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.
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!
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 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.
It looks as though the author, affiliated with The University of Duluth, Minnesota and the Tweed Museum of Art, mentions my aunt and a painting done by her: Iron Crosses, Bruges. Apparently Mr. Richard E. Nelson has one of my aunt’s pieces in his home. Now I need to get a hold of him!!!