Nancy Borchers of Pine Cove is accomplished, in many art media and in many career incarnations. And she is modest. As she likes to explain, she gets interested in something and then just gets it done. “I’ve never really thought too much,” she said. “I just go on gut feelings. I see something and just want to do that.”
In a career that has balanced teaching, raising three children, and interests ranging from industrial design to Russian icons, Borchers prepares, delights in the creative process and then hits her marks. To many, that might be daunting. To her, it’s no big deal.
“I wanted to be an architect,” said Borchers, of her earliest interest. “At home as a kid I did all the repairs around the house. Later in life I worked on cars. If I was told I couldn’t do something, I generally figured out ways to do it.”
From small-town Colusa (notable for its historic architecture), Borchers attended San Diego State University, majoring in industrial arts and minoring in humanities and fine arts. Later married to her college graduate assistant (“I graded all his papers,” she said.), Borchers began teaching kindergarten and then, as she raised her family, substitute taught from eighth grade on down. “The most fun was substituting in shop classes, especially since when I went to school girls could not take shop,” she remembered.
Her art progressed from drafting to crafting leather jewelry boxes to stained glass. “I made quite a lot of money from stained glass,” she said. She explained why she switched from leather to stained glass. “With leather, you have to wet it and then form it,” she said. “But I kept getting interrupted by having to feed kids, and the leather could not be effectively wet a second time. So I switched to stained glass. No problem then with interruption.”
Now Borchers is intrigued and immersed in researching, understanding and creating Russian icons. Why icons? “I’ve always had problems with perspective,” she said, noting why she did not go on to a career in architecture. “With both stained glass and icons, you don’t need detailed perspective. With icons, I just became fascinated with the beauty of them. I have no family background in any of this stuff. It might have been when my folks gave me passes to art galleries in Balboa Park. I find [icons] beautiful, not as sloppy as the Romanesque stuff.”
Borchers said she decided to stick with only Russian iconography. “I was struck by how constrained they are. I wanted to know how to make them, how to understand the vanishing point,” she explained. “All the architectural stuff kicked in.”
As is her habit, Borchers began to research. “I studied and studied. The classes I take are from the Prosopon School of Iconography out of New York run by Vladislav Andrejev,” she said. “Vladislav is this tiny elderly Russian who had to have all of the theological instruction for painting translated by his son. He could tell us the technique in English, but not the theological part. Another part that fascinated me was the hundreds of painters from the Byzantine era forward who, with single-minded focus, devoted their lives to this art.”
The history of creating icons, allegedly dating from St. Luke, the first iconographer, is rich and rule-bound. Icons cannot be signed or sold — they can only be titled, naming the subject or subjects pictured. It is thought that the artist who paints is simply an instrument of spirit and the work created is not the accomplishment of the artist, but of divine inspiration. Icons are painted in steps and with techniques that have not changed markedly throughout history.
For Borchers, the process is the art. As she has always done, she executes methodically and precisely. “If the iconographer gets it right and gets the expression of the baby [Jesus], you can see the baby knows exactly what will happen to him as does the mother,” she said. “My goal is to finish them on my own with no teachers hanging over my back.” Daunting? Perhaps. But possibly, for Borchers, no big deal.