Category Archives: Secular

eBay one day, thrift store the next!

More and more I am reminded of the power of the Internet and realizing the purpose of this website!

On January 2o, 2012, I received the following message, which came from the contact feature in this blog. It said:

“This is why I am an art collector. Because it’s a journey of discovery. And today, in a thrift store in Maryland, I discovered your aunt. I bought a large (29×39 framed) painting of trees (I guess), black, against an abstract and evocative background with splashes of pale green. Looks like ink and watercolor on heavy paper. This is the kind of painting that gets your attention. And it’s signed “Sister Mary James Ann BVM 1955″ Original framing. Email me, and I will send photos.”

The writer of the message has asked to remain anonymous, but offered pictures. Of course, I jumped all over it. And true to his word, he sent me some photos of his new acquisition yesterday evening.

This painting was signed and dated 1955

A close up photo shows her familiar signature, and the date…the year I was born!

Signature seems to have been done in ink, going up the right side of the painting

The technique reminds me in a way of Japanese Sumi or India ink used in calligraphy. Here is another photo:

Image with frame

The painting of trees is somewhat reminiscent of her Birch Trees in Winter. She certainly used the same color palate, though Birch Trees is an oil:

Birch Trees in Winter, early 50s?, courtesy of Sisters of Charity

What at first glanced look like a stain of yellow in the thrift store find, is actually an intentional green watercolor wash. The owner says that it looks more green in person than what is rendered by the photo. This may have been her way of showing the emergence of spring…a snowy landscape yielding to fresh, early green grass, moss and forest floor underneath.  The trees in the foreground, being conical evergreens, are the dominant vegetation.  The striations of of ink and watercolor suggest a melting, nourishing rain.

In a subsequent email, the owner shared the following:

“The bold black shapes are painted with something very thick, that looks like it was sort of sticky when wet.  The horizontal background elements and the fuzzy areas are definitely watercolor.  The pale yellowish spots are, I’m fairly sure, watercolor.  They look more green than in the pictures.”

I asked him what his opinions were about the style.

“I  am a collector–not an expert!  But I do feel that this painting captures its time perfectly.  To me, it just screams “1955!” Framed without glass, common at the time.  I will likely reframe with glass.”

I am hopeful that the new owner will grant me a personal audience with the piece one day. Not sure if he also lives in Maryland, or was just passing through.  But it would definitely be worth a day trip! Nothing can replace gazing upon a work of art with one’s own eye. Otherwise we’d just have books and no museums!

This is an exciting development for me. Each piece I have discovered since this journey began has its own unique look.  Because she was both an artist and a teacher, I see my aunt’s progression in these revelations –  exploring and experimenting with styles, materials and techniques. She certainly did not pigeonhole herself, though I do see threads of similarity in her work, it is also evident that she pushed herself in many different directions, for her own artistic adventure and also in order to offer her students a fuller and broader artistic experience that she had personally shared.

People find treasures in all sorts of places. For someone, this painting was not meaningful enough to hold onto, and I can imagine many circumstances of how it might have ended up in a thrift store in central Maryland. Most of us who’ve watched Antiques Roadshow know that many treasures are buried in plain sight. Just over half a century ago, this work and others were likely exhibited in a  local gallery. A modest price tag was affixed and someone decided to take it home.  It probably was born in Iowa and changed hands along the way, both appreciated and ignored as it journeyed to to Maryland.  Someone’s junk is often someone else’s treasure. Art is about communication, about emotion, about message…in this case, the painting survived decades and traveled thousands of miles and called to that special individual in order to meet with its new home and destiny!

As I had hoped, curiosity led to a search engine inquiry and a connection through my website. A new owner of my aunt’s art now knows a little bit more about her…and I in turn am able to add another piece of her artistic life to her biography.  I think it’s been a fair exchange. That others did and continue to appreciate her work was never in question, but it is wonderful to have it confirmed and validated by others.

Thank you sir, for your eye, for your curiosity and most of all, thank you for sharing this with me…with everyone!

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Urban Street Scene

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.

Modern street scene
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.

Sister Mary Seraphia?

Gosh I love the Internet!

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!

Modern, mid-twentieth century still life signed by "Sister Mary Seraphia". I believe this to be the work of my aunt, Sister Mary James Ann Walsh

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!

10/23/11 Update:

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!

Me with my aunt's painting, likely done in the late 50s or early 60s

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.