Category Archives: 1960s

Blue Triumph 12/12

Photo provided by the Sisters of Charity, BVM, Mt. Carmel in Dubuque, Iowa

This large painting, which I call Blue Triumph, is part of the permanent collection at Clarke University. The date my aunt painted this is unknown, but it would be prior to her leaving to go to San Francisco in the late 60s. This could be late 1950s or early 1960s. My best guess is approximately 1966.

I am not a world traveler! Does the large blue structure, center left, look familiar?  This shape, which I associate with the modern Under Armor logo, appears in many of her paintings, but none as large as this one. I could be mistaken, but I see shades of suggestion that this represents the base of the Eiffel Tower.

The perspective is a low to high vantage point. I’ve studied the painting a long time. I see a young girl in the bottom right, her tawny face in profile, mouth agape at she takes in the splendor of the structure. I see her wearing a blue beret that has slid onto the back of her head, almost touching the knapsack she straddles on her shoulders. This girl is a student tourist, perhaps one of my aunt’s students from Clarke.

The sky is mottled with intensites of blue. Hints of green lawn tell me this is a spring or summer visit. An early morning or late afternoon sun bounces of the arch and bathes the sidewalk with sunlight. A red flag on the structure hovers directly above the girl’s forehead.

What do you think?

Robert De Niro and me

Okay, this is a misleading title. But I just watched the HBO documentary on artist Robert De Niro, Sr., a project created by his son, actor Robert De Niro. I was moved by De Niro’s passion to honor his father’s artistic vision and elevate the recognition of his father’s body of work. In her day, my aunt enjoyed local recognition, but as a nun, she did not make her living off of her art. Modesty, not self-promotion, surely kept her from being more widely known. Like Robert De Niro, I am immensely proud of my artist-relative. I would love nothing more than to give her wider exposure and recognition. I beleive there are many of her paintings out there, unheralded. People may not recognize the signature or have any background information on the artist whose work hangs in homes, apartments, galleries and offered up for cheap at yard sales and auctions. 

Although my aunt did not live in New York, I’m certain she knew about the movement and shared similar influences that factored into De Niro’s work with the New York School. She and Robert De Niro came of age in the same era, and perhaps influenced by European aethetics, saw their art as a way to burst free from regulations, confines and conventions. Beyond just being an artist herself, she was an art enthusiast and educator. It was her business to know. She may have traveled in New York (in that era she always had to travel with a companion), but not  in their circles. Nevertheless,  I would be shocked if she didn’t know and admire the work of De Niro’s parents and thier contemporaries. 

His documentary, much like this website, is a labor of love.  Enjoy:

Sister Mary Seraphia?

Gosh I love the Internet!

Yesterday, out of the blue, I received the following email generated from the contact form of this blog from a G. Walker. It read:

Comment: Hi, I happened across this work of art listed on the following web.
http://anorangemoonchicago.blogspot.com/
scroll down to September 1, Sister Mary “Scraphia”
As I found it interesting, I believed the seller misread the signature and I began a brief Internet search for Sister Mary Seraphia and found your website about your Aunt’s amazing work. Maybe it was one of her earlier pieces? I have been to An Orange Moon previously in search of mid century furniture. The owner is quite nice. I would be interested to see if this is one of your Aunt’s works. Good Luck!

Modern, mid-twentieth century still life signed by "Sister Mary Seraphia". I believe this to be the work of my aunt, Sister Mary James Ann Walsh

I immediately visited AnOrangeMoon and found the painting. It looks like my aunt’s work! Certainly, turning up in the Chicago area makes sense, as this was her hometown. However, I never knew my aunt to use her given name of Seraphia. I agree, I think the signature is a misread:

The ‘e” in sister closely resembles what should be the “e” not “c” in Seraphia/Scraphia. The handwriting looks like my aunt’s.

How many nuns, with access to the Chicago area, who painted modern, abstract art in the 1950s and 1960s named “Seraphia” can there possibly be?

This must be her! I never knew her to use her name in any of her artwork, nor did she use it in her personal correspondence with her family. She always used her official BVM name, either spelled out or initialed as SMJA.

Just to be certain, I’ve searched the Web for any other possible explanation or identity for Mary Seraphia. I found a handful of nuns from different orders who went by this name, but none of them came from an art background, taught art, etc. Nor did I find any other work posted under Sister Mary Seraphia.

I must draw the conclusion, that for reasons unknown, my aunt experimented with a pseudonym!

The work is for sale and I have contact the owner, Lynne, of An Orange Moon and she has agreed to sell it to me at a generously fair price. I am indebted to Lynne and to G. Walker who first told me about the painting being for sale. The owner is going to check for me how they acquired the painting. Lynne believes it came from an estate sale, as that is usually the source of her acquisitions. Whose estate it came form may provide very important clues to erasing any doubt this was done by my aunt. I am the proverbial 99.9 percent sure this is my aunt’s work!

The painting is very large, around 3 feet, a format that my aunt favored. The heavy lines shaping the jugs and bottles are in keeping with much of the work I have posted on this site. She painted still lifes, and some are listed in the missing work page.

My guess is that she may have painted this for someone she knew, someone who may have known her as “Seraphia” perhaps a family member. When my mother moved from Chicago to marry my father in Delaware, she lost contact with her Illinois cousins – so I have no contacts to ask or inquire on my behalf.  Perhaps the back of the painting will provide clues.

I do not have any closeups of her SMJA signatures. I have contacted Sr. Sara at Clarke with this news and perhaps I can get some side by side comparison’s of signatures. I am curious to know what those who knew her think!

If Sister Mary Seraphia was her alias or pseudonym, it provides me with a whole new search criteria to explore and an opportunity to locate other missing work. If anyone knows of an entirely different person/artist known as “Sister Mary Seraphia” I would appreciate knowing so that I don’t pursue a detour or acquire any more paintings. If I am wrong about this, I’ll have a Picasso-eque piece to hang on the wall.  But I think this was a safe investment, what do you think?

Update 10/12/11: Lynn texted me and her records indicate the painting came from an estate in Bridgeview, Ill. I’ve never heard Bridgeview mentioned by my mother or aunt – I wonder if it was a family friend or a relative?I’ve asked Lynne to see who might have managed the estate sale and obtain a contact that may provide me with further clues.  The painting is on its way to me and I eagerly await its arrival and placement in my home!

10/23/11 Update:

The painting has arrived. Here I am with it hanging in my dining room. Like my mother, I think I am going to have to redecorate my room around this painting!

Me with my aunt's painting, likely done in the late 50s or early 60s

Update on Psalm 82, 15

I am about to receive my very own original work by my aunt! I am indebted to Valerie Albicker from The Department of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado at Boulder for researching and endowing me with a painting my aunt left as part of her MFA requirements.

Valerie has taken down the large canvas off its stretcher and has rolled it up and it is on its way as I speak, via UPS. In the meantime, she cut off part of the backing which contained my aunt’s label (and I presume her typing).

Typewritten label that was found when the painting was removed from the stretcher

The card reads as follows:

“AS A FIRE RAGING IN A FOREST
AS A FLAME SETTING THE AMOUNTS ABLAZE
SO PURSUE THEM WITH YOUR TEMPEST
AND ROUT THEM WITH YOUR STORM.”
PSALM 82,15

Valerie also cut a portion of the backing which contained further description about the painting:

An acrylic with oil and charcoal
MFA Label

The actual painting will be unveiled here as soon as I get it. I received an earlier photograph of the painting, but it was covered in storage plastic which prevents the paintings characteristics from coming through.  I’ve inherited my mother’s Asian heart-shaped corner hutch, and I was trying to figure out how to decorate around it. Our dining room is the only room in our small home that could accommodate what Valerie has described as a very large work. I will find a way to decorate around this – red is a good color for dining, isn’t it?

Because the canvas was removed from the stretcher, Valerie recommended that I hang it as is, on the wall, like a tapestry.

Stay tuned! Once I get it up, I will take a picture and place it below!

Antiques Roadshow?

My husband and I watched PBS’s Antiques Roadshow last night. It is one of our favorite programs, and as I was watching, this woman showed up with a picture of a canoe in the water. She didn’t like it, and neither did any of her family. It was inherited and it simply wasn’t her style. She thought it might have value however,  so before she sold it she wanted to have an appraisal. It was a nice paintings, as paintings of canoes go, in my humble opinion.

The appraiser, as I suspect a lot of them do, went to his colleagues, and probably the Internet.  The artist wasn’t famous, but he had a following- and produced work that had its niche.  It was a mid-20th century American work. He was well known enough for a couple of pieces to have gone to auction in the past. This canoe number, wasn’t his best or his most creative, but the AR appraiser estimated, at auction would go for about $125,000. I think the family decided to like it just a little bit more after that experience!

I have no delusions about the value of my aunt’s artistic oeuvre. First of all, I don’t own any pieces, and secondly, there was one teeny tiny mention of her on the Internet before this blog got started. My aunt may be relatively unknown, but not unappreciated!

And that is my point. Someday, 50 years from now, if Antiques Roadshow or anything like it is beaming through someone’s information/entertainment portal, what would they say about one of her paintings?  About Sister Mary James Ann?

Some of her work I feel is brilliant. Art appreciation is subjective of course. Naturally, I am biased. But I will be honest and say some of it doesn’t move me, but I do have what I think is a good aesthetic eye. In the vernacular of the common man, some of this is very good stuff!

What is called art, what people pay to hang on their wall, what appraisers see as worthy or not, is largely about personal taste. But worthiness in the art appraisal world also rests on an artist’s auction history, or what academia has written, or what museums choose to value or exhibit.

I don’t know the first thing about art markets- but I do think markets can be cultivated, and not necessarily in a monetary sense, but rather, from an aesthetic perspective. Can one sense exist without the other? I don’t know.  The value of an object is the price it will bring.  I am not vain enough to think that this little blog is going to create a sensation in the art world, or that my finished thesis, as a published paper, book or documentary, could ever establish my aunt as a famous artist.  That is not my objective.

What I want is for her to have a searchable history. She has a clear, established reputation at Clarke University. There may be other pockets of aficionados out there that I do not know about. My aunt’s oeuvre may always remain somewhat obscure. (I’d love to own an original some day and wouldn’t that be ironic if I ended up pricing  myself out of a market I helped create!?) Ha! In my best Yiddish accent, “such a problem I should have! Oy!”

Seriously, what I would like to see, perhaps in my lifetime, is that occasion in the future when some man or woman gets in line at the Antiques Roadshow taping, or takes their mysterious painting into their local appraiser and asks, “I inherited this crazy, wild explosion of color-and I’d like to know more about it or the artist who painted it.”

I would like those questioning faces to receive an informed answer. I worry that some day, someone will tote said painting to that AR appraiser, and he or she will scratch their heads and say, “I have no idea.” I worry my aunt’s work would be passed aside as an unknown entity. Dismissed. Dismissal appears to be linked directly to knowledge. Knowledge is good. How unfair it would be to have one of her paintings evaluated – unrecognized in the context of her entire output.  That it might be assessed without consult or without the proper information? That would be sad. Maybe it wouldn’t bring anything in an auction, but I would want that appraiser to be able, at the very least, to educate its owner on the background and biography of the artist.

So it is my wish that this humble contribution, and the research yet to come, will lay a foundation of information for any appraiser to tap into and use  as a means to assess an aesthetic, if not monetary value. I’ve made my aunt “Google-able.” That’s an important first step. I hope to attach further knowledge, opinion, research and high quality images to those searches and keywords. To be able to go to the Internet, maybe someday my published thesis- a book, and be able to share, “Oh, yes, that is a SMJA piece. She was a Roman Catholic  nun who studied, taught and painted in Iowa and who…..”

That kind of appraisal would be beyond value!

Forgiveness 10/12

Actual title, year, medium unknown. Courtesy of Clarke University

I called this Forgiveness because I see a figure kneeling in the middle of the painting, it’s hands outstretched and palms up. It faces a great white light and touches the light peripherally, as does one knee. Most of the figure remains in the natural world, with browns, dark golds and greens on the outside, and a heated red-orange closer to the figure.

The red-orange may represent evil, or the fires of hell. This person is in the hotseat, in the middle of heated passion or turmoil.

This figure has hope. Through prayer, he calls back the blessings and peace of a higher power. The goodness of God, his grace, his forgiveness is approaching and is moving toward the figure.There is some white in the center that could be the hand of God, ready to embrace the figure.

Blue City 2/12

Actual title and image unknown. Courtesty of Clarke University, Iowa

This is my second favorite, and it’s a very close second.My aunt traveled and studied in Europe and I suspect that is the inspiration, if not model for this image.

I see a river in the center, with the city’s buildings facing closely on each side. Their structure is reflected in the water. Obviously very impressionistic in nature, I will return to this post later and comment more.  I invite you to share your comments too! Please read my intro about these discoveries!

As with all 12 discoveries, actual date, medium, and title are yet unknown to me.

Bridges 1/12

Year, title and medium unknown. Courtesy of Clarke University.

This is my favorite of the 12 images sent to me by Dr. Sara McAlpin, BVM.  The first word that came to me was bridges, so that is the working title. I screeched with delight when the CD she mailed me unveiled this!

Now that  I have looked at this a second time, I could see so many more titles. Steeples, forest trees, humans- hands and legs, something is reaching and arching up. I see support, the dark lines swirl and reach out to other structures, a gold, amber light has meandered in, bounced around the other structures, reflected perhaps. The light is shared, and I would say absorbed. Triumph-Joy-Strength. Connections and synapses, broken and joined, trying to rejoin.

The darkness, such as it is, is not black, devoid of light, or evil. Rather the shades of green and brown indicate nature, and nature in transition. None of the shades, light or dark, are static or absolute. They are all in transition. The solid black- the objects- are fluid, erect, but curving and soaring. Sprawling, multiplying from the goodness and sustenance of the natural world.

In the center, I see tiny cross hatches or vertical lines. This little detail bodes toward the bridge impression. I am not ready to give up om my initial impression. Are they people? Are they bridge railings?  You do not see cars- so this is a pathway yet untraveled- a journey through a changing landscape-a pathway that might be a wild ride!

Twelve new paintings at Clarke University are discovered!!

Due to the over the top kindness of Dr. Sara McAlpin, BVM, I am now in possession of an additional dozen photographs of paintings done by my aunt. Sr. Sara, words cannot convey my gratitude for you time in locating these paintings that were hidden or stored at Clarke University, for arranging to have them transported to a well-lit room, put on an easel and photographed so well.

I am going to post each into its very own blog post. They came to me untitled and undated. I do not think any of these 12 are images that are listed under the Missing Work page. Those titles were reproduced from a 1957 Gallery exposition, and from that era, my aunt’s work seems to be more realistic, albeit impressionistic in nature. You see a house, a tree, etc. There is little argument what she was painting in her earlier work (what I have seen of it anyway!) These new additions appear to have been created in the early-mid 60s, painted before she left Iowa for California. They are more abstract, turbulent, and fluid. I see her experimenting with technique, investigating the forces of light and dark, good and evil. She plays with forms. I suspect she would have made a great engineer or architect. My aunt, in my opinion, greatly appreciated the elements of design, particularly of buildings. That is what I see anyway. How about you?

As with the old images I have posted, as these emerge, I invite you to comment on them, and share your opinion. I’d appreciate that very much- and later, when the time comes to formalize all this in an academic exercise, I might seek your permission to reprint your ideas in my thesis.

Since none of these are named, and the pictures came to me in digital format with numbers, I used free-association to name each. I might change my mind on the image’s working title, but for now, I will label them with my first impression. They are easier to keep track of that way!

As I have only these photos, I do not know what medium they were painted with and on what surface.

Enjoy!  And Sara, again, you have given me, and my family a wonderful gift. Thank you so much!

Stay tuned!

Bridges
Blue City
Huddled in the Light
Ethereal Forest
Unfinished Dream
Blue Triumph
Forgiveness
Night Time in the City
Red Jazz
Blue Fracture
Intersection
Broken Ice

In a lot of these paintings I see a repeated form- sort of a rounded X- something like a bridge support, or something like the Under Armour logo.

Psalm 82:15 discovered at UC-Boulder

I am delighted to have received a response from an inquiry to University of Colorado-Boulder where my aunt studied in 1965-66 for her M.F.A.

After doing some digging around on my behalf, Valerie Albicker was able to uncover what is titled by her records as Psalm 82:15. My aunt’s CV indicates the title as Blue Psalm- and that may also be a working title.

The painting is large: 66″ x 70″ and because it was wrapped in cellophane, the camera captured the reflection and glare. I am certain it is magnificent in person. I looked up Psalm 82 and publish the proceeding chapter to 15.

Psalms 82:14 O my God, make them like a wheel; and as stubble before the wind.
Psalms 82:15 As fire which burneth the wood: and as a flame burning mountains:

Psalm 82:15 or Blue Psalm

Like many of her later work, reds and oranges dominate. These are intense, bold colors. Colors of love, passion, sometimes anger. Reading the Psalm again, the color of fire is appropriate. I see the hand of God in blue, coursing through nature, sometimes taming the fire, sometimes causing it.

I can’t wait to see this in person! I am crossing my fingers at the hint that UC-Boulder is relinquishing some of their surplus artwork that is kept in storage, and that I might have an opportunity to own my first work of my aunt’s.  Like my mother did with the Asian paintings, I might have to completely re-design my dining room to offer a proper place of honor for this painting.

Clarke College – Archives

So many thanks go out to Sr. Sara McAlpin who has spent a good deal of time tracking down more of my aunt’s work. These are very abstract and modern, and I suspect were painted in the 1960s. Not sure what the titles are and if I can scratch any of my missing list!

Untitled, Courtesy of Clarke University

I see people in this picture above…and I see a nun center right.Do you?

Untitled. Courtesy of Clarke College, date unknown

Here are some more, untitled and undated:

Untitled abstract, courtesy of Sisters of Charity

Untitled and undated
Black and white. Undated and untitled. Photo courtesy of the Sisters of Charity

 

 

New painting discovered – 1966!!!

My Craigslist contact came through! I am so excited! I’ve been corresponding with a woman in Dubuque whose father purchased this painting in 1966. He believes it was painted that year. He also told his daughter there was one similar in green that he liked.

This is untitled. It appears to be acrylic. Fortunately the family has a relative who is an art curator so some more information and a good cleaning will be forthcoming. I am indebted to this family…we have reached across the Internet…Dubuque, Iowa and Lewes, Delaware!!!  The first of many I hope!

Untitled Modern Abstract, 1966, private collection, Dubuque

Detail

I understand the painting is signed but photo did not render this visible. It has been exposed for 34 years so I agree with my new friend that it probably could use a cleaning. It appears to be acrylic and very large, as most of her paintings during this time are. I am thinking that these abstracts were painted after she received her M.F.A. from University of Boulder, when she attended in 1965-66.  I am hoping to find out what courses she took there…her style seems to have shifted to very strong abstract after her graduate studies in Colorado.

More from Mt. Carmel

The following images were sent to me by the Sisters of Charity. The photographs are not good quality.

Polar Bear

The title is mine. It came without one. When I posted this on my Facebook for family and friends to see, many people thought they saw a bear. I can agree with that interpretation. What do you think? I do think at the very least, it is an animal. The animal appears to be splayed out- perhaps in turmoil. Orange is not a color usually associated with the arctic or its natural habitat. Perhaps it has stumbled into a fire…the charcoal grey and black are like a web, fence or entrapment.

Fire and ice.

I assume this was painted in the mid to late 1960s. It appears to be acrylic, and like most others of this time period, are in large, square format, unframed.

I’ve hit the jackpot with Craiglist!

Always follow your hunches!  When I found out my aunt had produced all this artwork 50 years ago, I had no idea how I might begin tracking it all down. On a lark, I posted an add in the Dubuqe Iowa category of Craiglist and I got a hit! A good one!

After a few emails back and forth a very nice lady (who shall remain nameless until I get her permission) told me her dad had a painting by a nun, acquired around 1966. She confirmed it was large and very modern. A few days later, I got an email saying, “It’s by her!”

I mean, what are the chances of that?!?! I feel my aunt is guiding me in this quest. This is a blessing beyond words.

I’ll post an image as soon as she sends one to me, and if they give me permission to post it. It is after all, their painting, not mine.  But I am so excited to actually connect with a real human being- someone who has a part of my aunt with them.  How cool is this? I am just thrilled beyond words! Stay tuned!