"Tender" by Sister Corita, 1974, Collection of Lucia Eames

A blaze of bright color and bold graphics by Sister Corita (1918-1986; born Frances Elizabeth Kent, aka Sister Mary Corita and Sister Corita Kent) abound in this celebration of her life and impact at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art (through June 5, 2011). Additionally fleshing out the importance of this influential West Coast Pop artist, innovative educator, and activist are ephemera, such as copies of the educational books Corita wrote; personal letters and photographs; and films and videos about the artist’s career and life. The exhibition “E is for Everyone: Celebrating Sister Corita” emphasizes key works from the 1960s, such as the iconic Power Up and Tender images as well as her close relationship with design couple Charles and Ray Eames.

Corita is known for crossing boundaries, be they creative or social. This comes through in this intimate (the museum encompasses one large gallery space) but still powerful exhibition. She was on the vanguard of pop and graphic art, working primarily in the discipline of screen-printing. The serigraphs she created combined graphic art, typography, music lyrics, social commentary, and literature to create her unique style. (Her teaching also reflected her cross-disciplinary interests; Corita co-taught classes at the Immaculate Heart College Art Department in Hollywood with such cultural icons as Alfred Hitchcock, John Cage, and Buckminster Fuller as well as the Eameses.) Her choice of medium fit well with her interest in social change and working class outlook on art and art-making, as her prints were easy to widely distribute and recreate. And they were: Corita was commissioned by Amnesty International and International Walk for Hunger, among other socially conscious organizations. Perhaps most widely known is her “Love” stamp, issued in 1985, and her notecards for the Campaign for Human Development (a collection of which are featured here).

"Power Up (A)" by Sister Corita, 1965, Collection of the Corita Art Center

Corita’s provocative spirit did not go unnoticed during her lifetime; in 1967 she was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine; the cover line read: “The Nun: Going Modern.” And her influence continues: one can find correlations between the twenty-one works on show to contemporary artists such as Shepard Fairey, Ed Ruscha, and Pae White, and curators, graphic artists, and students continue to rediscover and draw from her work and teachings.

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