A portrait of St. Kateri Tekakwitha that was months in the making was unveiled Monday night at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish church on Rosa Road.
One of two commissioned by the church in honor of the first anniversary of the Native American woman’s canonization, the portrait was made possible by a donation from parishioners John and Lucy Halstead.
Kateri was born more than three centuries ago in what is now Montgomery County, and last October was named the first female Native American saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
To secure an artist for the portrait, St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish conducted a search that produced 11 applicants from as far away as Canada, according to Kathy Stachnick, chairwoman of the parish’s art committee. Scott Nelson Foster, a drawing and painting professor at Siena College, was awarded the job and will complete the second portrait of Kateri as well.
Before ever picking up a paintbrush, Foster studied articles, read history books and searched through photo archives at the New York State Museum. He consulted drawings and took note of the fashions, fabrics and clothing dye colors of Kateri’s time.
“I would call this a history painting,” he said. “It’s very much along the lines of what was done 150 to 200 years ago when there would be some subject that they wanted to commemorate before it was possible to take photographs of them.”
One of the most useful objects Foster came across in his research was a doll from the collection of the National Maritime Museum in London that postdates Kateri by a century but was made in the Canadian Mohawk community she later called home.
Watercolor paintings of Iroquois created in the early 1800s and drawings and lithographs of traditional Mohawk clothing helped to piece more of the portrait together.
“I looked at drawings that were made about 100 years later [than Kateri’s time] and tried to kind of dial back the fashions based on what I had learned would have been available as far as fabric, what kinds of dyes and colorings,” Foster explained.
Using a female Siena College student of Italian and Cherokee descent as his model, he began the portrait in July and finished in mid-September. The oil-paint-on-canvas creation was finished with a simple, wooden frame that complements the church’s woodwork.
Titled “St. Kateri in God’s Creation,” the finished product, which measures 67-by-42 inches, shows Kateri standing in a wooded spot.
“She is from the Fonda area. [Foster] did a lot of research and was able to have the proper trees and vegetation and even has the Mohawk River in the distance, which was significant in her life for a couple of reasons,” said Stachnick.
As he worked on the portrait, Foster kept a blog where he detailed his progress and posted portions of the painting as it was completed.
The portrait shows Kateri wearing a blanket dyed brilliant indigo, a color Foster said would likely have been used by her Mohawk tribe. Her skirt was painted to look like it was made of a heavy, white fabric. A pale blue beaded pattern follows its edge.
Below the skirt, white leggings can be seen.
“I have chosen a simple, loose-fitting garment that would have served her well during the daily routine of the average Mohawk woman. They are simple and utilitarian, much like her moccasins,” Foster wrote in his blog, regarding the leggings.
The portrait will hang in the foyer at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish church, the former Our Lady of Fatima church, on Rosa Road.
Parish pastor the Rev. Bob Longobucco said the work of art is a fitting way to honor the saint.
“The portrait ‘St. Kateri in God’s Creation’ captures her pride, kindness, determination and her love of the land we share with her,” Longobucco said in a news release. “This portrait will inspire generations to live with the simplicity and grace that marked Kateri’s life.”
The second painting commissioned by the parish, “St. Kateri with the Children,” is scheduled to be completed by April 2014. It will hang in St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School on Union Street.