Illumination in art

By Shea Stanfield

Faith does not make things easy,
it makes them possible.
Luke 1:37

Local artist Ron Steege is the creator of “illuminations.” Steege explains his art as, “…the use of art, color and symbols combined with written text and Biblical scripture. The goal of an illumination is to help move the heart, mind and imagination of the reader to gain a deeper insight into the meaning of the written word. Illuminations are not illustrations; they are spiritual meditations on a verse, narrative or story from both Old and New Testament scriptures.” 

The art of illumination is an ancient art form dating back more than 13 centuries to the time of handwritten manuscripts where the vocation of the “scribe” was dedicated to the monastic orders.

Steege grew up in Bloomington, Ill., where his interest in commercial art was sparked in high school art classes. His career path was further solidified when his father introduced him to several staff artists at a major Chicago advertising agency. This meeting would lead Steege to consider attending a university fine arts program to acquire a foundation for a career in commercial art. He went on to attend the Art Institute of Pittsburg and Illinois State University, and he eventually graduated from the Ray Vogue School of Art in Chicago. Soon after graduation, Steege landed a job in the commercial art field as an art director for County Companies Insurance. He also freelanced as an illustrator for McKnight Publishing and State Farm Insurance. 

Eventually, Steege and his wife, Jenn, decided to move to a warmer climate. The relocation presented the perfect opportunity to open their design/build company in Tucson in 1976. They soon realized the opportunities for expansion were north of them in the Valley of the Sun, so they moved to Scottsdale. The move proved to be a profitable decision. Over the years, Steege’s firm specialized in luxury hillside design and construction of homes in Paradise Valley, DC Ranch, Silver Leaf, Desert Highlands, Desert Mountain and Carefree. They also completed several homes with Taliesin architects, including the renovation of the last home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Staying true to their love for design, Steege and his wife chose to restore a Mid-Century Modern home in Old Town Scottsdale for their personal residence. They added an art studio with two walls of glass and a large skylight, providing defused natural light for Steege’s designs and paintings. In 2014, Steege embarked on a trip to Israel. While visiting the ancient art, architecture, stone carvings and manuscripts throughout the Holy Land, he was deeply inspired to develop a visual concept for modern contemporary Biblical Illuminations. His concept was in harmony with the ancient tradition of using gold leaf in large areas of the work.

“The gold luminosity appears to give off its own light which symbolizes the presence of holiness,” Steege said.

Many of Steege’s meticulously rendered illuminations, each accompanied with an explanation narrative, are on display and available for purchase at St. Barnabas in the Desert Episcopal Church bookstore and gallery. 

In 2020, Steege’s plans to develop a series of very graphic Arizona landscape paintings. This endeavor will be his effort to balance between the natural world and spiritual world. Steege considers illuminations to be “21st century additions to the centuries old illuminated manuscripts where artist and scribes collaborated to beautify handmade bibles to exalt the word of God.

“I consider the art as a form of ministry, more related to meditation than illustration, an extension of my faith through the visual arts,” he said.

Ron Steege can be contacted by e-mail steegerond@gmail.com.

Contact arts columnist Shea Stanfield on flowingquill@yahoo.com.