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