When Akiane Kramarik (left) was 8 years old, she painted this portrait of Jesus so the eyes looked directly at the viewer. She wanted people to feel they were having an intimate conversation with the 'Prince of Peace.' The painting is on display at Beloved Gallery in Marble Falls. Courtesy photos
Jesus began to speak to Akiane Kramarik when she was 4 years old. She had never been to church and neither parent believed in God. She didn’t even have a concept of a higher power, but when she was 8 and this “being of unconditional love” told her to paint His portrait, she did.
“I felt an unbelievable desire to paint this face I saw, but I couldn’t get it right,” Akiane said. “I prayed, ‘If you want me to paint this, bring Him to me.’ One day, a carpenter came to our door and I knew this was the model.”
From a sketch she drew in under an hour, she created what is often touted as the most well-known painting of Jesus Christ in the world. The 8-year-old completed an exquisitely detailed, 3-foot-by-4-foot portrait that was bigger than her in under 40 hours.
It now hangs alone in a room in Belóved Gallery in downtown Marble Falls. Soothing music and soft lighting set the mood for people who come to see and spend time with the “Prince of Peace.” Boxes of tissues sit on nearby benches for the visitors, who are often overcome with emotion, according to one of the many volunteer guides.
“There’s not one day that I don’t see someone encounter the Holy Spirit here,” Susie Mayfield said as she led this reporter through the gallery at 206 Avenue H. “It changes people’s lives.”
Belóved Gallery features 16 paintings and many poems created by Akiane between the ages of 8 and 16. Each painting has a poem and each aspect of the gallery has a special meaning to go with the biblical theme.
Arched doorways reflect the gates of Jerusalem, and seven circles on lobby benches represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear (reverence) of the Lord as listed in the Bible in the Book of Isaiah 11: 2-4.
Outside the gallery is a flowing fountain made of blue porcelain tiles; Lake Marble Falls in the background. Walk inside and you’ll see that same blue in the Wall of Living Water, which anchors the righthand side of the lobby entrance.
The gallery was built through a partnership between Akiane’s family and Kirsten and Lewis Cirne of Horseshoe Bay, who purchased several of Akiane’s paintings in 2018 and 2019. Kirsten began a hunt for “Prince of Peace,” which disappeared from the artist’s life twice, the first time right after it was painted.
It was first lent to an art dealer, who refused to give it back. He told Akiane’s family it was blasphemous, and he scarred it with a swipe of his hand. The Kramariks sued, and it was returned a year later, poorly packed and damaged.
“On my ninth birthday, I got it back,” Akiane said. “It was covered with sawdust and had a scratch on it.”
She carefully repaired the portrait, which still has pieces of sawdust embedded in the paint, implicative, she said, of the wooden cross where Jesus died.
Determined that her message of hope would reach more people, the painting was given to a new agent, who was instructed that it was for display only. It was mistakenly sold and the new owner hid it away. Another lawsuit was filed, but “Prince of Peace” was gone for 16 years, stored in a dark, tomb-like basement before appearing again in the art world.
The Cirnes purchased the resurrected painting in November 2019 for $850,000. They immediately began planning a gallery around it with the help of the Kramarik family.
“We were captivated by the supernatural account surrounding its creation and astounded by the hope the painting inspires,” the couple said in an emailed reply to questions from The Picayune Magazine. “We knew the ‘Prince of Peace’ was meant to be shared with the world.”
Belóved Gallery and its inaugural exhibit, “Akiane: The Early Years,” opened over Easter weekend 2023, which is also the 20th anniversary of the painting’s creation. It will remain on display until at least 1 million people have visited, the Cirnes said. As of this month, more than 12,000 visitors have come through the gallery.
Akiane started painting when she was 4 years old. The homeschooled student began writing poetry around 6 or 7. She published her second book, which was her first full poetry collection, when she was 11.
“Through the art of poetry, I’m able to showcase not only what my philosophy is or what the universe of words are and the beauty of it, but the complex nature of humanity and the meaning of life,” Akiane told The Picayune Magazine during a recent visit to Marble Falls.
The gallery hosted a Fall Affair Weekend on Oct. 27-28, bringing in over 2,000 people for workshops, poetry readings, talks, book signings, and gallery tours. Akiane made several public appearances during the event.
“It feels like I’ve known them all my life,” she said of the people of Marble Falls. “It’s such a welcome community to embrace this new thing that came to town as if it’s their own. You feel you’re local the moment you step into it.”
Akiane and her family own another gallery in West Palm Beach, Florida, where they live. It centers around a second “Prince of Peace” painting she created after receiving another message from God. She was in her early 20s and a much more skilled artist by that time, she said. She believes she was meant to hone her skills over the years to perfect the portrait.
She was 25 years old and living in Australia at the time of the second painting, which was also when she heard the original painting was “out of the blue” for sale.
“I hadn’t seen the painting since I was 9 years old,” she said. “I could still see the sawdust marks and the scar from the agent, but the soul was still there. I knew that the presence was still there.”
Akiane refers to the Cirnes’ purchase as a miracle.
“They have been nothing but an angel in my life,” she said of the couple. “Their goal is to share this hope through art to many more people in the world.”
She also heralds the decision to place the original “Prince of Peace” in Marble Falls.
“Belóved Gallery chose Marble Falls for a reason,” Akiane said. “It’s a small town with a big heart. It was natural that the Cirnes wanted to protect (the painting) through the community. Marble Falls has that ability, that feeling of a family watching over a family member.”
Akiane said she still receives visions from God, though not as often as when she was younger.
“I will tell you I had no visions for many years on and off,” she told this reporter. “But I was not one bit frightened or unsure. I just knew I would move forward through these unexpected waves. I know who I am and I know my dedication to my art.”
When asked what the future held for her and the rest of the world, she said she is currently working on a painting that speaks to that very issue.
“Your question is the undertone of a painting I’m working on, but it might be best if I unveil it when I’m finished,” she said.
She did give a hint when prompted.
“It’s about awareness of the truth but also the complex ability of how intertwined and intermingled we all are,” she said. “It’s about how connected we all are without even realizing it.”
She does not follow current events because she doesn’t want to adversely affect the message in her art.
“I will be very upfront: I specifically try my best not to surround myself with so much news,” she explained. “I know for a fact it will be filtered through my paints. It’s best for me to feel like I’m a third person and let the paint speak for itself. That’s usually what happens. I don’t even know the meaning until afterward.”
While creating “Prince of Peace,” however, the young artist knew exactly what she was doing when she painted Jesus’ eyes.She revealed her reasoning after seeing the portrait again for the first time in 16 years. She became overwhelmed as she looked at it and dropped to the floor.
“I wanted specifically for Him to look at the person,” she said after rising back to her feet. “I think the reason why I wanted to do the eyes this way is because I wanted Him to speak to the person — to whoever is looking at Him — almost like a personal conversation, an intimate conversation that only the person looking at Him will understand.”
Akiane’s other 15 paintings in the Marble Falls gallery are a mix of self-portraits, animals, the universe, and pictures of Jesus at different ages, including several as a teenager, a part of his life that is not written about in the New Testament.
“I paint beyond my comprehension,” she said.
However she does it, her paintings are the reason the quiet of the gallery is often interrupted by tearful sniffs and tissues are always at hand.
Belóved Gallery is located at Market on H, 206 Avenue H in downtown Marble Falls. Hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Reserve online at belovedgallery.org. Check in at Belóved Cafe at the northeast corner of Market on H.