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Art Speaks

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WVIK: A new home: landscapes from Augustana artists

Essay:

A new home: landscapes from Augustana artists

Since Miss Mae Munro began teaching watercolor and oil painting across 38th Street in September 1894, art instruction has been part of an Augustana education. The 20-year old Munro was soon joined by Olof Grafström, a Swedish-trained artist who had studied with Anders Zorn and Richard Berg before emigrating to the United States. He taught at Augustana for 29 years, and was invited back to Sweden late in his life by his old friend Zorn; one of the monumental landscapes from that trip now hangs in the President's Office at Augustana's Founders Hall.


One of Grafström's students, Alma Johnson, succeeded her former instructor and taught here for 26 years, organizing exhibitions and welcoming world-renowned artists like Carl Milles and Birger Sandzén to Rock Island. Before retiring, she would welcome Magda Fejer Glatter, a native of Hungary, to the faculty at Augustana.


After retiring from full-time teaching, Glatter helped establish "Saturday Art Classes" at Augustana for area children - a program that continues today as. Before retiring, she welcomed Augustana graduate A. Ben Jasper to the faculty. Jasper also worked with the Saturday classes and, with Glatter, taught art history as well as art. 


James Konrad joined the faculty in 1989, and though he taught drawing, design, printmaking and art education, his gifts as a landscape artist are evident both here and in the large-scale Southern Iowa View, which graces the president's private office at Augustana. 


Though a graduate of Bethany College in Kansas, Iowa native Signe E. Larson was no stranger to Augustana, and was a contemporary of Alma Johnson. Whether born in Sweden, Hungary or Iowa, all of the artists represented found a new home in our community. These works offer glimpses of this new home from a perspective that may have been lost by those immersed in these landscapes for a lifetime, and boast perhaps a special appreciation. 


The one exception, Glatter's Pines of Rome, bespeaks a new home of a different sort. When she left Budapest, she had been studying advertising art. In Rock Island, she immersed herself in the liberal arts and could no doubt hear Ottorino Respighi's timeless symphonic poem (which you can hear, too, on WVIK) as she created this lyrical depiction of "I pini di Roma."


Text by: Kai S. Swanson, Special Assistant to the President

Corita Kent in Founders

Essays:

Ugo Betti: a source

Rules and red-eye-specials: Corita Kent's Educational Philosophy

CORITA KENT: a biography

'make new wineskins': the social, cultural + religious foundations of Sister Corita Kent's Art

Ugo Betti: a source

Ugo Betti was an Italian judge and a prominent author of the twentieth century. His first published collection Il re pensieroso (The Thoughtful King) was written while he was in German captivity during World War I. After the war, he finished his law studies and became a judge.

Betti, who is considered one the greatest Italian playwrights, had his first play La Padrona performed in 1927. The success of La Padrona led him to devote the remainder of his life to the theatre. Many of Betti's works explore themes of redemption and the nature of evil. 

Corita Kent uses several quotes from Betti in her works. One work features a quote from Betti's play La regina e gli insorti  (The Queen and the Rebels): 

I believe that God has intentionally made us not docile, for that He would find useless... but different from himself and a little too proud...so that we may stand against Him, thwart Him, amaze Him... perhaps that is His purpose.

This line is in the final speech of the heroine Argia after she has offered herself to be executed to save the life of the terrified queen. In La regina e gli insorti as well as his other works, Betti explores the quest for the self and one's relationship to a higher power.


Many of the Betti quotes used by Kent exemplify the themes that he emphasized in his works, and allowed her to add her own interpretations to them.She selected quotations that explore human redemption and God's forgiveness of sins as well as others that focused more upon the search for personal identity.

One such work features the phrase, "We don't ask the rose how much it has labored; we ask it simply to be a rose, and to be as different as it can from an artichoke" (Betti, La regina e gli insorti). Her specific use of this quote suggests the value she places in individuality and pursuit one's personal identity. 

Text by: Victoria Karnes '18 of Bourbonnais, Ill.

Rules and red-eye-specials: Corita Kent's Educational Philosophy

By the time Corita Kent left Immaculate Heart College, she had taught there for over twenty years, her persona embodying a spirit in-step with 1960s countercultural America. The department was legendary, inspirational to students, Catholics and cultural luminaries such as Buckminster Fuller, who described his visit there as, "[a]mongst the most fundamentally inspiring experiences of [my] life...."

Kent was known to galvanize her students' creative energies into ambitious projects.  Her classroom, where she taught lettering and layout, image finding, drawing and art structure, was known for its lively interdisciplinary environment. A contemporaneous article Catholic newspaper notes that the, "art 
department at Immaculate Heart is a place full of questions, a place whose only answer is really an attitude of openness to and celebration of life. It is part of Sister Corita's teaching method to keep her students  constantly struggling with the kind of questions that make them open up to all their 
experience, sifting it for possible answers. Students live with such questions as 'What is a revolution?' 'How are food and peace related?'"


Kent was a believer in high-volume assignments, sometimes termed 'red-eye-specials' by her students, geared towards developing observational consciousness and analytic skills.

An example assignment asked students to list one-hundred reasons why they were taking an art class a liberal arts college; this, Kent notes, "immediately releases the student from the crushing responsibility to produce something great."

Reflecting on a similar assignment, Kent reflects that "The first ten or twenty...are painful. But after that you get very slap happy, and you start opening up and expanding. A lot of the[m]...were worthless, but out of that whole batch, you would get some marvelous things; and again, the whole 
process, I think, was a good stretching exercise."


As a teacher, Kent seemed to generate a movement of empowerment - deeply changing people's ways of experiencing the world. Many former students cite Kent's teachings as life-changing in so far as she focused their attention to the aesthetics of everyday life and their actions within it - no matter the 
activity. 


Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules was created by Colleen Cooper ('15) and Audrey Moore ('15) and is a work inspired by Kent's aesthetics, using Kent's words - much in the manner of Kent's own working practice. Rules were the official department guidelines for the Immaculate Heart 
College's art department.

A copy could also be found in the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham's studio, and rule 10 cites his partner, John Cage, directly.  The Rules were meant to help students recognize the latent talents they already had within themselves, and draw it out within their creative practice. 


Text by: Ashley Newell '16 of Mendota, Ill., Claire Hammer '16 of Fairbury, Ill., Audrey Moore '15 of Milwaukee, Wis. and Claire L. Kovacs, Director, Augustana Teaching Museum of Art

CORITA KENT: a biography

"What Corita stands for in her own person is a kind of festive involvement with the world. She's right in there as far as peace, and racial justice, and the crisis in the nation is concerned. But it's got a kind of lilt to it. A kind of joy that is so badly needed." (Harvey Cox, Corita: celebration and creativity)


Known for her relentless optimism and contagious joy, Corita Kent was a twentieth century educator and artist renowned for her vibrant, socially engaged prints. She was born in 1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa to an Irish Catholic family.  After taking her vows as a nun and entering the Immaculate Heart of Mary 
Religious Community, Kent completed a Master's degree in Art History. She began creating artwork after learning how to produce silk screen prints in 1951.


When she first began working as an artist, printmaking was not respected or accepted as fine art.

This however did not deter Kent from her choice of media, as she is quoted saying:I am a printmaker, a very democratic form, since it enables me to produce a quantity of original art for those who cannot afford to purchase high-priced art...the distribution of these prints to everyday places of work pleases me, and I hope they will give people a lift...more fun out of life.


She was committed to keeping her images, and the uplifting messages that they conveyed, accessible to a broad spectrum of viewers. Kent's works are a celebration of the everyday. Her art served as an expression for her social activism, and her commitment to being engaged in the world around her. 


Kent worked for over two decades as an instructor in the art department at Immaculate Heart College. Her classroom was a place of creativity and engagement with the world. From her perspective, teaching and art were inseparable in her approach to empowering students.

One of her students recalls, "It is part of Sister Corita's teaching method to keep her students constantly struggling with the kind of questions that make them open up to all their experience, sifting it for possible answers."


In 1968, Kent left the order and moved to Boston. A gifted artist and an inspirational educator, Kent employed her optimistic worldview and exuberant color palette in a celebration of the everyday through art.

She used artwork to engage viewers in ideas of social justice and activism. Today her work remains powerful in its continued ability to inspire peace and positivity. 


Text by: Sarah Berndt '15 of Westfield, Ind.

'make new wineskins':  the social, cultural + religious foundations of Sister Corita Kent's Art

"Part of being in the world is to understand the language people are using and the experiments they are engaged in so that we from another way of life may see the same problems and be able to cooperate in the ongoing work...Artists make pictures (or books or music or buildings) with stuff that comes out of their own time. They see today, the today we are all working in and with, and their special insights can give us hints about what's needed in our time. They sense what is real, they see what is new, [and] they are quick to drop what is phony and no longer meaningful. They make new wineskins."(Kent, "Art and Beauty in the Life of the Sister")

The decade of the 1960s was marked by political and cultural activism and the Roman Catholic Church saw change through the conversations of Vatican II.

For Corita Kent and her Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters, who had long been subject to traditional gender roles within the Church, this modernization 
meant fewer restrictions on their daily lives and the ability to refocus their efforts on social action and service.

They sought to contemporize their community work, teaching methods and educational content, and connect more to people's lived experience, particularly through cultural practices.


In this vein, Kent took her cues from the worlds of mass media and advertising, reusing and recontextualizing everyday phrases and images that addressed contemporaneous political, cultural and sociological issues. Unlike her peers in the Pop Art generation who pushed the boundaries of what was and was not acceptable within the hallowed halls of arts institutions, Kent considered the art world an "elite system of distribution," instead preferring a wide and inexpensive distribution of her work - a populist and Christian principle that also determined her focus on screen printing.

The various permutations of her work: serigraphs, greeting cards, publications, posters, events, disposable exhibits, murals and billboards, as well as the multitude of venues through which she chose to disseminate her work: churches, community centers, galleries, fairs, corporations and even vans driven to gatherings - made her art available to a broad range of audiences.


At Immaculate Heart College, Kent's perspectives coalesced in the annual celebration of Mary's Day, a religious happening in which the students and faculty would consider the important events of their contemporaneous moment, and out of which would emerge a theme for that year's celebration. Once a 
general theme was decided, the students began formulating questions and researching the writings of great thinkers, culminating into a visually and verbally impactful day of events.

The 1964 celebration was particularly spectacular as black-robed nuns paraded in flowered necklaces, poets performed on platforms, and paint-bedecked students danced in the grass. Mary's Day became a prototype for the be-ins of San Francisco and beyond.


While Kent was committed to making her work accessible, her works from the 1960s embodied a broad knowledge, sophistication and visual complexity, and thus expressed a deep respect for her viewers. Her work decentralized authority and blurred the boundaries between art and design, activism and 
aesthetics - in many ways it reflects the social change inherent of the period.


Text by: Claire L. Kovacs, Director, Augustana Teaching Museum of Art