Category Archives: Dubuque Artists

Curriculum Vitae

I found a copy of my aunt’s CV, sent in 1969 to West Valley College, therefore dating her move to San Fransisco area around that year. This also adds information about what awards she won, her education, advanced degrees and what paintings are in permanent collections!

Ann_Walsh_Curriculum_Vitae

 

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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!

A Justin Bieber toothbrush Groupon ad leads to a new art discovery

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.

Signature as shown on eBay by Estate Decor

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”…

Painted in Iowa, found for sale in NY, suggested date of 1958, it's on its way to Delaware!

Salvaged Memories

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!

A simple teaching exercise, never meant to be displayed, but discarded in a trash can until salvaged! Meji by SMJA

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:

SMJA and Verna Friedman at Clarke, 1956. SMJA is wearing the habit worn in the 1930s through 1950s

And this clipping shows my aunt’s interactions with Dubuque’s art community and exhibitions,

Clipping from Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 1957. Her habit and been modified and was surely more comfortable.

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!