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LA CROSSE — Eleven years ago, Joan Weisenbeck, FSPA, started a legacy of icon writing (painting) that continues to draw people of all faith traditions from across the nation each summer to the Franciscan Spirituality Center.

Icons — sacred images of saints or narrative stories from the Bible — are honored as religious works of art painted on wood and especially known among Orthodox Christian churches.

On May 12-18 and July 7-13, the FSC presents two retreats featuring master iconographer Phil Zimmerman and Weisenbeck as the prayer facilitator.

No special art experience is necessary. There are options to paint simple or complex icons, depending on skill level: Nicholas the Bishop or Nicholas and the Ship. In July, participants will paint a narrative icon of the Nativity, the birth of Christ.

In practice, icon paining is a meditative and prayerful process that begins with gazing upon the image and learning the life of the icon so that it becomes alive to you as you create the image.

“The FSC has drawn people of all faith traditions to this retreat over the years. People return each summer because of the relationships formed or because they are interested in advancing their skills. It’s always a joyful retreat with a nice mixture of reflection and prayer, group sharing and time alone to reflect,” Weisenbeck said.

Zimmerman will lead participants through the history of the icons and teach participants step-by-step instructions to complete the icon during the retreat. Each icon is painted on a 10-by-12 inch wooden board that has been prepared with layers of gesso and sanded to make it smooth and ready to paint. Acrylic paint along with gold leaf is used to highlight special parts of the icon.

The weeklong retreat costs $625, which includes bedroom, meals and workshop. Commuters pay $505 for meals and workshop. All materials and supplies are provided.

Participants can work at their own pace in community with others or alone. A $150 non-refundable deposit is required to reserve a place. Each retreat is limited to 20 participants. Visit FSC online at www.FSCenter.org to register or for more information. Scholarships are available; inquire calling 608-791-5295.

The center is located at 920 Market St. and is a sponsored ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

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