Category Archives: Iowa art

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?

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!

Mid Century Iowa Art

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:

Courtesy of Clarke University. Title, date and medium unknown

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.