The Womanly Arts
Work by women artists fills St. Kate's public spaces.
By Pauline Oo
"In twos & threes, the women & girls dropped from the sills, hurtled through the air & fell to the pavements."
This harrowing experience, along with two other vivid descriptions, appears in Carol Hamoy's mixed-media piece on the third floor of Coeur de Catherine on the St. Paul campus. The artwork pays homage to the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in her beloved New York City.
Not all works of art in St. Kate's Fine Art Collection tell such a sad tale. But the majority that grace the walls and meeting rooms of the University were created by women and, often, reflect the realities of women's lives.
"If you're inquisitive or start reading the placards, you'll eventually make the connection," says Kathy Daniels SP'73, who curates the collection and is director of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery.
Daniels was inspired to highlight women artists on campus during a trip to Washington, D.C., more than a decade ago. "I was at the National Museum of Women in the Arts when it dawned on me that most of the work I had studied in school or seen in various places — including almost all of the visible artwork at St. Kate's — was done by men," she explains. "Social conventions had limited the training available to women and the options to sell their work. Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock's wife, for example, was a talented painter, but she was perpetually in her husband's shadow."
Daniels made it a personal goal to elevate the visibility of women artists at her alma mater. She began prioritizing public spaces on the St. Paul campus and combing the University's permanent collection for the right pieces to display. She also increased exposure by committing at least two-thirds of the shows at the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery to women artists.
Director of St. Kate's Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, Kathy Daniels SP'73.
Today, more than 1,000 pieces comprise St. Kate's Fine Art Collection, which, like the University, dates back to 1905. Among them are works on paper — prints (etchings, engravings, woodcuts, lithographs, silk screens), watercolors and drawings — as well as paintings and sculpture by artists of different nationalities and periods, including:
Corita Kent, one of America's most influential graphic design artists of the 20th century.
Adolf Dehn, who helped define regionalism and caricature, among other movements, in American art.
Clara Mairs, recently featured in the book Pioneer Modernists: Minnesota's First Generation of Women Artists.
Giovanni Piranesi, one of the most prolific printmakers of the 18th century.
Ade Bethune, who made unique contributions during the 20th century to the field of sacred art and architecture as an artist, writer and liturgical consultant.
The collection also includes numerous works by former students and studio art professors. For example, the portrait of St. Catherine of Alexandria in the Derham Hall parlor was painted by St. Kate's first art instructor, Berissima Boog, CSJ. Twenty highly pigmented and vibrant woodcuts by Cecilia Lieder SP'64 (featured in SCAN, January 2008) are also on display on the building's first floor. And the seven-foot statue of Mary in front of Our Lady of Victory Chapel is the work of Professor Emeritus Peter Lupori.
Home away from home
Fine art serves many purposes. It's a symbol of wealth and power to some; a means to decorate and breathe life into a room; or a visually stimulating way to teach, inform and momentarily transport the viewer to another place or state of mind.
"Art has the capacity to move people beyond their immediate experience," says Michael Peterson, director of counseling and student development on the Minneapolis campus. "Its transcendent nature affects our mood and our ability to learn."
Take two of the three abstract paintings outside Peterson's office, for example. With Daniels' help, he chose the painting closest to the window because its green elements reflect nature and bring a sense of freshness to the hallway of the Old Main building. Together they chose the canvas with a blue majestic wave for its ability both to attract attention and inspire calm.
"Students typically visit us when something has happened in their lives," explains Peterson, a licensed psychologist. "I wanted to add some color to the white walls and create a positive, welcoming environment for them as they walk toward the counseling center."
Linda Mix Yates M'12, an artist who graduated from St. Kate's Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program in May, believes in the ability of art "to heal, stir imagination and emotion, and to touch people." She created and donated "Turning Point" to the University two months before she graduated. The 42-inch circular mosaic hangs in the OTA wing on the Minneapolis campus. "I wanted to celebrate the transition I was making from full-time artist to student," she says, "and to give back to the institution that helped me make that transition."
St. Kate's adds to its permanent collection each year by purchasing unique pieces from the Juried Senior Exhibition, on display in the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery each spring. This student artwork typically is displayed in Coeur de Catherine.
Similarly, 40 of the nearly 50 works of art on the Minneapolis campus were created by alumnae during their time as students. Most of the student artwork in Minneapolis, however — and all the prints hanging in Caecilian and Crandall residence halls in St. Paul — come from the flat-file cabinets originally organized by Ann Jennings SP'71, a former studio art professor.
"Ann intentionally collected sample prints in all her classes," explains Daniels of the cabinets now in her office.
Peterson and Residence Life director Heidi Anderson-Isaacson must pay to mat and frame the pieces they use. The cost is worth it, says Anderson-Isaacson, whose goal is to incorporate student artwork into one residence hall a year. "What I have learned about our founders is that hospitality and aesthetic were important to them," she says, "and those are qualities I try to think about when we're renovating spaces. We want to make our residence halls feel like home for students."
Michael Peterson, counseling and student development director on the Minneapolis campus, with "Turning Point," a mosaic donated by artist Linda Mix Yates M'12.
Tamnnet Kidanu SP'15, a resident advisor and public health major, has noticed the art in Crandall Hall and is not surprised to learn that the pieces were done by her peers. (The artwork currently has no placards.) "I took an art course last semester and saw beautiful work by many talented students," she says. "I'm happy that St. Kate's provides platforms for their work to be appreciated."
Art to lead and influence
The original goal of the Fine Art Collection was to expose students, faculty and staff to works of art in the classroom, as well as throughout campus. Today, St. Kate's has continued this objective with an eye on women artists in an effort to reinforce the University's vision and mission.
Art department faculty often pull from the more than 20 serigraphs by Corita Kent, IHM, the designer of the 1985 Love stamp — the U.S. Postal Services' first in the series — for typography or graphic design classes. In the fourth floor conference room of Derham Hall, "Small Miracles" — a bronze sculpture by Glenna Good-acre featuring a boy lowering a branch for a girl to return a bird's egg into a nest — can evoke a smile and inspire greatness. Goodacre is also the artist behind the Sacagawea dollar coin and many significant sculptures across the United States, including the Vietnam Women's War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Irish Memorial in Philadelphia.
"We choose art deliberately," says Daniels. "Our role is not to compete with the big art museums, but to energize and support students — and inform or excite everyone else who walks on our campuses."
Since 2009, Daniels has tapped students from the art history department and the master of library and information science program in building a digital inventory of the collection. About one-third is now available online, with an image and the artist information.
"Art is ubiquitous at St. Kate's," says Amy Hamlin, an art history professor who chose to frame the 18 prints from the Fine Art Collection that hang in the lecture hall of the Visual Arts Building. "Gesamtkunstwerk, which means 'total work of art,' is an essential component — indeed, experience — of a St. Kate's education. All of the art at St. Kate's has this potential to transform."