Friday, August 1, 2014

ICONS

Our Lady of Vladimir
Our Lady of Czestochwa

Through his “artistic creativity” man appears more than ever “in the image of God”, and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous “material” of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him. With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in his creative power. Obviously, this is a sharing which leaves intact the infinite distance between the Creator and the creature, as Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa made clear: “Creative art, which it is the soul's good fortune to entertain, is not to be identified with that essential art which is God himself, but is only a communication of it and a share in it. That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their “gift”, are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission.  (St. John Paul Letter to Artists, 1999)

Next to our new Chapel, is the parlor, which I call the ICON room, as there are 16 Icons, some hand "written" for us, hanging on the walls.  I have found several woman who paint or write lovely examples of this art form which I present here.  But what is an icon and how does it differ from other religious art?

ICONOGRAPHY is the original tradition of Christian sacred art, and has been an integral part of the worship and mystical life of Christians since apostolic times. Referred to in the Eastern Christian tradition as "windows into heaven," they have inspired and uplifted millions of the faithful, and have at times been the instruments for demonstrating God's miraculous intercession in the life of mankind.  The most famous are  Our Lady of Vladimir  which is one of the most venerated Orthodox icons, regarded as the holy protectress of Russia.

One of the most exquisite icons ever painted, Our Lady of Vladimir is imbued with universal feelings of motherly love and anxiety for her child. Throughout history miracles were attributed to this image of our Mother, the most recent in December 1941.As the Germans approached Moscow, Stalin ordered that the icon be taken from the museum and placed in an airplane and  carried around the besieged capital. Several days later the German army started to retreat.

The Black Madonna of Częstochowa is a 14th century Polish icon which is credited with miraculously saving the monastery of Jasna Góra from a Swedish onslaught.

In Christiantity, an icon (from Greek  eikon, "image") is a flat picture of Christ, Mary, or other saints. Most icons are painted in egg tempura on wood, but some are created with mosaic tiles, ivory, or other materials. In Orthodox Christianity, icons are sacred works of art that provide inspiration and connect the worshiper with the spiritual world. The scenes depicted in icons usually relate to liturgical celebrations rather than directly to historical events.

In addition to the style of the painting (or writing as it is called), the actual technique of making an icon is rich with symbolism. Icons are a visual form of prayer in line and color that seek to tell us something true about God and the saints. They follow a long tradition of truths that are communicated visually rather than through words, a theology passed on from one artist to the next. They are meant to help us open ourselves to God's love.

Mother of God- Elizabeth Lemme

The first of our modern artists is ELIZABETH LEMME who is originally from Spokane, WA. Her studies cover a wide range of disciplines, including classical music, theology, philosophy, and psychology. In visual art, she received a formation in drawing, painting, ceramics, and jewelry. Mrs. Lemme earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in piano performance and pedagogy from Whitworth University, and a Master of Music degree in piano performance and pedagogy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

(Close-up)


Her conversion to the Catholic faith led her to discern the contemplative monastic life. During her four years as a contemplative nun with the Sisters of St. John, she devoted her life to prayer, and study of medieval sacred art. Her studies in iconography led her to attend intensive icon workshops in Rome, Denver, San Antonio, and Omaha. .

Elizabth resides in Lincoln, NE where she is in the process of creating a new studio of traditional sacred art: Ad Orientem Sacred Arts.  She paints in the traditional style and her use of colors is exquisite.


Jodi Simmons- Pieta


JODI SIMMONS from Massachusetts  had never given much thought to religious art, until a near death experience turned her life around, and she felt the desire to express her new found faith in visual terms. She took art courses but a friend suggested she see the icons in a Ukrainian Catholic Church in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The experience was so moving, Jodi knew this was the kind of art she was meant to make.  “I began studying, painting, and praying with what has become the greatest mystery, joy, teacher and friend in my life: the icon.”


Transfiguration of Christ-  Jodi Simmons
 Jodi is an example of modern icon writers who cross over canonical boundaries in her handling of sacred subjects. Why, for example, is Christ shown so often without a beard? Jodi points out that early Christian imagery, like the 5th century mosaics in Ravenna, shows a beardless Jesus.




Maid of the Snow
St. Francis

(Any artist who uses birds in her art is a friend of mine!)

"From beginning to end, a lot of time, attention and care goes into my work. The work gives back to me too. I learn from the research. The slow and often tedious methods teach me patience (ha!). When I finish an icon, it always looks back at me as if it were its own, individual entity...a lively gem - and the traditional, quality methods and materials ensure it will shine for many years."

The Gift- Jodi Simmons



Mary Jane Miller



Our last artist MARY JANE MILLER is the least traditional- at least in her new phase of work, but her message is the same:  "I want to paint icons always with the hope of bringing people closer to God. Even when painting modern icons the artist entices people to come closer to God, through the beautiful image. We copy traditional images as doctrine and discipline as well as prayer. The painting of the image is considered service".



Mary Jane Miller
Her work is prolific, she has written books on the art of writing icons, and she has  started a school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (a place I "know" as my god-son's family just moved there- so maybe when I visit them I can search out this amazing artist).


The prayerfulness inherent in icon painting drew Mary Jane to the writing of icons 18 years ago." I found myself consciously looking for an answer to the question 'Why we are Here?” Dating back to 500 A.D., iconography is thought to be divinely inspired. Each layer of the icon has symbolic meaning".


Mary Jane Miller
Mary Jane describes the experience of painting icons as “an ongoing revelation for the individual who is looking for a spiritual life. You can find yourself in the paint and in the image. - the spiritual side of it and the physical side of it - and I love the way they harmonize together. The technique is an organic process that allows me to play in the dirt with million year old stone pigments".


"I have used the orthodox tradition yes, with absolute respect. Contemporary Icons challenge the idea that there is still an ongoing understanding of the divine story through image and doctrine.


 Remembering we are all children of God. There is no limit to the imagery in iconography or the expression of God, but many".



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

ART AS PRAYER


 
Descent from the Cross


The artist, image of God the Creator
     None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colors and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you. (St. John Paul Letter to Artists, 1999)

ROXOLANA LUCZAKOWSKY ARMSTRONG was born in Stanislaviv Ukraine in 1938. Her family, victims of Soviet persecution, fled to the West in 1945 to settle eventually in Philadelphia in 1950. Her art education started with study under renowned Ukrainian painter Pietro Mehyk, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine arts in Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and an active member in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Roxolana, along with her teaching commitments, works at church decoration, book illustration, icons, as well as architectural and landscape painting. Her artistic endeavors may be seen both in museums and private collections on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1964 Roxolana moved to Malaga, Spain, with her husband, the American sculptor, Hamilton Reed Armstrong, where they proceeded with their professional careers while participating in Spanish artistic and social life.

At this time Roxolana while working independently in the techniques of classic mosaic and stained glass stumbled through the use of transparent polymer resins on her own vision of a transparent, luminous three dimensional mosaic. These creations under the name of "Crystal Art" may be found in homes, churches, and public buildings, both in Europe and America.

 Roxolana has continued through the years drawing and painting in oil, acrylic, and watercolor, exhibiting in group and individual shows on both sides of the Atlantic. Her work is found in the Marian Center of Studies, Cincinnati, Ohio; the John Paul II Center in Washington, D.C., and numerous private collections around the world.   She lives in Front Royal, Va., with her husband.

Holy Saturday

For Roxolana, painting religiously inspired images is a form of prayer: "I try to put myself in the scene of these historical events to grasp their meaning. It is what St. Ignatius of Loyola called, Compositio loci. In this painting, "Descent from the Cross," there are echoes of the "Pietas" of past artists, but not consciously copied."

In her "Holy Saturday," she says  that the painting came as a "personal mystical experience. It involves the special privilege of trust that the Mother of Jesus was given in that dark moment while her son was in the tomb. It is meant to invite the viewer to contemplation of the Passion and personal trust."





 In 1983 Roxolana did a series of water colors depicting the horrors of the enforced famine.
for the 50th anniversary of the forced starvation of 7,000,000 Ukrainians by the Soviet Regime in 1933.  Her simple images but use of colors make us feel the cold and deprivation of her people.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

WOMEN WHO BRING THE SAINTS ALIVE



Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality's surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one's own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things. All artists experience the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardour of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpting, their creating is no more than a glimmer of the splendour which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit.   (St. John Paul Letter to Artists, 1999)


In my search for Catholic women artists in the USA, I found very few  21 C. sculptors that I would like to introduce. I am sure there are more out there but….  here are two favorites.


Rachel Mourning Her Children
St. Benedict-  SJ
SONDRA JONSON has been a professional sculptor since 1985, and has produced and installed over 25 life-size monuments in seven states. Her small works have been exhibited and collected throughout the U.S., and in Italy. Her collectors include the White House and the Vatican.


A convert from Judaism, and a life-long artist, Sondra has acquired a keen insight into the relationship between art and the Church. Although her sculpture installations include many in public parks and buildings, it is her liturgical art that she considers the highlight of her career.

.
She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and studied at the Philadelphia College of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, in Madrid, Spain, and graduated, Magna Cum Laude, from Bryn Mawr College and the Frudakis Academy of Art. She lives in Cambridge, Neb., has 3 teenage sons, and is involved in the local 4H Club



St. Francis- SJ

She says that her Catholic identity is inseparable from her craft.  She entered the Church in 1982, after growing up in a secular Jewish family, the daughter of two doctors.

Today, she sees her purpose as a Catholic artist as one of teaching and inspiring, like the great Catholic painters and sculptors of old: “We liturgical artists hope to inspire those who encounter our work with a sense of the mystery and truth of Christ.”


St. Katerine Drexel-SJ
Her style which is both classical and contemporary, powerful yet tender, leaves us with a powerful message. And like the sculptors of old, one feels one can touch her pieces and they jump to life.











A Voice Heard in Ramah
Interestingly enough, both of these woman artists have strong, poignant works of Rachel weeping for her children.

 Our other Catholic sculptor is SARAH HEMPEL IRANI, a figurative artist, specializing in liturgical, memorial, and portrait sculpture. She has spent countless hours in the studio working with live models, pouring over anatomy books and copying old Master drawings in order to gain a keen understanding of the human form. She is passionate about integrating the arts into her local community and inspiring people to engage their creativity.

Jesus is Laid in the Tomb


 Sarah  is a classically trained sculptor, working in clay, plaster, bronze and marble. In 2000, she graduated from Hillsdale College, Michigan.  After graduation, she moved to Maryland in order to work as an apprentice to Jay Hall Carpenter, former Artist-in-Residence at the Washington National Cathedral. In 2001, she established Hempel Studios in Frederick, Maryland.

At only twenty-five years of age, Sarah was awarded a commission to create two larger-than-life sized marble sculptures of Saint Joseph and the Virgin Annunciate for Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. To give an idea of what a woman goes through to create massive pieces of art I quote: I Sarah articulated each of the sculptures full-scale in clay and had the plaster casts carved in Carrara marble by a crew of talented stone carvers. The Virgin Mary was carved in Virginia by former carver at the Washington National Cathedral, Malcolm Harlow. Saint Joseph was carved in Pietrasanta, Italy at Studio Antognazzi. Each of the sculptures weighed over two tons!"  For her work in sculpture, Sarah was awarded a Maryland Arts Council Individual Artist Award in 2009.


St. Joseph the Carpenter

In November 2010, a half-life-size sculpture entitled, “A Voice in Ramah,” was awarded third prize at the Third Annual Catholic Arts Exhibition, at St. Vincent's College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, by Sister Wendy Beckett. In January, 2011, she graduated with a Master’s of Arts in Humanities, with a concentration in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, from Hood College Graduate School in Frederick, Maryland.

Sarah moved to Northwestern Pennsylvania in 2009, where she lives in a little yellow cottage with her husband and their daughter.


Virgin Annunciate


Sarah and Mary
"Art is always a spiritual act, but with sacred art, people approach it seeking God. And there is that hope that the piece you made, carefully, painstakingly, lovingly with your own hands, somehow connects the viewer to something, Someone Higher."  SHI


Jesus Falls Third Time
Jesus Meets His Mother

Monday, July 21, 2014

PRIME IMAGES





In doing my new artists "research", I came across a letter St. John Paul II  wrote in 1999 to artists:

"To all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new “epiphanies” of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world".

His letter, which should be read by all in the arts, no matter their genre, is magnificent  and long. It led me to ask what is art??? And why the Catholic Church, which was once the main source of Art and Literature in the Western World has produced so little of lasting value- or has it?

"The purpose of art is nothing less than the upliftment of the human spirit."  St. John Paul II

We need to consider that many of the great artists were considered "failures" in their day, but now we value their works highly.  We live in a vibrant time- so loud colors can wonderfully convey the artists message.  We need new images of our Faith, to express us here and now, but with reverence. I find that ethnic art so often does this for us, and why I use it often in my Blogs, to illustrate my message.

Our world has gotten smaller due to all the communication resources at hand, so we need to understand the visions of others.

Flannery O’Connor acknowledges the plight of the contemporary Catholic author, but I feel it applies to all forms of art. She says:

      I don’t believe that we shall have great religious fiction (art) until we have again that happy combination of  believing artist and believing society. Until that time, the novelist (artist) will have to do the best he can in travail with the world he has. He may find in the end that instead of reflecting the image at the heart of things, he has only reflected our broken condition and, through it, the face of the devil we are possessed by. This is a modest achievement, but perhaps a necessary one.     “Novelist and Believer,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose.

I have found many Catholic women in the USA whose art I feel worthy of entrance in to this Blog. I will start with one Catholic artist from the 20th Century.  She is one whose art we "grew up" with in our Novitiate, mainly due to her relationship to Dorothy Day. Ade did many of the early illustrations for the Catholic Worker, a newspaper edited by Dorothy. While I am not sure Ade ever visited our Mother Abbey, she certainly must have known our Mother Prisca (Dorothy Day was her “god-mother at M.P.’s clothing), and knew Jacques & Raissa Maritain (friends of The Abbey).
Ade with her Grandfather, Viscount Terlinden


 ADE BETHUNE
was born Adélaide de Bethune, Baroness, in 1914 in Schaerbeek, Belgium. Her family were of the nobility but emigrated to New York after World War I in 1928. Her parents were interested in both the progressive movements of the day and the deep traditions of the Church.

Even at a young age Ade had a strong interest in the Church, liturgical art, and the Progressive movement. Ade was educated at Cathedral High School in New York and later, the National Academy of Design and Cooper Union.

She volunteered her illustrations to improve the quality of the Catholic Worker when she was a nineteen-year-old art student, impressed with the work of Dorothy Day. She continued this interest throughout her life, especially in providing housing for the elderly, particularly the poor.

Ade with Dorothy Day  Jacques Maritain & Peter  Maurin, 1934


In 1938 she moved to Newport, RI. In 1969, she founded the Church Community Housing Corporation in Newport County, Rhode Island, to design and build housing.

In 1954, Ade began writing about church architecture and how it could support and enhance the liturgy and  became involved in the Liturgical Movement. Peter Maurin (Co-founder of the Catholic Worker) encouraged her in public speaking and writing, persuading her to communicate both the ideals of the Catholic Worker and her own ideas.


The many articles Ade wrote on church design became very influential, some of them foreshadowing changes later brought about by the Second Vatican Council. She was seen as an authority on the subject, and over time people wanted her art and her ideas as well.  Ade would go on to provide liturgical design and consulting services for almost 300 churches up until the early 1990s.

From 1949 to 1962, she contributed to the Catholic children's comic book Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, and a series called "Jesus Spoke in Parables"  where she illustrated the parables of Jesus with modern images.


 Her iconographic style was well-suited to comics, and she wanted children to actively engage with her art as a mode of religious self-instruction:  "For a small child all of life is full of signs and wonders. But in certain signs he comes to experience more closely something of God and of the Church, in terms he can grasp - in terms not of people or of words, but of images, smells, colors, lights, myths. His first impressions are lasting. The prime images he forms - in art or nature - must thus be such as can remain valid for life".

In 1991 she founded 'Star of the Sea' to renovate a former Carmelite convent into an intentional community and state of the art housing for the elderly, where she lived until her death in 2002.  She is buried at Portsmouth Abbey (Benedictine), Portsmouth, Rhode Island.


While Ade was an advocate of traditional iconography, the people in her drawings tend to be working class, ordinary people, dressed in the common clothes of the present-day. They perform everyday chores, and often are shown in what she called "acts of mercy," such as nursing the sick, feeding the hungry, and housing the homeless.  

Dorothy Day, in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, wrote of Ade Bethune:
      Whenever I visited Ade I came away with a renewed zest for life. She has   such a sense of the sacramentality of life, the goodness of things, a sense that is translated in all her works whether it was illustrating a missal, making stained-glass windows or sewing, cooking or gardening.






Judith Stoughton: Proud Donkey of Schaerbeek: 
                       Ade Bethune, Catholic Worker Artist 1988






Thursday, July 17, 2014

HEAVEN PREVAILS




Most of us are great fans of FLANNERY O’CONNOR, especially her spiritual writings. As the story goes, the Dominican nuns of Hawthorn begged her to write a book about the child in this blog. Flannery basically said:  are you nuts? I don’t do such things.  But so often in the case of nuns, heaven prevailed and the book was written.  



MARY ANN LONG was born in 1946, one of four children to a poor, Kentucky family.  At age 3, after undergoing X-rays, radium, and losing an eye, Mary Ann was diagnosed with an incurable cancer by the Tumor Clinic in Louisville.  Her mother was ill herself, too ill to care for a sick child, and at the advice of her doctor, Mary Ann was sent to live in a home run by the Dominican Sisters.  Although sending their dying child far from home to live with strangers was heartbreaking for her loving parents, there was no other option financially possible.

Mary Ann was described as “a loveable little girl who touches the hearts of everyone she meets.”  Mary Ann’s one good eye was brown and sparkled with the joy of life.  She greeted the Sisters with laughter and had no hesitation or shyness toward them.
She was curious about the other patients living in the ward and spent her short life consoling residents in her own sympathetic and cheerful way.  There was something special about her ability to console those who came to console her.  Mary Ann had a special gift of displaying her interior beauty despite her disfigured outer appearance.  She forgot herself in favor of meeting the needs of others.

Mary Ann was baptized into the Catholic faith and took lessons in religion.  She seemed to absorb her lessons in a mature way.  She was a fast learner and very intelligent, the sisters taught her much about God’s love.  She often prayed, “Jesus, I love you with all I got,”- it was as close to “with all my heart” as she could get.  Mary Ann was allowed to make her First Communion at the age of five and was confirmed at the age of six.  She chose the name Joseph for her confirmation name, her reasoning being that St. Joseph took care of baby Jesus and he would also take care of her.


Mary Anne with one of the nuns
Mary Ann’s parents missed her terribly and when she was six, they decided to bring her back home with them.  She was only home for a short time before they decided to take her back.  They said, “We just don’t seem to be able to make her happy here…”  Although Mary Ann loved her family, she found that she was much happier and more comfortable at the home with the Sisters whom she came to love so dearly.
She won over many friends with her lively and charming personality.  People would ask her, “Why don’t you pray for God to cure you?”  She would reply simply, “This is the way God wants me.”  Her obedience to God’s will was an inspiration.  Often, her cheerful acceptance of her state in life made it easier for the other patients to accept their state.

In 1958, her condition began to grow worse.  Mary Ann had always wanted to become a sister, and the sisters fulfilled her wish by allowing her to become a Dominican tertiary.   When a large growth appeared in her mouth, it became impossible for her to eat normally.  She never complained.  Just before Christmas, a serious hemorrhage occurred.  The sisters lit a candle at her bedside, prepared for the worst.  Mary Ann prayed over and over, “Dear Jesus, I love You.”
Mary Ann died quietly in her sleep on January 18, 1959, at the age of twelve.  In her hand she clutched the rosary she had been saying when she fell asleep.  No one can deny that in the 12 years alotted her, Mary Ann knew, love, and served the Lord.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

ISLAND ART




 
"Tree" - Todd Spalti

Our neighboring Island (Orcas) has for years had a treasure of a museum, which few know about, and now seems to be on its last legs-  which we hope is not happening!  Several years ago Oblates took us to this treasure-house of fabulous local art, conducted by Leo himself.  He then became a friend, one we see not often enough.

Located on a high bluff overlooking East Sound, THE LAMBIEL MUSEUM, houses an extensive collection of art exclusively by artists from the San Juan Islands. “As far as I know, I’m the only person who is collecting local art,” said Leo. “The purpose of the museum is to house, preserve, and display the best pieces by the best artists who live or have ever lived in the San Juan Islands.”

Leo, who is from the same part of California I am from and was born 4 months before me ( I remember this, because one of his own works of art is a ceiling in which he shows the sky over Los Angeles the day he was born), moved to Orcas Island when he was 21 years-old. 


 
Front Room
For 50 years Leo has collected art, from painting and sculpture, to glasswork, photography and ceramics. The collection contains between 800-900 pieces, from about 270 local artists, the earliest dating back to 1915. 



The museum has  the world’s largest collection of  Helen Loggie
"The King Goblin" - Helen Loggie



On display are one hundred and forty-two of her original pencil and charcoal drawings, etchings, pastels, and oil paintings. "The artists that I am exhibiting know their best pieces are in the Lambiel Museum and they are happy that they are in one place to be experienced instead of having them scattered all over the country."


Now Leo is concerned over the future of his vast collection. “I’m not going to live forever, and I need to start making plans for the future of the museum, and the collection." 

Currently Leo is in discussion with Western Washington University, which could result in a portion of the collection going to Bellingham, the property being sold, and the balance of the art being scattered all over. WWU is interested in the Helen Loggie collection as they own the second largest collection of Helen's work.


Helen Loggie

“I think that the art should stay in the community, stay together, and continue to grow. But I’m getting older, and I want to have it organized. Ultimately, I’m trying to assess if people care, and if they even know that this museum exists. My questions is, is it important to Islanders that such a large collection of local art stay in our community And does the community want it?”




People appreciate fine art. It fulfills a need of the human heart. The creativity of the artist is admired, the diversity of expression is enjoyed, the meaning of the content is educational, and the perception of the beauty is uplifting.

If you are in our area this summer, make an appointment for the tour. The museum is open daily by appointment only and the two-hour guided tours are by donation. Even those who do not like museums will love this. Leo is a genius in his own right and one can see his many "inventions".



Monday, July 7, 2014

MADNESS OR MAGIC?

Séraphine de Senlis

I am sometimes asked, due to my love of art, if I  am an artist- to which I reply only in my mind! When I was in college many years ago, in a rigorous pre-med program, I found myself weekly, if not more often in the local art museum, a small but real gem with a fabulous library.  If I had spent as much time on chemistry and physics as I did perusing art tomes, I might be a doctor today.  My father was an artist, who rarely got time to do anything really creative- he was also a mathematical genius, so am not sure how the two went hand in hand. He studied architecture but did not put that gift into practice into later in his life.

Recently, I saw the movie SERAPHINE, a wonderfully moving film about the French painter, Séraphine de Senlis (1864-1942).

Self-taught, she painted in the naive’ or ‘modern primitive’ style, inspired by her religious faith and and love of nature. The intensity of her images, both in her magical colors and in repeating designs, are sometimes interpreted as a reflection of her own psyche, walking a tightrope between ecstasy and mental illness.

Both her parents died when she was a small child so she was raised by an older sister.  She first worked as a shepherdess but, by 1881, she was engaged as a domestic worker at the convent of the Sisters of Providence in Oise. Beginning in 1901, she was employed as a housekeeper for middle-class families in the town of Senlis.
Séraphine



She painted by candlelight, largely in secret isolation, until her considerable body of work was discovered in 1912 by German art collector Wilhelm Uhde, whose house she cleaned. He was amazed by her talent but his support had barely begun when he was forced to leave France in 1914 due to the war.

They  reestablished contact in 1927 when Uhde, back in France and living in Chantilly, visited an exhibition of local artists in Senlis and, seeing Séraphine's work, realized that she had survived and her art had flourished. Under his patronage, she began painting large canvases, gaining  prominence as the naïve painter of her day. In 1929, Uhde organized an exhibition, "Painters of the Sacred Heart," that featured Séraphine's art, launching her into a period of financial success she had never known. Then, in 1930, with the effects of the Great Depression destroying the finances of her patrons, Uhde had no choice but to stop buying her paintings.


Tree of Life

In 1932, Séraphine  was admitted for "chronic psychosis" at Clermont's insane asylum, where her artistry found no outlet. She died friendless and alone and  was buried in a common grave.

Séraphine Louis's works are often rich fantasies of intensely repeated and embellished floral arrangements. She used colors and pigments that she made herself from unusual and exotic ingredients she never revealed, but which have stood the test of time for durable vividness.



In 2009, the film Séraphine by director Martin Provost won seven César Awards, including Best Film and Best Actress for Yolande Moreau who starred in the title role.

Yoloande Moreau as Séraphine
I am most grateful to be introduced to this remarkable woman, who never let any hardship stand in the way of her passion. A lesson for us all! In her simplicity she saw her Lord in nature and in her own heart.