Who would guess that a brawny, six-foot plus, motorcycle-riding guy would be an accomplished expert at the delicate art of cross-stitch?
Father Robert Ruskamp, 53, the parochial vicar at St. Marys Catholic Church in Old Town is just that. Born in Omaha, Father Ruskamp entered the priesthood in 1985, and three years ago Bishop Loverde, head of the Arlington Catholic Diocese, assigned him to St. Marys Parish.
Once upon a time, a friend of Ruskamp presented him with a cross-stitch rendering of the famous Saint Francis prayer. After that, Ruskamp wasas they sayhooked. He began practicing the art of cross-stitch about ten years ago. His specialty is the reproduction of historical icons from Russia, Greece, and the Roman Church.
Cross-stitch patterns are available in a wide variety of styles these days; there are computer programs and websites that can transform any photograph into a pattern. To say that these patterns require painstaking work would be an understatement. Ruskamp says that an average work takes about six months to complete, and has about 14-20 stitches per inch for some 80,000 stitches per pattern, with about 88 different colors. Because the stitches are so small, Ruskamp wears thick magnifying glasses while doing his work. He purchases cotton threads and other materials at local craft stores, such as Michaels.
Icon is a Greek word meaning image. Christians use icons to facilitate prayer and the remembrance of the divine. Says Ruskamp, The most prayerful part of icons is how you go into the other world and lose track of time while making them. As we look at icons, says Ruskamp, the persons depicted in them look back at us from the other world, praying for us, instructing and guiding us.
Sometimes, after I finish a pattern, I think about how much work went into it and say to myself never again, muses Ruskamp. Then I see a new pattern, and think how pretty it would be and start the process all over again! Like the monks of old who first made icons, Father Ruskamp hesitates to sell them. Instead, he intends to donate them to various parishes and chapels at some point. He does acknowledge that he might consider doing a commissioned work for those interested in having an icon in their church.