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!
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”…
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!
According to theBVM Vista article”Join a Sister Artist” my aunt and a group of her students traveled to Europe to conduct a sketching tour. This trip inspired many of her most commented on work – paintings I have been unable to locate.
They are represented here in black and white PDF scans as:Medieval Gothic abbey in Dijon, Forest of candles at Chartres,
Hills of Assis, Street festival in Brussels and Canal in Amsterdam. I am not sure if these are the actual titles or just captioned as such for this publication. I know they have to exist somewhere!
Click on the hyperlink above to view the whole article.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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
Portrait of a mid-century contemporary artist, AKA Ann Walsh