Still Life

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

This is exactly why I created this blog! Thank you Internet, thank you WordPress, thank you to the curious of mind and those who appreciate art. I immediately visited An Orange Moon 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. Another possibility is my aunt did not use Sister Mary James Ann until her final vows. This painting might have been painted in the early 1930s, and perhaps she used “Sister Mary Seraphia” while she was a novice, before her final vows.

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 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.

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?  Her student, Verna, feels that it strongly resembles her work and style.

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

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