Category Archives: catholic art

Pioneer Angelus, where are you?

One of the pieces I am most eager to see or have a photo of is Pioneer Angelus, a large mural painted by my aunt as her final assignment for her Master of Arts degree at University of Iowa State (SUI).

For many years, the mural hung in the Eliza stairwell at Clarke. According to her student Verna Friedman, Pioneer Angelus was taken down in 1958. Its whereabouts today are unknown. Neither Clarke University nor Mt. Carmel know what happened to the painting.

It can’t be that easy to hide. Measuring 4.5ft. x 8ft, this large work could not have been accidentally tossed.  That Clarke or the Sisters of Charity do not have custody of this, when they have other less acclaimed work is unusual.

The whereabout of this 4.5 x 8ft mural are unknown.

According to Sisters of Charity information sent to me, the following note from 1941 was said of Pioneer Angelus:
“The beginning of Catholicism in the Mississippi Valley has been enshrined on canvas by Sister Mary James Ann Walsh, B.V.M., in a mural, “Pioneer Angelus” recently completed as a thesis requirement for the Master of Arts degree in graphic and plastic art, at the State University of Iowa, Iowa City.”

“In choosing such a subject for her masterpiece, Sister Mary James Ann has depicted an incident, the ringing of the first Angelus in Dubuque, that is cosely bound to the early history of our congregation and dear to the descendants of the Catholic pioneers of Dubuque. The painting is an ever vivid reminder of these spirit of courage, generosity, devotion, and holiness of those who foster the religious beginnings.”

So what happened to Pioneer Angelus? My guess is that Pioneer Angelus either fell victim to a fire, or other damage while in storage, sold to raise funds or donated to a Catholic institution where its historical relevance would be appreciated and cared for in perpetuity.

In the World Wide Web, the search engine has become a valuable conduit for me and for others vested in a common interest.The Internet has allowed me to stretch my arms and probe a region and area that would be otherwise out of my reach. My hope is that this mural still exists and someone may encounter it and out of curiosity, enter its creator into Bing, Google or other search engine.

This is one painting I wish to experience. I would love to see a color image. It is a key expression of my aunt’s faith and technique.

My next step is to contact Catholic institutions in the Midwest, concentrating on Iowa and surrounding areas and send them a copy of this link. Likely, whoever is custodian of this remarkable work might not be aware there is outside interest.

As I near the final stages of my own master’s degree, I juggle different ways in which I may present the capstone of my research. An academic paper? Perhaps. I’m wordy and no stranger to footnotes and citations! But my MALS program also encourages its student to package the research in an accessible manner. I could apply for grants and set up a gallery showing of her body of work. I could obtain prints and copies and have a Delaware debut of her abstracts. I could create a virtual museum (something that intrigues me and would have to partner a Web developer to make happen) author a book of her work with lovely glossy plates, or perhaps, partner with Clarke and Mt. Carmel BVM mother house in creating a venue to showcase and market the artistic talents of their Sisters, past, present and future, or some other venture.

A virtual, online BVM gallery and gift shop could serve two purposes. There would be a e-commerce site, replete with SMJA scarves (wouldn’t “Bridges” make a great scarf?) cards & notes, and prints. It would get the word out, fulfill a niche market in 50s and 60s art and culture, and at the same or over time, produce some revenue that could be reinvested into printmaking, etc.

But I digress. There are more images out there to be discovered and enjoyed – Pioneer Angelus is not the only missing work, but it is a significant one to locate. Finding out where it is and how it got to where it is will be a story worth telling.

I plan to visit Clarke and Mt. Carmel next summer and want to view and photograph as many of her paintings as I can. If my prayers are answered, Pioneer Angelus will be on my itinerary!

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Belmont Harbor

After searching my aunt’s name under different configurations, like “James Ann BVM” and “James Ann Walsh” to my delight, I came across an issue of SALT summer, 2007. On page 15 SMJAsaltsummer2007, my aunt was featured in a retrospective about the legacy BVM artists have left behind. She is also mentioned as being an important mentor to Ed Demers, on page 18. I was delighted.  I also discovered a new painting, Belmont Harbor!

By Sr. Mary James Ann, excerpted from Salt, 2007

I don’t have any information on the painting; how large it is, from what materials it was created or who owns it.  All I have is this little scan of a PDF from a 5-year old magazine. Under Missing Work, there is mention of “Regatta”, exhibited in 1957. I have a sneaking suspicion that what was a working exhibit title may have been renamed something else. Belmont Harbor is a regatta of sailboats. Could they be the same painting?  One of her students owns a piece called Gray Mountains, and Black Mountain is a missing work. I don’t know if these are revised titles or are completely different or similar theme paintings.

 

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.

Huddled in the light 3/12

Title and year unknown. Courtesy of Clarke University

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!

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.

Dining room memories

This geisha is one of two Asian-styled paintings that hung in our dining room  for as long as I can remember.  It is older than I am. I have a picture of my mother pregnant with me and the picture hangs on the wall. My parents married in 1947 so perhaps these were a wedding gift, I am not sure.

The other is of the Madonna and child, in a similar style and I am waiting on my sister to send me a photo. The geisha belongs to my brother – thanks to my sister in law for taking these photos.

Detail of her signature stamp…cartouche?

Here is the second image:

Madonna and Child, painted prior to 1955. The calligraphy is the "Hail Mary"

Someone on Flickr told me this was the Hail Mary, written in an old Chinese calligraphy style.

These two images were the family heirlooms of my aunt’s work. Two paintings, three children – I drew the short straw! But I can see them whenever I want.

What I find most curious is her evolution as an artist. These early examples are excellent examples of technical proficiency. My aunt was a very talented calligrapher and her personal handwriting was always unique and artistic. I’ve never painted on silk, but I suspect it is not an easy medium to work with. I imagine these two works were done while she was obtaining her BA, and I have speculated that my mother may have gotten them as a wedding gift. They were centrally focused as my mother’s romance with Asian decor grew and evolved. As my aunt matured, learned new techniques and earned two additional graduate degrees, her confidence to explore and express beyond traditional artwork grew. As she became exposed and influenced by modern masters, as she encountered young creative students in the 50s and 60s, as her religious order became more modern after Vatican II, as America and the world were experiencing social revolution and war, as she traveled to Europe and exhibited and received feedback and sold her own collections – all of these factors and conditions surely contributed to her change of style and interpretation. Her journey must have been so much fun and very stimulating! I am so glad she took it!

I have seen many artists stick to a visual formula – to a look that sells – to answer to tastes and popular demands -and stay there. That is boring. My aunt was never in it for the money, obviously. She lived a life of extreme modesty. No, she took chances because she wanted to- she pushed herself because she could- because she was curious and artistically inventive. Socially, she lived a conservative life – painting seems to be her outlet. Not that she wanted to go wild or was repressed, but rather she challenged herself to find new ways to express traditional values – love, spirituality, God, as well as artistic form, structure, shape, design, etc.

Do you have a painting by a nun?

Gee, you might and not even know it! If you live in Iowa, particularly Dubuque Iowa, and are an art aficionado with a modern painting on your wall, you just might!

For my family’s benefit, I’ve been posting what I am finding on Flickr. This gallery is public. Until I get this blog tweaked the way I want, you can view the whole shebang here and get a sense of her oeuvre, or what I know of it, as of March, 2011.

I am reaching out to the Word Wide Web, trying to track down watercolors, sketches, pen and inks, oils and acrylics that my aunt, Sister Mary James Ann, B.V.M. painted in the 1940s through 1970s. Her earlier work started off modern traditional, and typically religious in subject, her later work was much more modern abstract and secular, or so it would appear.

Some of the titles I am looking for are referenced in the article below written in Feb. 1960:

Pioneer Angelus (large mural) religious
Mont St. Michaels (oil) religious
Candles of Chartres (oil) religious
Night-West Berlin (ink) secular

European Sketches
Article in Feb. 1960 referencing above listed work