection for their work, and of the Library itself as a home for icon writing. The Library has a history of hosting iconographers, as well as offering lecture series in which many scholars, artists, and others interested in icons, have spoken on this endlessly rewarding devotional and creative activity. One door closes, and another opens as the active interest and participation of iconographers flourishes in Melbourne and beyond.

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