Tag Archives: Sister Mary James Ann

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?

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.

Salvaged Memories

Verna Friedman was one of my aunt’s students at Clarke College in the 1950s. She has been very generous sharing her memories of my aunt. Earlier this spring, she sent me some clippings and a piece of work my aunt did as a class demonstration and then discarded in the trash. Verna decided to pick it out and save it. As she remembers:

“She did demonstrations in class. I think she did most of her painting outside of the Open Studio. I still have one of her demonstrations on shape and line. She was throwing it away and I salvaged it. The drawing is in the “Ecce Homo” style.  She taught the freshmen studio classes and gave us a solid foundation in the Elements of Design (breaking up space) which applies to abstract as well as representational art.” ~VF

This does not represent what my aunt would normally have considered as displayable art. Verna wasn’t sure my aunt would want it made public, for her it was something to discard. But as I consider myself her pupil, I find it useful and fascinating. I can imagine her, back then, wearing her boxy habit that was the style in at the time (can I call it a style?) and picture her explaining the placement of lines, space and color to her students. I can also imagine the sketches, doodles, experiments and exercises that were tossed in the trash and never recovered!

A simple teaching exercise, never meant to be displayed, but discarded in a trash can until salvaged! Meji by SMJA

It feels very “fifties” doesn’t it? Interesting how the outline of Mary’s halo and the kings’ crowns transition from black to white against different backgrounds. I assume the freedom to do that is one of the lessons of the drawing, the use of contrast, the selection of color and the simple fluidity of the lines. It is more than a sketch- but something my aunt didn’t feel necessarily worth holding on to. I am grateful that Verna thought otherwise and was kind enough to share it with me!

Verna was also kind enough to share two newspaper clippings she had saved:

SMJA and Verna Friedman at Clarke, 1956. SMJA is wearing the habit worn in the 1930s through 1950s

And this clipping shows my aunt’s interactions with Dubuque’s art community and exhibitions,

Clipping from Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 1957. Her habit and been modified and was surely more comfortable.

Transitions

I was going through my archives the other day – gee I have stuff downloaded at work, and on two different home computers-and I found another image of my aunt. Reading about the history of the BVM order, the changes that came with Vatican II, I am struck how my aunt’s appearance changed along with her artwork. I think she was always creative, and a progressive, free thinker, but as her habit became less severe, and habit changed to wardrobe, her artwork seems to have taken on the same freedoms. Coincidence?

If anyone has any pictures of James Ann, Miss Ann Walsh, or Sister Mary James Ann, I would love to have a copy!
I can’t imagine what it was like to have worn this every day of my life:

With my great aunt. This early habit was the most unusual. It can be seen painted in her Pioneer Angelus
Her habit was more traditional, less boxy in 1960
My Aunt at Clarke, probably around 1966 or 1967, before she left for California
This is the only photo where she looks a little bit like my mother. Taken for a faculty position in California. Note the scarf!
1969. I just love this scarf! This appears to be her own hair. I see immense contentment in her face!
1970. I think she was wearing a wig here. Faculty picture courtesy of West Valley Com. College, Saratoga, Ca.
Ann Walsh in August, 1978

European Tour

According to the BVM 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,

Two excerpts from the the scan of a photocopy of an article!

Street festival in Brussels, excerpted from BVM Vista, 1960

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.

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.

 

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.

Huddled in the light 3/12

Title and year unknown. Courtesy of Clarke University

My aunt clearly, returned to themes of good vs. evil, light against dark. To the left I see at least three  faceless figures (with dark hair), and maybe more with lighter hair, huddled together, basking in the light, in protection of white and yellow light. To the right, ceding the canvas’ territory to the light figures, is a red figure.

He is evil. He is the Devil. His large eye is fixed on his target, his claw-like hand reaching in to grab. Or,is it recoiling back- unable to penetrate God’s protection? I think the latter.

These are just initial impressions. More on this painting later. Nine more to post!

Bridges 1/12

Year, title and medium unknown. Courtesy of Clarke University.

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!

Twelve new paintings at Clarke University are discovered!!

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!

Stay tuned!

Bridges
Blue City
Huddled in the Light
Ethereal Forest
Unfinished Dream
Blue Triumph
Forgiveness
Night Time in the City
Red Jazz
Blue Fracture
Intersection
Broken Ice

In a lot of these paintings I see a repeated form- sort of a rounded X- something like a bridge support, or something like the Under Armour logo.

Do you have a painting by a nun?

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

European Sketches
Article in Feb. 1960 referencing above listed work