Traditionally, the appearance of religious icon Our Lady of Guadalupe is considered miraculous. Clad in a pale dress and turquoise-colored robe with palms pressed together in prayer and beams of light radiating from her figure, she’s an image of the Virgin Mary recognized the world over.
However, when she graces the walls of next month, it won’t be a miracle that put her there, but the talents and hard work of fifth grader Will Drea and his father Ray. Working in tandem, they’ve created a breath-taking version that will be presented at the 8:30am Mass on Friday, June 30.
Each year, the school focuses on a different country to learn more about through a variety of presentations, the current selection being Mexico, which led to the study of what might be the country’s most famed holy imagery.
First emerging as an apparition in 16th Century Mexico, the Patroness of the Americas, as she is often called, instructed that a church be built to unite the sparring indigenous people and Spanish settlers in worship. This request was honored after her image appeared inexplicably on the tilma (a peasant cloak made of cactus fibers) of Juan Diego, her chosen message-bearer, widely regarded as a miracle.
Considered a symbol of peace, the Basilica of Guadalupe erected in her honor draws people from around the globe, enchanted by its history and spiritual significance.
“We had a mass and a little play that explained [the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe] for the students,” explains Spanish teacher Mary Klovers. “When we did this, I noticed that Will seems to be preoccupied with sketching and doodling during class and I thought, you know, here’s a boy who has a talent, so I asked him if he’d like to make a drawing of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
When the budding 10-year-old artist happily took on the project in the latter half of March, Ray Drea, Vice President of Styling at Harley-Davidson and an artist himself, saw a chance to not only bond with his son, but also to pass down his wealth of creative knowledge.
“I thought it would be a neat opportunity to help teach him some things regarding art and painting, specifically,” says Ray.
Instead of leaving the assignment at a simple drawing on paper, the Dreas went all out, spending two weeks laying down the colorful image on a wood board using enamel paint and adding details with gold leaf, a technique that, as Ray notes, has become a bit of a lost art.
“Señora Klovers asked that I do a drawing and I agreed to that, but it ended up being an icon,” explains Will.
Now bordered by a gilded frame that perfectly accents the work, the finished product, which wouldn’t be out of place at a gallery downtown, hangs proudly, though temporarily, in the Drea family’s Whitefish Bay home. It’s a reminder not only of the imaginative minds that produced the piece, but also of the person who encouraged it.
“There aren’t too many teachers that are that insightful to recognize a young person’s talent and to let him go for it, especially when he’s doodling in class all day,” says Will’s mother Mary Drea, appreciating Klovers’ initiative in furthering her son’s creative ambitions. “She took that and made it a positive.”