ANAKARKO, Okla. (AP) _ Elena Voznesenskaya-Pound's art does not look like typical western paintings. That's with good reason, her iconography is something altogether different.
The images she draws are not from her imagination instead she reproduces images of saints first immortalized centuries ago.
Her canvas is not canvas at all, it's lime wood, imported from Europe, with a smooth gesso painted on top. Her paint is not even paint, it's a mixture of mineral pigments, egg tempera and 24-karat gold.
Voznesenskaya-Pound, a native Russian, has lived in rural Anadarko for two years. She owns and operates the Woods and Waters Winery and Vineyard with her husband Dale Pound.
Voznesenskaya-Pound has been working as an iconographer for 15 years, spanning back to her days in Russia. There, iconography was Voznesenskaya-Pound's full-time job. Since moving to the United States, she has been able to focus on the work, not as a means of making a living, but as an important aspect of her spiritual life.
``It goes better than if you work for money,'' she said. ``It's not work, it's pleasure.''
Voznesenskaya-Pound began learning iconography at an interesting time in Russian history. Communist Russia had state-imposed atheism and as a result, churches, and iconography, became scarce.
``The change began after 1985 when the old church began to come back into religion,'' she said. ``The change from atheism back to belief in God was a revival of the church. During the 70 years of closed churches a lot of knowledge had to be gained from many people of the old church and each only has some of the techniques and secrets.''
Icons are a familiar facet of spiritual life not only for Russian Orthodox Christians, but also for those in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox traditions. Iconography originated in Greece and made its way to Russia about 1,000 years ago, bringing the orthodox religion along with it.
``As information and beliefs move from one territory to another, always some nuances change or are interpreted differently,'' Voznesenskaya-Pound said. ``Thus the Russian Orthodox Church was born.''
The difference between cultures is sometimes evident, with customers not always understanding the religious and cultural gravity of icons.
``Some people don't understand the difference between a print and the real thing,'' said her husband.
The painstaking task of creating an icon begins with the proper tools, including the minerals, gold and lime wood, most of which has to be shipped from around the nation or even the world. Voznesenskaya-Pound explained that the elements have to be exactly the same for the sacred icons.
``It's like wine,'' she said. ``You can add sugar to it but then it won't be Shiraz,''
Icons depict the saints, apostles and Jesus Christ.
``If you look at an icon, there's a whole story there,'' said the Rev. John Tsaras, priest at St. George's Greek Orthodox church in Oklahoma City.
Voznesenskaya-Pound has done work for the church and also has conducted classes there.
``At the very beginning (of the Christian church) you might be lucky to have the Gospel of Matthew or Mark. But inside an icon is the whole Biblical story.''
``It is that concept that helps to explain the importance of copying icons exactly. They are sacred images, living on through icons.
``You don't try to do something new,'' Tsaras said.
Faces, in particular, are one of the most difficult and beautiful aspects of iconography. While many icons feature only one person or face, others feature dozens, even hundreds of faces. One particular painting involved replicating 500 faces.
Voznesenskaya-Pound says hair and clothes are the most difficult to replicate.
``Icons are permanent,'' Dale Pound said. ``That's why you can't change any part of the icon. It all has to do with the sacrament and longevity.''
He said the thick construction of the lime wood bases along with the mineral paints creates a solid, long-lasting icon.
The history, spiritual meaning and longevity of icons have made them among the most valuable commodities in the world. The couple said in Europe and Russia many wealthy collectors keep their icons hidden and sheltered from photographs. They often keep their possessions secret, for fear of being robbed.
Besides selling her own original icons, Voznesenskaya-Pound also does restoration work and commissioned pieces. Her work has been exhibited in German, Italy, France, England and the United States.
``I have an icon handed down in my family that's around 200 to 250 years old,'' Tsaras said. ``She restored it and it's gorgeous.''
The work itself is intense; Voznsenskaya-Pound describes it as more of a spiritual medication than an active labor.
When she isn't hard at work painting, she still has iconography on her mind.
``I study every day,'' she said.
In addition she helps others to learn the art by teaching classes and workshops. A typical class is from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. She begins by giving a rundown of history and of the difficult and intricate nature of the art.
Voznesenskaya-Pound says she prepares the lime wood ahead of each workshop, because time is of the essence in her classes. One icon can take a student the entire week to complete.
Voznesenskaya-Pound has three classes scheduled for this year in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Dallas.