Tuesday, July 29, 2014


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


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


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

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


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


"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


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.

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.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


As we celebrate our Independence Day, I put forth someone most if us have never heard about, but who played a great part in the Western part of the USA. One who kept the gun-slingers of our West in check!

SISTER BLANDINA SEGALE,  known for her work in New Mexico, is on her way to becoming a saint. This is the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in New Mexico that a decree opening the cause of beatification and canonization has been declared.

 Rosa Maria Segale was born Jan. 23, 1850, in Cicagna, Italy, and was 4 when her family moved to Cincinnati. Her first word as a child was reportedly “Gesu” (Jesus). In 1866, she and her sister, Maria Maddelena, entered the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, becoming Sister Blandina and Sister Justina.

She spent much of her ministry helping those in New Mexico. She helped start schools in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Along with the Sisters of Charity, she founded St. Joseph’s Children Health. That organization petitioned for her canonization. Sister Blandina, a nun with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, came to Trinidad, Colorado, in 1877 to teach poor children and was later transferred to Santa Fe, where she co-founded public and Catholic schools.

During her time in New Mexico, she worked with the poor, the sick and immigrants. She also advocated on behalf of Hispanics and Native Americans who were losing their land. Church officials said the work she’s done embraces issues still prevalent in today’s society.

But while this  Italian-born sister  was dedicated to helping the sick and immigrants, it is her encounters with Western outlaw Billy the Kid that has became the stuff of legend. Seems she  intervened to stop the Kid murdering four doctors who had refused to treat his friend's gunshot wound.  Sister Blandina nursed the friend back to health and when Billy came to Trinidad, Colorado, to thank her, she asked him to abandon his violent plan and  he agreed.

Another story claimed that when the Kid spotted Sister Blandina during an attempt to rob a covered wagon he called off the attack. He just tipped his hat and left.

Many of the tales were recorded in letters that  Sister Blandina wrote to her sister, which were later published in the book, At the End of the Santa Fe Trail.

Later The nun found St Joseph's Hospital in Albuquerque before returning to Cincinnati in 1897 to start Santa Maria Institute, which served recent immigrants.

Her life is well documented in the order’s archives in Cincinnati. She was friends with Cecil B. DeMille and exchanged letters with Edison that included sketches for new hearing aids. At age 81, she traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Pius to plead the case for canonization of St. Elizabeth Seton.

Sister Blandina died in 1941 at the age of 91, but her work still resonates today, with poverty, immigration and child care still high-profile issues.

Her encounters with Old West outlaws later became the stuff of legend and were the subject of an episode of the CBS series Death Valley Days. The episode, called The Fastest Nun in the West, focused on Sister Blandina's efforts to save a man from a lynch mob. But her encounters with Billy the Kid remain among her most popular and well-known Western frontier adventures.