Who was Sister Corita? To start with, she was a woman who would have three names by the end of her life, each representing that chapter her journey was in. Born Frances Elizabeth Kent, she would enter the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart at age 18, becoming Sister Mary Corita Kent, then after over 30 years, she would leave them and become Corita Kent.
She was a creative person that made her students think, see/look, and do it outside of the box. During a time of cultural revolution, anti-war protests and civil rights, she and some of her fellow teachers would try and modernize things, make their students do their own peace/hope marches, and therefore, drawing the disapproval of more traditional members of the church. But until she left the order, she would be a force of nature by telling her students to look at a glass jar for an hour, make 100 drawings as a project in a night, go out and question the rules of art, even their own rules. And each day one should have a new set of rules. She taught them to see the things you might miss, and took the beauty from the ordinary and made art. She would also take pieces of a glossy magazine, cut out words and become surprised when they were pieced together because even she didn’t know what they would say. She would become known as a Pop Art Nun and I took away from my reading that her works could have rivaled people like Andy Warhal, a person she seemed to appreciate as he would challenge people’s perceptions and make the ordinary into art. She would be asked to create the largest copyrighted rainbow art for a Boston Gas Company, and soon before her death, she would have a US postage stamp created with her work on it.
And all that, and more, is between the covers of two picture books. The first, Sister Corita’s Words and Shapes by Jeanette Winter (though currently available, I read it via an online reader copy). This book has some things included in the second book, Signs of Hope: The Revolutionary Art of Sister Corita Kent by Mara Rockliff, but also things not included in it. And of course, the same can be said for Rockliff’s book. But both have enough to really get me interested and I will be looking into finding a third picture book Make Meatballs Sing : The Life and Art of Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Kara Kramer. As well as anything she might have written herself in a picture book or art book format (I am not looking for non-fiction commentary or anything religious). What makes the two books I read (and I’m assuming the third) really different is their art. While sometimes the images feel inspired by Kent, they also take on their own illustrator’s style. Winter illustrates her book and Melissa Sweet (with their fun and quirky style) illustrates Rockliff’s book (due in mid-April 2024, I also read this via an online reader copy).
Both books are fantastic art books, history books, women’s history books, and even have a smidgen of religion, but overall they are books about Kent and how she taught and lived her art. They are about seeing, about peace, and challenging yourself. The tones of the two are different, but fit the style of images. Winter’s book has a more traditional feel, whereas Rockliff’s is more unusual and bolder, yet both feel like they keep the spirit of Kent alive and well. There is a quirkiness for the art that spills into the text. And the story mostly counters this with straightforward commentary on things. The titles focus on one part of the overall life, but I was pleased to see how Kent’s full picture is also not ignored.