Work for General Synod 30 gets a boost, Cleveland style

It’s a perfect partnership of vision, social justice and spiritual surprises. The United Church of Christ General Synod 30 organizing committee kicked off fundraising efforts with an event at the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), preparing for 2015 when the denomination’s biennial event will be held in Cleveland, June 26-30. The event, Wonderful Surprises in Unexpected Places, brought together more than 70 donors for a reception at MOCA with the national officers of the church and the chairperson of the United Church of Christ Board, followed by a private viewing of the exhibit, Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent.

The exhibit, the first full-scale survey of Sister Mary Corita Kent’s 30-year artistic career, runs through Aug. 31 at MOCA. The United Church of Christ is helping to sponsor this exhibit not only because of the denomination’s historic relationship with the artist – the Pilgrim Press published a book on Sister Corita in 1968 – and the exhibit’s slant toward social justice, but also because the centerpiece of the show, Kent’s largest-ever piece displayed at the 1964 World’s Fair, was discovered in the UCC archives just months ago.

“This event was truly a celebration of faith and action – as is the ‘Someday is Now’ exhibit,” said Cheryl Joseph Williams, director of philanthropy and stewardship for the UCC. “Both the event and the exhibit have resoundingly set the stage for the UCC’s General Synod 30 – both by providing more than $6,500 to help the Local Arrangements Committee’s volunteer efforts, and by focusing us on the continuing need – and call for – a bold, public voice in response to social justice.”

Funds raised at the event will directly benefit the Local Arrangements Committee for General Synod 30, and assist with volunteer expenses, including travel and accommodations, registration fees, and other program expenses, including childcare and hospitality.

“The Ohio Conference is busy preparing for an extravagant welcome of the more than 4,000 delegates and visitors to General Synod next summer,” said Sue Wimer, co-chair of the event’s Local Arrangements Committee. Wimer, and her husband, Derran, are members of First Congregational Church in Hudson, Ohio, serving as the committee co-chairs responsible for coordinating and leading nearly 500 volunteers to assist with hosting the event in June 2015. “Events like [the MOCA reception] are helping us to reach our fundraising goals in order to ensure that each delegate, visitor, and volunteer has a wonderful experience at General Synod next summer.”

UCC national officers, including the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, and the Rev. James Moos, spoke about the work for civil rights and social justice that linked the UCC and the artist back in the early days of the denomination. Board Chairperson, the Rev. Bernard Wilson, provided a word of welcome and thanks to those in attendance. All these leaders shared their continued commitment to the church’s bold, public voice in social justice issues and acknowledged that philanthropy and stewardship among its churches and members can help further amplify this voice and the hands-on work to bring full equality to all of God’s people.

Following the reception, attendees strolled through the “Someday is Now” exhibit, highlighted by the Beatitudes Wall, a paint-on-canvas banner, which was created 50 years ago for the World’s Fair in New York. It drew a crowd, fitting for the centerpiece of this exhibit, chosen after MOCA curators came to the national headquarters of the UCC to examine the piece on March 18. “Finding out about this incredible piece, right here in Cleveland, sent some shockwaves through our curatorial team,” said Rose Bouthillier, associate curator and publication manager for MOCA. “It’s quite the coincidence.”

The MOCA exhibit traces Sister Corita’s evolution from her early and somewhat traditional religious prints in the 1950s, to the bright and bold graphics of the 1960s and 70s.

“The MOCA exhibition virtually explodes off the walls with Corita’s eye-grabbing combinations of text and colors that exploit both the meaning of individual words, and the shapes and fonts of the letters that comprise them,” wrote Steven Litt, art and architectural writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Sister Mary Corita, whose signature is visible in the lower-right corner of the Beatitudes canvas, used a mix of Bible scripture and quotes from Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy to create the mural. It’s a bold, bright, happy, but spiritually moving piece of art. She painted three 40-foot banners for the Vatican Exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair and chose Beatitudes Wall to display. On public display for the first time in more than 40 years, Litt says the canvas is a summation of Corita’s vision.

Frances Elizabeth Corita Kent was born in Iowa in 1918 and grew up in a Catholic family in Los Angeles. She joined the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1936, taking the name Sister Mary Corita, earning a bachelor’s degree at Immaculate Heart College in 1941. She taught grade school in Los Angeles before returning to Immaculate Heart to teach art, while working on a master’s degree in art history at the University of Southern California. Sister Corita worked with students at Immaculate Heart of Mary for more than 20 years, urging them to discover new ways of experiencing the world. 

As the MOCA exhibition documents, Sister Corita created religious art that lifted up revelation in everyday life. Her pop-inspired prints pose questions about war, racism, poverty and religion.

In 1968, Sister Corita left the order and moved to Boston to devote herself to her work full time, becoming known formally as Corita Kent, but more often referred to as simply Corita. She died in Boston in 1986, after a battle with cancer.

“Corita’s simple, yet sophisticated, art perfectly encapsulates the social and artistic revolutions of the 1960s in ways that feel edgy and wise, but also highly approachable,” writes Litt, in his published review. “Her ability to find a voice for her insights through art was a blessing for her, and one that continues to pay fresh dividends today, nearly 30 years after her death.”

The crowd and the art experts soundly agreed with that assessment, with one commenting that some of the messages could have been created yesterday, by someone in the UCC.

“I ultimately think the [United Church of Christ] took an important step in helping her work return to the public eye. I’d like to think that Kent would agree,” said Heather Galloway, painting conservator from the ICA-Art Conservation group in Cleveland, brought in by the UCC to do some restoration work to the Beatitudes mural. “What a surprise for all to find out that the UCC was holding such a gem.”

Now the hunt is on for a place to hang it once again at the UCC headquarters.

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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