Today is the 96th birthday Sister Mary Corita Kent. Google Doodle is celebrating her birthday today. You should too. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
Name: Frances Elisabeth Kent
Occupation: Nun, Artist, Educator
Birth Date: November 20,1918
Death Date: September 18, 1986
Education: Columbia University
Place of Birth: Fort Dodge, Iowa
Also Known As: Sister Mary Corita Kent
Corita Kent, also known as Sister Corita, gained international fame for her vibrant serigraphs during the 1960s and 1970s. A Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, she ran the Art Department at Immaculate Heart College until 1968 when she left the Order and moved to Boston. Corita’s art reflects her spirituality, her commitment to social justice, her hope for peace, and her delight in the world that takes place all around us.
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 her activism—in Corita’s 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 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 at a friend’s home.