Heiko Schlieper

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Heinrich (Heiko) Schlieper (1931-2008)

Heinrich (Heiko) Schlieper was born in Ontario on 25 May, 1931.

Early in his life, along with his family, Heiko moved to Montréal, Québec, where he grew up. It was there also that he received much of his education.

First phase of work

He began his life’s work first in working on the first computer in Canada, which was owned by the inventor of radar, Sir Robert Watson Watt.

Education ; teaching career ; retirement

Then, as an academic, the second period of his work was as Professor of East European and Soviet History at McGill University in Montréal. He also taught at the University of Ottawa, and at other institutions. Over all, he specialised in Eastern European, Balkan and Byzantine history. By 1976, however, he had grown weary of teaching, and he retired from academia.

Iconographic development

With this retirement began the third, very productive and very creative period of his life. This was the period of iconography. Upon retirement, he moved to Ottawa so that he could devote himself full-time to Orthodox iconography. It was in Ottawa, also, that he was received into the Orthodox Christian Church, at the Holy Transfiguration Mission in 1983. He was a most creative person, so much so that his wife Anne related that on visits, for instance, he would whittle spoons for their children, and each spoon would have the initials of its owner carved into the handle. He was always making something beautiful and useful. His hands were not idle.

In time, Heiko became Canada’s foremost iconographer. In the 1980s, he completed the iconographic wall murals in the Pokrova Ukrainian Catholic Church in Toronto, which took 5 years to accomplish. There exists a short film about him, made in the 1990s for Vision TV, which includes an interview with Kristi Jarmus (now a matushka), and also with scenes of his wall murals from Saint George’s Church in Edmonton, his next major work. Saint George the Victory-Bearer Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton, Alberta, is perhaps appropriately styled his master-piece, and it is a great work. This iconography took about 7 years to complete, and the area of the walls covered is equal to half an acre. The iconography of this church follows a traditional program for such work. It includes the major and minor feasts of the Church, 20 scenes from the Passion of Christ (following the Gospel according to John), and scenes of Old Testament salvation history.

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As was explained by one of those who studied with him (Priestmonk Vladimir (Lysak)), this work began by attaching canvas to the existing walls, and then applying plaster over that. After this, all the walls were gessoed. Gesso (chalk) is a word originating in Latin and Greek, meaning “gypsum”. It is a white mixture, consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these. It is used as a preparation for any number of foundations such as wood panels, canvas and sculpture, over which paint and other materials are applied. The application of gesso is very time-consuming, and it requires careful sanding so that the surface is completely smooth. It is only then that the sketches can begin to be written, followed by the application of the colours. The colour is applied using the traditional and ancient technique of egg-tempera. Egg-tempera is the result of mixing egg-yolks, water and natural mineral pigments. In addition, there is use of gold-leaf for the nimbuses (sometimes called "halo") of saints, and for certain other details. Bringing an icon to completion requires the painstaking application of very many layers of this egg-tempera paint. In an article written in 1997 for the news magazine "Alberta Report", Father Vladimir reported that Heiko described three levels on which an iconographer has to work. The first and lowest level is the technical, that is, preparing the icon in the traditional, approved, appropriate and correct way. The second level is the intellectual. This phase includes developing a thorough knowledge and understanding of Scripture, theology, tradition, liturgy, patristic writing, history, the canons, and other such factors, according to the measure they are involved in each subject. The third level is the highest and most difficult. This is the spiritual level, which implies the spiritual struggle, the pilgrimage of the iconographer’s whole life. This spiritual struggle has simply to do with the deepening of the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and the voluntary uniting of the iconographer’s will and whole life to the will of God and to His self-emptying and selfless Love.

Heiko wrote many smaller panel icons of various sizes, and these were often prepared in the evenings after he had spent the daytime hours doing one of his major works. One of these was written in public during an exhibition in the Alberta Provincial Museum in Edmonton at about the same time as he was completing his work at Saint George’s Church. His panel icons are in museum and private collections around the world and have been featured in a number of exhibitions including “Anno Domini : Jesus throughout the Centuries” in 2000. During the course of this exhibition, he prepared from the beginning and wrote to its completion what was described as a huge icon of Christ's Entry into Jerusalem. The major collection of his work is kept in the H C Schlieper Museum of Iconography at All Saints Monastery in Dewdney, British Columbia, which owns the collection. All Saints Monastery has recently published “The Life of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos : The Schlieper Iconographic Handbook of Icons”.

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Heiko Schlieper painting

Considering the context of Heiko’s labours of love in producing theologically correct and beautiful icons for God’s glory, it is no surprise that he was very often at a distance physically from his family for long periods of time. Nevertheless, said his wife, he remained in constant and frequent contact with her and their sons, and there was no neglect reported, but rather love. Heiko had a very lively sense of humour, indeed, and it appeared in different ways. One such outlet was at the annual Pascha “picnic” in Ottawa in the cathedral parish.

Heiko Schleiper and David Goa.jpg

Heiko Schlieper and David Goa

David J Goa of Edmonton added a commentary about his writings in a book-review in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”. It was Synaxis Press that undertook the publication of the multi-volume Schlieper "Handbook of Orthodox Iconography". In the monastery’s museum dedicated to him, a body of Heiko’s icons constitutes the core of the collection, along with a large suite of drawings and other memorabilia associated with the remarkable contribution of Canada’s foremost Orthodox iconographer. “The Life of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos” has an introductory essay by Heiko, in which he writes about his approach to iconography, and also about the prototypes that have informed his work over the previous 30 years. The book then unfolds some 76 lovely drawings from the “Offering of Joachim and Anna” through to “Thomas Displaying the Virgin’s Sash”. Each drawing is accompanied by an explanatory note on the icon and on the prototype for Heiko’s drawing. Great iconographers and schools of iconography have produced handbooks such as this over the last thousand years, and no doubt before that as well. None of the books that present readers may be familiar with was available in English publication or known in North America when Heiko began to write icons. His “The Life of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos” takes its place in a prestigious line of contributions made by those rare, skilled workers in the vineyard of the Church, and gives future generations opportunities to begin within the canonical tradition when they set out to serve the church through the writing of icons. This was an opportunity Heiko Schlieper did not have when he began his study of the tradition back in the 1960s.

 The process open to him was one of reconstruction.  Iconography was deeply fractured through a series of 
 events from the 17th through the 20th century.  In North America, the immigration process exacerbated these 
 fractures.  This work, as well as the forthcoming 'The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ', the 2nd volume in the 
 series, provides a foundation for a new generation of iconographers at this important moment in the history of 
 the Orthodox Church.  Orthodox iconography has been given a canonical bench-mark with this work, the first 
 complete set of drawings of the life of the Theotokos.  

Just a month prior to his repose, Heiko Schlieper was photographed on 16 March, 2008 (Sunday of Orthodoxy), in Edmonton at the celebration of the launching of his iconographic handbook. His family, friends, and colleagues had gathered around him in Edmonton to celebrate the publication of this work.

Icon of 3 unmercenary women by Heiko Schlieper S.jpg

Icon of Saints Hermione, Philonella, Zenaida


Heinrich (Heiko) Schlieper reposed in the Lord in Edmonton, Alberta, on 13 April, 2008. His funeral was held at Saint Herman of Alaska’s Sobor on 17 April. He is survived by his wife Anne, sons Paul and Mark, daughter-in-law Anna, his grandson Luke, his nieces and nephews, and many friends in Edmonton, Ottawa and Montréal.

For those who might like to memorialise Heiko in a tangible way, contributions in his memory may be made to :

 H C Schlieper Museum 
 c/o All Saints of North America Monastery 
 Dewdney BC 
 V0M 1H0 

Memory eternal !

Reference :

'Memory Eternal' in "Canadian Orthodox Messenger", Summer, 2008

Additional information :

'Historic day for iconography in Canada' in "Canadian Orthodox Messenger", Spring, 2005

Saint George's Church Edmonton

Icon of Three Unmercenary Women

"Ottawa Citizen" obituary