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Art HERstory: Corita Kent


When I first presented the idea of Art HERstory, one of my intentions was to give you lovely readers a starting point for your own research. I hope these posts have done just that and that you have found (and continue to find!) as much inspiration in these artists as I have.

Many of these artists have helped to form my beliefs and views of the world and the least I could do is share their life’s work and stories. This week I’m highlighting Sister Corita Kent, a courageous woman who’s art I revisit when I need to “recharge” and gain strength.

Sister Corita was the most famous nun of the 1960’s and one of the most famous graphic artists in the country, yet she is rarely mentioned in the grand history of art. Read on…

Corita was born Frances Kent in 1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. She grew up in Los Angeles and joined the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1936, taking the name Sister Mary Corita.

She graduated from Immaculate Heart College in 1941 and then taught grade school in British Columbia. In 1946 she returned to Immaculate Heart College to teach art. In 1951, she received a master’s degree in art history from the University of Southern California; it is also the year she exhibited her first silkscreen print. Corita’s earliest works were largely iconographic; known as “neo-gothic” they borrowed phrases and depicted images from the Bible.


By the 1960s, she was using popular culture (such as song lyrics and advertising slogans) as raw material for her meaning-filled bursts of text and color. Corita’s cries for peace in the era of Vietnam were not always welcome. In 1965 her “Peace on Earth” Christmas exhibit in IBM’s New York show room was seen as too subversive and Corita had to amend it. However her work continued to be an outlet for Corita’s activism—in her words:

“I am not brave enough to not pay my income tax and risk going to jail…But I can say rather freely what I want to say with my art.?


By then Corita was the chairman of the famous Immaculate Heart College Art Department. Buckminster Fuller described his visit to the department as “among the most fundamentally inspiring experiences of my life.? Other influential friends of hers included Charles Eames, Ben Shahn, Harvey Cox and the Berrigan brothers.


August was Corita’s time for her own art making. During the three weeks between semesters, she and her students would work round the clock printing new serigraph designs by the hundreds. Corita’s chronic insomnia no doubt made some of this possible, but it was often accompanied by a bleak depression.In 1968 Corita decided to devote herself entirely to making art. She left the Order and Los Angeles, and moved to Boston’s Back Bay. She made numerous commissioned works (Westinghouse Group W ads, book covers and murals) and continued to create her own serigraphs (over 400) in the next 18 years. Still using exuberant splashes of color, the tone of her work became more generally spiritual and introspective. Watercolor plein air paintings and great floral silk screens dominated her later works.


Corita remained active in social causes and designed posters and billboards for Share, the International Walk for Hunger, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Amnesty International.



The Boston Gas tank on the Southeast Expressway (above) still bears her famous 150-foot rainbow swash, which is a similar to her design for the 1985 Love Stamp. On Sept. 18, 1986 Corita finally lost her battle with cancer and died in her own home.

Below you’ll find “Corita Kent’s Rules & Hints for Students and Teachers” taken from her book Learning by Heart. These are great and I try to keep most of them in mind while in the process of learning and/or teaching new things.

  • Rule I

FIND A PLACE YOU TRUST AND THEN TRY TRUSTING IT FOR A WHILE.

  • Rule 2

GENERAL DUTIES OF A STUDENT:
PULL EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR TEACHER.
PULL EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR FELLOW STUDENTS.

  • Rule 3

GENERAL DUTIES OF A TEACHER:
PULL EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR STUDENTS.

  • Rule 4

CONSIDER EVERYTHING AN EXPERIMENT.

  • Rule 5

BE SELF DISCIPLINED. THIS MEANS
FINDING SOMEONE WISE OR SMART AND
CHOOSING TO FOLLOW THEM.
TO BE DISCIPLINED IS TO FOLLOW IN A GOOD WAY.
TO BE DISCIPLINED IS TO FOLLOW IN A BETTER WAY.

  • Rule 6

NOTHING IS A MISTAKE. THERE’S NO WIN AND
NO FAIL. THERE’S ONLY MAKE.

  • Rule 7

The only rule is work.
IF YOU WORK IT WILL LEAD TO SOMETHING.
IT’S THE PEOPLE WHO DO ALL OF THE WORK ALL THE TIME
WHO EVENTUALLY CATCH ON TO THINGS.

  • Rule 8

DON’T TRY TO CREATE AND ANALYZE AT THE
SAME TIME. THEY’RE DIFFERENT PROCESSES.

  • Rule 9

BE HAPPY WHENEVER YOU CAN MANAGE IT.
ENJOY YOURSELF. IT’S LIGHTER THAN YOU
THINK.

  • Rule 10

“WE’RE BREAKING ALL OF THE RULES. EVEN
OUR OWN RULES. AND HOW DO WE DO THAT?
BY LEAVING PLENTY OF ROOM FOR X QUANTITIES.? JOHN CAGE

HELPFUL HINTS: ALWAYS BE AROUND. COME OR GO TO EVERY- THING. ALWAYS GO TO CLASSES. READ ANYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON. LOOK AT MOVIES CAREFULLY, OFTEN. SAVE EVERYTHING IT MIGHT COME IN HANDY LATER. THERE SHOULD BE NEW RULES NEXT WEEK.

Note: All the art shown in this post is from photographs taken by Josh White from the book Come Alive!: The Spirited Art of Sister Corita by Julie Ault.

I end today’s post with one of Ms. Corita Kents’ most popular serigraph prints and something everyone needs:


Info: Corita.org

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