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.
The amazing twists and turns of social networking, email, Twitter and eBay
After seeing creative Groupon commercials at the 2011 Superbowl, I decided to take a look at the new Internet upstart and eventually signed up to receive notices of interesting local deals. Since then, my email inbox has received a wide variety of enticing Groupon offers to save on services and products.
Last week, one offer in particular tickled my funny bone. It was for a Justin Bieber singing toothbrush. In my day, it might have been a Bobby Sherman toothbrush. His pearly whites took center stage on many a Tiger Beat magazine cover, but alas, technology was decades away from Bobby, Donny Osmond and other dentally endowded heartthrobs of the 1960s. They had to settle for lunchboxes.
But I digress in my story. I found the Bieber bristles funny enough to post on Twitter. I was not the only one who did so. A fellow local Twitter friend @lifeontheedges thought it was funny too. Our Bieber bond prompted her to check out my profile and visit this site which shows up as my featured link. She read this blog and found it interesting. (smile).
Enough so that we started a mini-conversation and she decided to do an eBay alert check on my behalf. She got a hit for me!
And there I saw a new painting, signed by S.M.James Ann, and titled “An Amazing and beautiful abstract painting on wedges by Seraphia Angela Walsh.” It was listed at an out of reach price for my modest budget, but it was wonderful to see. The seller had obviously researched the signature and found this blog, the only online source that links my aunt’s birth name to her BVM identity.
The seller later changed the auction title to match the signature. The listing was by Estate-Decor, who maintain an eBay seller store on art and antiques. They are based in Rego Park, NY.
Emails went back and forth, and to make a long and interesting story very short, we agreed on a fair price. Estate-Decor understood the family connection and its meaning to me. I can’t thank them enough for their fair dealings, and desire to place a painting where it will be loved, treasured and handed down to family. Thank you!
Thanks also to my Twitter friend for taking the time to care, for being curious. How a simple spark of “I wonder…” started a process! By acting on an impulse and on my behalf, another piece of my aunt’s visual history has been put in place and a beautiful painting is on its way to me. My pocketbook is a little lighter, but my research and my family are so much richer for it.
Simple things can and do connect us. The Internet can be an anonymous, cold and calculating platform in which to transact and scam. But my experience with this project has been to meet people who care. From Craigslist to Clarke, BVMs to Bieber, students and strangers, through WordPress, Facebook,Twitter, eBay and email; kind-hearted people have emerged, shared and taken initiative. I knew about eBay alerts. I believe someone else told me about them, but I never followed through on the idea. My mind, creatively scatterbrained as can be at times, flits, skips and jumps on many ideas, curiosities, shiny things, and other daily ephemera. It doesn’t always land where it should. This time around, Lifeontheedges had my back. Thank you! Thank you all!
Here is a screenshot from the eBay posting. It is on its way to my home. I will post more pictures once it’s on the wall. Ladies and gentlemen, and dear, dear friends, may I present “Wedges”…
I’ve had this image for a while, shared with me in photo by Sr. Sara at Clarke. Time permits me to take another, closer look at some of her paintings and I am finding more to say about each as I study them closer.
I originally called this “cells” but this looks very urban to me—it could be scaffolding going up in a city. The lower rectangle or bottom layer look taller than the one above. I see a door, center right, I see a distant skyline top center left (outlined) and a larger more diffused, taller skyline at top right. On the left, a lamp post or sign post is visible. Quite a lot going on in each shape, cell or section, and ebb and flow traveling through each compartment is nonexistent. Each cell has its own separate activity and color palate. They do blend however in the street/sidewalk reflection.
At the top layer, two cells have X’s spanning them and a third is suggested far left. My aunt employes this crisscrossing pattern frequently in her work. Take a look at the top right square. If you are familiar with my aunt’s earliest BVM habit, what could be interpreted as a boxy black and white habit is softly suggested. It is on the left side of that top square. Maybe that is a stretch on my part.
But there is something going on in each section—everything it its own neat environment— but on the outside, they all contribute to a combined glow – a reflection of the vibrancy of diverse lives in a multi-unit building or structure.
What is most fascinating is that it is very unlikely my aunt ever walked city streets at night. Before Vatican II, any time she left the convent she always had to travel with a companion sister. When my father met her for the first time in the late 1940s, she had a nun buddy with her. I am not sure when she traveled to Europe, what her restrictions were regarding wandering around urban areas at night.
How much of this is her imagination I cannot say. It looks very NYC to me, or Chicago. There is the suggestion of a little hillside village or suburb on the left, so it may be the juxtaposition of two different cultures. What ever location it depicts, it is vibrant and interesting. A print of this would be something to treasure and enjoy and reflect upon.
Verna Friedman was one of my aunt’s students at Clarke College in the 1950s. She has been very generous sharing her memories of my aunt. Earlier this spring, she sent me some clippings and a piece of work my aunt did as a class demonstration and then discarded in the trash. Verna decided to pick it out and save it. As she remembers:
“She did demonstrations in class. I think she did most of her painting outside of the Open Studio. I still have one of her demonstrations on shape and line. She was throwing it away and I salvaged it. The drawing is in the “Ecce Homo” style. She taught the freshmen studio classes and gave us a solid foundation in the Elements of Design (breaking up space) which applies to abstract as well as representational art.” ~VF
This does not represent what my aunt would normally have considered as displayable art. Verna wasn’t sure my aunt would want it made public, for her it was something to discard. But as I consider myself her pupil, I find it useful and fascinating. I can imagine her, back then, wearing her boxy habit that was the style in at the time (can I call it a style?) and picture her explaining the placement of lines, space and color to her students. I can also imagine the sketches, doodles, experiments and exercises that were tossed in the trash and never recovered!
It feels very “fifties” doesn’t it? Interesting how the outline of Mary’s halo and the kings’ crowns transition from black to white against different backgrounds. I assume the freedom to do that is one of the lessons of the drawing, the use of contrast, the selection of color and the simple fluidity of the lines. It is more than a sketch- but something my aunt didn’t feel necessarily worth holding on to. I am grateful that Verna thought otherwise and was kind enough to share it with me!
Verna was also kind enough to share two newspaper clippings she had saved:
And this clipping shows my aunt’s interactions with Dubuque’s art community and exhibitions,
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!
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!
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!
I have to start checking my junk mail more regularly. Ever have a trusted name or domain slip into your junk mail for some reason? Well maybe it’s coincidence that the 13th discovery came to me in that manner- but I was indeed LUCKY that I scanned the numerous Viagra and replica Rolex watches and found this:
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.
My aunt clearly, returned to themes of good vs. evil, light against dark. To the left I see at least three faceless figures (with dark hair), and maybe more with lighter hair, huddled together, basking in the light, in protection of white and yellow light. To the right, ceding the canvas’ territory to the light figures, is a red figure.
He is evil. He is the Devil. His large eye is fixed on his target, his claw-like hand reaching in to grab. Or,is it recoiling back- unable to penetrate God’s protection? I think the latter.
These are just initial impressions. More on this painting later. Nine more to post!
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!
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!
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.
O my God, make them like a wheel; and as stubble before the wind.
As fire which burneth the wood: and as a flame burning mountains:
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.
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!
I see people in this picture above…and I see a nun center right.Do you?
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!
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.
The following images were sent to me by the Sisters of Charity. The photographs are not good quality.
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.
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!
Portrait of a mid-century contemporary artist, AKA Ann Walsh