Blending Art and Faith

Ivan and Rayna Hadzhiminov(a) grew up just 100 miles apart in Bulgaria—he is from Sliven, and she is from Plovdiv. But it wasn’t until they both traveled more than 5,000 miles to America, leaving behind a deflated post-Communist Bulgaria and seeking new opportunities, that they crossed paths. They met in 2001, married in 2002, and today both work in North Park University’s Physical Plant as custodians.

After graduating from art school in Bulgaria in 1974, Ivan completed two years of military service, then worked as a studio artist for 20 years, painting portraits of political figures and posters for national holidays and festivities. Painting has been Ivan’s passion for decades, and his religious faith is as abiding as his love for the art. But in Communist Bulgaria, painting religious figures was forbidden. Ivan fused these two loves when he painted his first icon in secret in 1974—St. George slaying the dragon.

Not only did coming to America provide Ivan with new employment opportunities, it also liberated his faith and art. “America is free. You can paint whatever you want,” he says. “When I came to America, icons were new subject matter for me, and now it’s 99 percent of what I paint. This is my passion.”

The rest of his paintings are depictions of historical figures and American entertainers and symbols, including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlie Chaplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Statue of Liberty. Ivan also builds and paints wooden crosses, one of which is displayed at St. John of Rila.

One of Ivan’s most striking pieces is a painting of Jesus and Mary that he gave to Rayna for her 50th birthday. He devoted months to creating the painting, which depicts Mary with a Bulgarian face. Rayna treasures the painting and says there is no more beautiful gift Ivan could have given her. Ivan does not sell his paintings, but gives them as gifts to churches, organizations, and family and friends.

With their glowing palettes of gold, cream, amber, and red, Ivan’s paintings emanate his warm, generous nature and obvious love for his work. “I put everything I have into each painting, and I give them to the people and places that inspire me,” he explains. “What’s inside of me comes out into the painting. Everyone’s face and all the details are very specific, and I capture that essence the best I can.”

Ivan works the night shift at North Park, cleaning classrooms, hallways, and washrooms mainly in Carlson Tower, working behind the scenes to create environments conducive to learning and reflection. “I approach my cleaning work with an artist’s eye,” he says. “All the details have to be just right.”