Shirley Kontos Archive

The Icon Museum and Study Center is launching an initiative to document and curate the archive of the twentieth-century Greek American painter and Iconographer Shirley Kontos (1949-1991). The first phase of the project will present materials from the painter’s workbooks on technique and iconography. These documents show Kontos’s plans, cut short by her untimely death, to write a modern-day version of Dionysios of Fourna’s Painter’s Manual and to revise the influential teachings of Photis Kontoglou (1895-1965), a Greek painter who studied and preserved Byzantine murals.

Comprised of technical manuals, her professional correspondence, and lecture notes, the Kontos archive provides a glimpse into the creative development of an artist across her career. From her time as an MFA student at Northwestern University in the mid 1970s to her period of flourishing in the mid 1980s, Kontos gained fluency in a variety of Byzantine and post-Byzantine styles.

Devising her own technique for mixing pigment and designing portable mural panels, Kontos decorated churches in Chicago, the Midwest, and the Northeast, recasting traditional iconographic forms in a distinctive and compelling visual idiom. In 1986 she received the title of iconographer from Archbishop Iakovos of America, the only such honorific bestowed upon a female icon painter. In 1989 she was selected to paint the iconostasis for Patriarch Demetrios’s visit to Chicago, the first ever sojourn of the ecumenical patriarch in the United States.

We are grateful to the artist’s family for making the Kontos archive available for research.

Caleb Barrett of Endicott College is transcribing Shirley Kontos’s notebooks and lectures for his Summer 2024 Practicum Internship.

Church of St. Athanasios, Aurora, IL, 1982