Fr. Andrew Tregubov Photo: Kathe MolloyBy Kathe Molloy for the News Leader

CLAREMONT NH-In a country as young as the United States, in a state as rural as New Hampshire, and in a city as seemingly homogeneous as Claremont, one would not expect to discover an ancient art form. But, hidden away in a simple little wooden church there waits a breathtaking experience ready to delight anyone willing to open the door and enter. Those who choose to enter will find themselves passing from sunshine to sunset, an intense, twilight sunset, burning with vibrant red, royal purple, and fiery orange walls that surround the beholder.

Every wall of the tiny Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church is adorned with exquisitely rendered paintings in the manner of the Byzantine Empire. Icons, faces of the faithful, those who were present when Christ rose victoriously from death, and those who followed after, seem to keep watch, waiting patiently, offering welcome. The western sunlight slanting through stain-glass windows cannot surpass the glowing life that springs from the multitude of icons in even the darkest recesses of the sanctuary.

These icons, depicting saints and scenes from the life of Christ, are the work of Father Andrew Tregubov. In 1975 Father Tregubov and his wife, Gallina, also an iconographer, immigrated to the United States from Moscow. He entered St. Vladimir’s Theological Academy in Crestwood, N.Y. and focused his artistic pursuits on iconography. At St. Vladimir’s Tregubov studied with Rev. Alexander Schmemann, a renowned international scholar and leader of the Orthodox Church in America. In the absence of reputable schools of iconography, Tregubov gathered the knowledge of different techniques and styles and a number of well-known professional iconographers, especially those in Paris’ renowned Orthodox émigré community, Leonid Ouspensky, Maria Struve, and Elizabeth Osolin.

In 1977, while still studying at St. Vladimir’s, Tregubov and his wife moved to Cavendish, Vt. to live with Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his family. The Tregubovs assisted in the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s writings in the Russian language, interpreting for the Solzhenitsyns, and tutoring their three sons in Orthodox Theology and Russian History as well as helping the Solzhenitsyns develop a collection of contemporary Russian memoirs, journals, and diaries that became known as the Russian Memoir Library.

In 1979, during a trip to France, Tregubov made an important personal discovery of the works of iconographer Gregory Kroug (1909- 1969). This discovery was a turning point In Tregubov’s development of his own iconographic style. In 1990 he wrote a book, The Life of Christ; Iconography of Gregory Kroug. In his book Tregubov says, “We have to rediscover the icons, buried as they are under a heap of misconceptions which attempt to explain’ them away. We must learn their language; learn to see the true reality which they reveal.”

Standing In his studio wearing the long black cassock of his office, Tregubov’s Eastern European accent and heavy beard easily invokes visions of the Old Testament patriarchs. He talks with zeal, not so much for his painting as for what they convey to the viewer, “The perspective of the icon is not linear, there is no vanishing point, rather the perspective is curved, to embrace the viewer. The faces are painted in a manner to make one feel face-to-face, very close to the icon. The radiant lines depicted in the folds of the robes serve as arrows to lead the eye.”

Tregubov went on to explain, “In an icon of Christ on the cross, He is portrayed in a curved position. The cross He was on was of the cruelest kind. It had a foot rest to allow him to stand. The foot rest was meant to prolong the agony, sometimes for weeks. Portraying Christ in a curved position conveys his willing sacrifice. ‘Jesus, when He cried in a loud voice, yielded up His spirit’ (Matt 27:50). The icon depicts the revelation of Christ.”

As to the painting process, a ground or base, of gesso (a preparation of plaster and glue) is laid over a canvas or panel support. Then thin washes of egg tempera (pigment mixed with egg yolk) are layered over one another similar to a glazing technique. The gradual build up of thin layers of color is what creates the intense, glowing colors. Gold leaf is applied to other areas of the design but is not painted over.

Tregubov is the 1995 recipient of the New Hampshire State Council of the Arts Discovery Award. The award recognizes his extraordinary accomplishments in an art form which is little known in New Hampshire.

In his nomination, Director of the Center of Humanities at the University of New Hampshire Burt Feintuch wrote, “Father Tregubov is not widely known in the secular world that comprises most of the arts communities and networks throughout the state. We should discover this excellent artist, recognize and appreciate his very significant contribution to a highly valued art form.”

Galina Tregubov was awarded the Traditional Arts Fellowship from the New Hampshire State Council of the Arts. Practicing an art that dates back as early as the tenth century, Galina creates hand embroidered ecclesiastical icons, an art form that has been described by fifteenth century French scholar G. Mille as, “painting with a needle.”

Father Tregubov’s icons are not contemporary icons, painted as a collection of superficial symbols, stylized, opaque, and empty. Rather like the source of his inspiration they are, intimate, powerful, and alive.