Demetrius Dukas (Perry Thorsvik, Baltimore…)
Demetrius James Dukas, a world-renowned Byzantine iconographer who decorated churches with mosaics and paintings throughout the United States and abroad, died June 17 from complications of an infection at his home in Bowie. He was 83.
The son of Greek immigrant parents, Mr. Dukas was born and raised in Lynn, Mass., where he graduated in 1947 from Lynn English High School.
His artistic talents began early, and when he was 9-years-old, he began drawing portraits.
"He had a keen interest in Byzantine art and was drawn to icons because he felt they were used to help people with prayer and reflection," said a niece, Melanie Dukas of Saugus, Mass. "He was also deeply religious and said, 'I feel like God is moving my hand when I paint.'"
Mr. Dukas explained in a 1988 interview with The Baltimore Sun that it was a priest friend who suggested he become a religious painter, and he took his inspiration from El Greco who early in his life had painted icons.
"But when I actually saw Byzantine art — I had only seen some pseudo-Byzantine art — I was overwhelmed. It was vernacular which blew my mind, I found an identity with it. At first I said, 'Well at least this is a way to make a living, then I can do my own thing.' But then this became my own thing."
He added: "It's a great art. It's a religious art, but it prefigures modern art. It has elements of Cubism, Expressionism, it has everything. … It's an art that transcends nationalities and speaks to everyone."
After graduating in 1951 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mr. Dukas, who had received a Yale University Art School fellowship, conducted field study and analysis of Byzantine monuments in Greece, Italy and Turkey.
In Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, Mr. Dukas studied mosaics with Fotis Kontoglou, a noted religious painter who led the movement for the revival of Byzantine art in Greece.
He also worked with the artist on the restoration of Hagia Sophia, the former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica in Istanbul that dates to 360, and since 1935, has been a museum.
Mr. Dukas then taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and at Harvard University. He supervised workshops on mosaics and panel painting at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, and at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
He also lectured widely on Byzantine art at the University of New York at Albany, Harvard University, Notre Dame University and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington.
It was Mr. Dukas' life as an iconographer, one of about 20 who work regularly in the U.S., that made his reputation.
Locally, he had designed the doors and furniture at St. Demetrios Church on Cub Hill Road in Carney. He also decorated the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Lynn, Mass., where he had been baptized and married.
Other Greek Orthodox Church commissions he had decorated included Annunciation Church in Mobile, Ala., The Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, St. Mary's Church in Minneapolis, and the Church of the Archangels in Stamford, Conn.
Perhaps one of his greatest commissions was the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Northwest Washington, where he had painted for more than 20 years.
His "crowning achievement," his niece said, was a 1400-square foot dome that rises 79-feet above the cathedral floor and measures 30-feet across.
"The mosaic dome illustrates 'Isaiah's Vision of the Lord' with cherubs encircling the vision," his niece said.
Of the more than 90 icons that were rendered in mosaic or acrylic in the cathedral, all but two were executed by Mr. Dukas.
Dean M. Kalomas, who works as a decorator and painter in The Office of the Architect of The Capitol in Washington, has known Mr. Dukas since 1985.
"He was my first mentor and I worked with him in Lynn. Jim was completely devoted to his work. He loved painting as much as anything," said Mr. Kalomas. "He was thorough and fastidious. He was always a student who always was studying."
Mr. Kalomas said his friend brought an intense interest and energy to his work.
"If you gave him a project to do, he went after it. I loved working with Jim. It was one of the great experiences of my life," he said.
Mr. Kalomas said that Mr. Dukas was "a little bit of the past."
"He did all of the old practices that a Byzantine painter would do and employed all of their techniques," he said. "He painted in egg tempera and would grind and mix his own pigments together. He worked this way his entire life."
Mr. Dukas also wrote widely on his art and was the author of "The Technique of Byzantine Painting," which was published in the Greek Orthodox Theological Review.
He retired three years ago.
Reflecting on his life's work, Mr. Dukas said in the 1988 interview, "This work takes its viewers to a higher plane. It's a good feeling for me that these paintings are continually serving people, helping them somehow. When you do this beautiful art, you always wonder if you are worthy of it. It's a great feeling but kind of humbling."
He said his work "instilled in me a kind of fear — the positive, rather than the negative kind — a fear that doesn't take this thing for granted. I have been careful and respectful of this art since the beginning and each time I paint, I still have the elements of this feeling, whether you call it fear, or respect, or love."
Services were held Wednesday at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Lynn, Mass.
Also surviving are his wife of 47 years, the former Patricia Russell; a daughter, Cassandra Berres of Bel Air; a brother, Kemon Dukas of Saugus, Mass.; and two grandchildren.