Sweet Sister Mary

In the beginning… a Midwestern girl from Fort Dodge, Iowa was born on November 20, 1918 just as WWI wound to a close; her birth name was Frances Elizabeth Kent. She and her siblings attended Blessed Sacrament School, where her artistic skills were noticed at a young age, largely due to the supportive creative influence of her parents and nuns during her schooling, who were members of Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a historic Catholic organization which Frances herself entered at the age of 18. Education was highly important to Frances and her family as she took classes at Otis, Chouinard Art Institute, earned her BA from Immaculate Heart College in 1941, and later earned her MA at USC in Art History in 1951. Shortly after completing her formal education, she joined a teaching order, took the name Sister Mary Corita, and rose to head of the art department at Immaculate Heart College.

Courtesy of Corita.org

Cast from the Kingdom… Greatness, at times, has its hellish pitfalls. Sister Mary Corita experienced persecution from Cardinal James Francis Aloysius McIntyre, who deemed the association of the school as “liberal” (it was in L.A. mind you), “communist” and labeled the sister’s work as “blasphemous”, (a slightly preposterous prelate proposition considering the ‘blasphemous’ works spoke bold textual messages of love and harmony in a time of racial discrimination, political upheaval, and division in America, and oh let’s not forget reformation of the church, see Second Vatican Council’s attempt at modernization.) Eventually, after continually brushing elbows with socially conscious associates and being influenced by open-minded and forward-thinking contemporaries of the day such as John Cage, Alfred Hitchcock, Buckminster Fuller, and Charles and Ray Eames, Sister Mary was forced to leave Immaculate Heart College, via Archbishop discord, in 1968 with other sisters following suit and the organization folding not long thereafter.

Redemption in Secular Life… While persevering through vicarious papal hatred, condescension of work, not to mention the almost certain chauvinism facing a generation of feminism at the time, the sister altered her name to Corita Kent and returned to the secular world once she was forced away from Immaculate Heart.  More hurdles were to come. Cancer struck the dear artist; however, she would not let this impede her artistic prolificity and stance. After stumbling into love with a DIY home order printing kit, Corita mastered the art of serigraphy and often used Andy Warhol inspired pop art and consumeristic iconography braided artistically with messages of hope, love, peace, and spirituality. After long being deemed a crafter, and overlooked from the canon of major post-War American artists, her work started gaining traction and her long lists of accomplishments included the world’s largest piece of copyrighted art, “Rainbow Swash, 1971” on the 150 foot high natural gas tank in Boston, which has become a regional monument.

She used the final decade of her life to speed up the pace of her production, and today her artwork is attracting massive amounts of momentum in the art world. Her top 13 prices at auction have all been realized in the past three years alone. Her works are held permanently worldwide, and she has been associated with Achenbach Foundation Graphic Arts, Gogg Museum, LACMA, the MET, Norman Rockwell Museum, MOMA, SFMOMA, the Whitney, Smithsonian, and others. To quote a song of the time, “No Mary, listen, you've got to pull your strength;
Your precious cross is gone, it made me wait so long…For what you gave to everyone.”

Thank you, Corita Kent, may your memory be lasting.

Courtesy of the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles