|St. Francis of Assisi, 1998|
When you read her story you can see how serendipity played a role in producing this exhibit. According to the announcement she was the oldest daughter of a poor, struggling Duluth family with an Irish Catholic heritage. Upon finishing high school (at Cathedral, which is now Marshall) she entered the St. Scholastica Monastery. In the 1960's one consequence of the Second Vatican Council was for the church to reshape itself for the modern world. Sister Mary Charles, who had already studied art and education, received encouragement to take her interests further as Vatican II affirmed the value art had in Catholic ministry.
I found the next section of the announcement about this show to be especially interesting. It expands one's insight into areas of monastery life that I'd never thought about.
|The Threshold, 1969|
Sister Mary Charles worked in an amazingly wide variety of media, including fabric banners, graphic design, ceramics, wood carvings, mosaic and stained glass. In 1990 she studied traditional icon painting, and created over eighty-five religious icons in the last two decades of her life. Her works grace churches in seven states, and many can be seen in churches throughout the Northland.
The artist taught in the Catholic schools of the Duluth Diocese and from 1956 to 1964 was head of the Art Department at The College of St. Scholastica. Convinced that making art, not college administration, was her true calling, she petitioned superiors to let her establish an art studio in an old carriage house on the McCabe property in Duluth's Hunter's Park neighborhood. They agreed, and "The Barn" was renovated by community volunteers and donated materials. With other Benedictine Sisters she taught a popular summer arts program for children ages 7-13, exposing them to all art media along with experiences in theatre, science, writing, music and dance. Sister Mary Charles believed that experiences with art opened people up to positive experiences of all kinds. "The Barn" program became a model of progressive, multidisciplinary arts education. Hundreds of its participants fondly remember their experiences there.
Peter Spooner is the guest curator for this exhibition. When I asked how this came about he offered the following:
Like all worthy endeavors, it selected me, really. I was still employed by the Tweed Museum when I proposed the Sister Mary Charles exhibition to my colleagues there, sometime in 2010. A few years before that I had been introduced to her work by Joe and Susie Rosenzweig, Duluthians who befriended her in the 1960s, and who supported her in various ways, and collected her work. It immediately struck me as a great subject for an exhibition -- her story had never been told in a formal way, and yet here was all this great artwork, and all of these people who remembered her so fondly, telling stories about her taking part in protests on the steps of Duluth's City Hall, speaking out for peace and social justice.... How could I resist?
I also liked the story of her art as a ministry, and as a means of spiritual seeking - the equation between art practice and spiritual practice has always caught my attention -- we spend way too much time building and defending artificial barriers between art, spirituality and the "rest of life."
When I left the museum in 2012, I was asked to continue working on the project as a guest curator. Along with (but separate from) that role, I was asked by St. Scholastica Monastery to organize and archive their collection of Sister Mary Charles' art and papers, and to help them develop a book about her. The book will be publicly released at the opening of the exhibition on June 3rd.
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The Tweed Museum is located on the campus of the University of Minnesota - Duluth. If you've never been then I encourage you to go. They have a great collection and a lot of exciting programs and shows. This is a museum that belongs to the public. Take advantage of that. If you can't make the opening reception, this particular exhibit will be on display through the summer.
Meantime, art goes on all around you.... Open your eyes.
woodcut on paper, 34” x 24”
Collection of Joe and Susie Rosenzweig
St. Francis of Assisi
acrylic and gold leaf on wood, 14” x 10”
Collection of Angie Miller and the late Steve O’Neil
Text in blue was taken directly from the announcement about this show.