A collection of handpainted icons by five contemporary Ethiopian artists will be exhibited on Sunday-Saturday, Aug. 16-22, at the Water Street Gallery, located at 546 Butler Street in Saugatuck.

          There will be an opening reception at the gallery
  on Sunday, Aug. 16, from noon to 5 p.m.  The public is
  invited, and admission is free.
          The icons are a form of religious artwork, a
  tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  The 30 works in
  the exhibition have been collected by Dr. Neal Sobania, who
  is director of international education and professor of
  history at Hope.  The five artists featured are all
  descendants of Aleqa Yohannis Teklu, an Ethiopian artist who
  died in 1978.
          According to Sobania, Christianity was introduced
  in Ethiopia in the early fourth century at the court of the
  King of Aksum, an empire that was a trading partner with the
  Roman and Byzantine empires.  "Aksum was an important node
  in the trade and communications networks that stretched from
  the Mediterranean and Red Sea to India and beyond," he said.
          "Before its collapse in the eighth century, Aksum
  set in motion the spread of Christianity across northeast
  Africa," he said.  "Over the centuries, the Ethiopian
  Orthodox Church has survived Muslim invasions and
  encroachment, forced conversions to Roman Catholicism and
  most recently a reign of terror by a regime that terrorized
  and oppressed the general population.  At the heart of this
  achievement of survival is the crucial role played by the
  church's visual culture."
          The icons are paintings on carved pieces of wood--
  some small enough to be worn as pendants, others larger
  panels that are displayed.  The colorful paintings may
  depict scenes from the Bible, saints or biblical figures, or
  other similarly-themed images.
          All five of the artists, whose ages range from 15
  to 30, are from Aksum, a city in northern Ethiopia.  The
  city hosts the mother church of the Ethiopian Orthodox
  faith, the 16th century cathedral of Maryam Tsion (St.
  Mary's of Zion), and according to Sobania is renowned for
  its production of religious art.
          Aleqa Yohannis Teklu, Sobania said, was especially
  known as a painter of church murals and illuminations for
  sacred texts, the two other primary forms of religious art
  associated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  In addition
  to being related to Aleqa Yohannis, all five of the artists
  with works in the exhibition have been trained by one of his
  grandsons, Berhane Meskel Fisseha, who Sobania said is today
  "recognized as Aksum's premier painter of church art."  Both
  Aleqa Yohannis Teklu and Berhane Meskel Fisseha have murals
  in the cathedral in Aksum.
          The artists with work in the exhibition are Daniel
  Berhane Meskel, Gebre Merha Yohannis, Haile Alemseged,
  Meserat Kasahun and Yordannes Berhane Meskel.
          Daniel Berhane Meskel, age 19, is the eldest of
  Berhane Meskel's seven children, and a great-grandson of
  Aleqa Yohannis Teklu.  Gebre Merha Yohannis, age 20, is a
  priest, and is a grandson of Aleqa Yohannis Teklu.  Haile
  Alemseged, age 30, is a grandson of Aleqa Yohannis Teklu.
  Meserat Kasahun, age 18, is a great-grandson of Aleqa
  Yohannis Teklu.
          Yordannes Berhane Meskel, age 15, is the eldest
  daughter of Berhane Meskel, and a great-granddaughter of
  Aleqa Yohannis Teklu.  As a woman, she is not allowed in the
  cathedral in Aksum, and has not seen her father's and great-
  grandfather's murals there.  "As there is no tradition of
  women painters in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Yordannes
  is charting new territory; few in Aksum even know she
  paints," Sobania said.
          The Water Street Gallery is open Monday through
  Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5
  p.m.  The icons will be available for purchase.