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LOS ANGELES ART COMMUNITY: GROUP PORTRAIT
Interviewed by Bernard Galm
Completed under the auspices
Oral History Program
University of California
Copyright (c) 1977
The Regents of the University of California
This manuscript is hereby made available for research
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript,
including the right to publication, are reserved to the
University Library of the University of California at
Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted
for publication without the written permission of the
University Librarian of the University of California
at Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELES ART COMMUNITY: GROUP PORTRAIT
This interview is one of a series, entitled "Los Angeles
Art Community: Group Portrait," funded by the National
Endowment for the Humanities and conducted from July 1,
1975 to March 31, 1977 by the UCLA Oral History Program.
The project was directed jointly by Page Ackerman,
University Librarian, and Gerald Nordland, Director,
UCLA Art Galleries, and administered by Bernard Galm,
Director, Oral History Program. After selection of
interview candidates and interviewers, the Program
assumed responsibility for the conduct of all interviews
and their processing.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Interview History xii
TAPE I, SIDE ONE (April 6, 1976) 1
Birth in Fort Dodge, Iowa--Childhood in
Vancouver and then Hollywood--A Catholic
education--Early art interest, education
and experience — Family life — Alois Schardt,
a great teacher--Charles Eames — A childhood
delight in words — Words in prints — Decision
to become a nun--Missionary work in British
Columbia--Teaching and learning (Immaculate
Heart College, Chouinard, Woodbury, USC) —
Sister Magdalen Mary — Travels: visiting
New York galleries and collecting European
folk art--Building the IHC art department —
The Lord Is with Thee , first important
print--The Great Men series at IHC — A
lesson in serigraphy technique--Graduate
work at USC--Interest in abstract
expressionism--A visit with Ben Shahn.
TAPE I, SIDE TWO (April 6, 1976) 29
Los Angeles art scene in the fifties —
Ceremony — Mary's Days--Celebration and
criticism--Organic and dead traditions —
Social justice themes — Building blocks —
The folk art collection--Charles Eames —
Teaching teachers — Early printmaking —
Working with Harry Hambly — Gathering
quotations — The Impasse of figurative
art--From medieval models to abstract
expressionism--Words as initial ways into
works — Curled words--Inf luence of other
religious art — A rejection — Mural for
Vatican Pavilion, 1964 World's Fair —
Other contacts with the church--Kent
family reaction to art work — Influence
of students--Teaching methods: sheer
quantity--Emphasizing the creative over
the analytical--Grading and attendance--
Displays for the National Art Education
TAPE II, SIDE ONE (April 6, 1976) 58
NAEA display--Banner shows for the American
Institute of Architects and the Los Angeles
County Museum--Inf luence of the banners--
[Second Part] (April 13, 1976) 63
More on banners — "Survival with Style"
exhibit--World Council of Churches
exhibit in Uppsala--The Geneva show,
1970--Social consciousness: Daniel Berrigan
and other inf luences--Thoinas Merton — An
aversion to proselytizing: Jews in class--
Commitment expressed through art--Student
restiveness over group projects--IBM
Christmas show in New York, 1963--Timidity
of student activism at IHC--Vatican
Pavilion Wall, 1964 — The Westinghouse series
and the Container Corporation ad--A happening
for the Westinghouse Company meetings.
TAPE II, SIDE TWO (April 13, 1976) 85
Happenings--Disassociating creative from
critical functions--A happening for theologians
at Yale--Quality--Overcoming the false
prejudice against "ugliness" : tire companies —
Living in Boston vs. Hollywood — Use of commercial
phrases in prints — Luke 2:14,51 and In — Color —
Calmer colors in recent work — Student restiveness
over group projects and requirements — Intrusion
of personal fame--Being an artist vs. being a
teacher--Decision to stop teaching — Discouraging
would-be artists — Celia Hubbard and the Botolph
Group--A Boston tea party, Christmas 1969 —
Channeling of profits and prestige back into
IHC — Administrative role in the college--Ventures
into publishing: Footnotes and Headlines and the
Believe-In series — Easter "tomatoes."
TAPE III, SIDE ONE (April 13, 1976) Ill
More on Mary as "tomato".
[video] (April 20, 1976) 112
The Corita Prints gallery — Starting the
gallery--Adult education classes--Making
banners — Need for a gallery--Evolution of
the gallery--Frames and sizes--Jack Mullen's
promotional work--TYpes of clients--Mary
Downey's recollection of Corita as a child;
family's reaction to her becoming a nun--
Gallery schedules — The High Cards--Never-
Again show and other exhibits — A survey of
representative prints: The Lord Is with
Thee ; religious art of the fifties;
Benedictio ; 1^ Love You Very --Words from
billboards, ads--Printing on pellon--Doing
prints for money-raising groups — Printmaking
technique — Watercolors and paintings--Rainbow
series--Using photographs--Shell writing
series--Changing use of color--Work from
TAPE III, SIDE TWO [video] (April 20, 1976) 140
The "Corita" signature on gallery fence —
The Greatest Show of Worth (circus alphabet) --
Love series--Participation in the local art
scene--Decision by Immaculate Heart nuns to
form a lay religious community--Rigidity of
the Los Angeles hierarchy — Attitudes of the
Catholic community and the IHC alumni — "A
Nun Is a Woman" — The decision to leave the
Index of Corita Kent Works 157
[Photograph of Corita Kent by Nancy Olexo]
Frances Elizabeth (Corita) Kent was born in Fort
Dodge, Iowa, to Robert Vincent Kent and Edith Genevieve
Sanders, November 20, 1918. In order to pursue business
interests, her father relocated the family in Vancouver,
Canada, where they remained for several years. He then
moved to California, where the family settled and where
Frances attended school.
Her interest in art was evident when she was a child;
she enjoyed designing, drawing, and printing. Her enthusiasm
attracted the attention of an art teacher who encouraged
her by giving her private art classes after school. Her
parents also supported her and always urged her to be
original in her artistic endeavors.
After high school, Frances entered the Immaculate
Heart of Mary religious community and took the name Sister
Mary Corita. She earned her BA from Immaculate Heart
College in 1941. She also took classes at Otis and
Chouinard art institutes, and in 1951 she earned her
master's degree in art history at University of Southern
As a member of the Immaculate Heart community and
college faculty, Sister Corita came in contact with
Dr. Alois Schardt and Charles Fames; they played a major
role in guiding her artistic and intellectual direction.
Through them she learned the value of change and
constancy in art, ideas which concurred with her own
growing dissatisfaction with the limitations of figurative
art. Abstract expressionism attracted her, and she
explored its possibilities, using the insight gained
from Schardt and Eames. From Mrs. Alfredo Martinez, the
widow of the renowned Mexican muralist, she acquired the
skills of serigraphy.
In 1952 her serigraph The Lord Is with Thee won
first prize at the Los Angeles County Museum show,
California State Fair, and many other shows. These
successes encouraged her tremendously and impelled her to
continue in the direction she had begun. In her work,
which has often been referred to as liturgical or religious
art ("anything that was any good had a religious quality"),
Corita achieves a freshness and joy. Her goal is to
synthesize reasoning with the intuitive, and the critical
with the creative.
As head of the Immaculate Heart College Department of
Art from 1964 to 1968, Sister Corita established its art
program as one of the more progressive in the country.
She helped begin a folk art collection and expanded it
through purchases made in Europe and America. She
initiated the Great Men series, a dialogue series which
brought eminent artists and thinkers, such as Charles
Eames, Buckminster Fuller, Peter Yates, and Virgil
Thomson, into contact with the college community, partic-
ularly the students of the art department. To further
enrich their learning program. Sister Corita also involved
her students in commissioned projects, such as IBM's
Christmas exhibit in New York, Peace on Earth , Good Will
to Men .
During the 1960s and early '70s, Corita ' s friendship
and esteem for Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Joseph Pintauro,
and Gerald Huckaby led to her collaboration on several of
their publications. Through her art, she echoed — and
supported — their socially and politically conscious state-
ments. The civil rights movement and the Vietnam war
were already stimulating the awareness of the Immaculate
Heart community. This perception was instilled into the
students' sensibilities and challenged them to speculate
broad, catholic themes and statements in their discussions,
and to incorporate them in their works. Such enlightenment
within the community supported Corita 's artistic statements,
though they were frequently criticized by many others
as too radical.
The I.H.M. community never levied any kind of
restrictions on Sister Corita ' s artistic endeavors; and
in 1968, her quest for individualism (which until then
had only asserted itself through her art) surfaced in
her decision to leave the religious community. Her
separation immediately preceded the community's decision
to establish its own decrees of renewal; and in 1968,
she retired from teaching to devote full-time attention
to her work.
Corita has executed many commercial commissions,
and she has made prints for Container Corporation, Reynolds
Aluminum, and International Graphic Arts Society. For
the 1964 New York World's Fair, she designed the Beatitude
Wall , a forty-foot mural for the Vatican Pavilion.
Corita 's works are in permanent collections at
several museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum
in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of
Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Biblio-
theque Nationale in Paris. Among her better-known
public works are the 150-foot rainbow for the Boston
Gas Company's natural gas tank overlooking Dorchester
Bay, a twenty-foot mural for the Bon Secour Hospital
in Methoun, Massachusetts, and her series of prints
published in various national magazines.
She has been named to the "Top Nine Women of the
Year" by the Los Angeles Times, and was recognized in
Harper ' s Bazaar ' s special edition of "American Women of
Miss Kent resides in Boston, where she works on
commissioned projects and designs prints for distribution
to the twenty-six galleries which represent her across
In the following pages, which consist of a verbatim
transcript of tape-recorded interviews made with the
UCLA Oral History Program, Corita Kent recalls her
experiences as an artist and reflects on her years as an
instructor at Immaculate Heart College. This interview
is part of a project, "Los Angeles Art Community: Group
Portrait," funded through a grant from the National
Endowment for the Humanities.
INTERVIEWER: Bernard Galm, Director, UCLA Oral
History Program. BA, English, St. John's
University, Collegeville, Minnesota. Fulbright
Scholar, 1957-58, Free University, Berlin, Germany.
Graduate Study at Yale School of Drama and UCLA
Department of Theater Arts.
TIME AND SETTING OF INTERVIEW:
Place ; Home of Mary Kent Downey, 10847 Morrison
Street, North Hollywood, and Corita Kent's gallery,
5126 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood [video session]
Dates : April 6, 13, 20 [video session], 1976.
Time of day , length of sessions , and total number
of recording hours : The sessions took place in the
early afternoon and averaged two hours in length.
Approximately four hours were recorded.
Persons present : Corita Kent and Galm. Mary Downey
and Gladys Collins participated in the video session;
Nancy Olexo and Francine Breslin were present to
operate video equipment.
CONDUCT OF THE INTERVIEW:
In preparation, the interviewer studied biographical
material supplied by the Corita Kent gallery in
North Hollywood. He also viewed the gallery's large
collection of her prints and other works and spoke
with her sister, Mary Downey, and Gladys Collins,
who together operate the gallery; they offered
personal recollections of Corita and suggested
possible questions for the interview.
The interviewer pursued a full biographical study
within a chronological framework, beginning with a
discussion of her family background, childhood, and
education, then a discussion of her vocation as a
nun and her companion career as artist and teacher
at Immaculate Heart College. In the video session
she was asked to comment on individual art works
and speak about her decision to leave the Immaculate
Heart community and how her subsequent life has
Editing was done by Lawrence Weschler, Assistant
Editor, Oral History Program. He checked the
verbatim transcript of the interview against the
original tape recordings and edited for punctuation,
paragraphing, correct spelling, and verification of
proper and place names. The final manuscript
remains in the same order as the original taped
material. Words and phrases inserted by the editor
have been bracketed.
Corita Kent reviewed and approved the edited tran-
script. She made minor corrections and supplied
spellings of names not previously verified.
Lawrence Weschler prepared the index and other
front matter. Rebecca Andrade, Oral History Program,
wrote the introduction.
The original tape recordings, including the video
tape, and the edited transcript of the interview
are in the University Archives and are available
under the regulations governing the use of non-
current records of the University.
Records relating to the interview are in the office
of the UCLA Oral History Program.
TAPE NUMBER: I, SIDE ONE
APRIL 6, 1976
GALM: Miss Kent, we usually start these interviews by
getting some important facts such as when you were born,
and where you were born.
CORITA: Um-hmm. I was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1918.
GALM: What was the month and day?
CORITA: November 20.
GALM: And I know from my research that the family didn't
spend much time there.
CORITA: No, we left, I think, when I was about eighteen
months, and we moved to Vancouver. We stayed there for maybe
a couple of years, because when we then moved to Los Angeles,
I was not yet ready for school. So I remember that I must
have been by that time maybe four or five.
GALM: What had your father been doing in Fort Dodge?
CORITA: He was working with my mother's father in--what was
their business? My grandfather had a farm, but he also had
another business, but I can't think what it was. And then
another brother came in, and there wasn't enough space for
both of them. So then my father joined his brother, who
had a restaurant in Vancouver, And that's why we moved there
— it was for his work.
GALM: Had the Kents settled in Iowa?
CORITA: Yes, my grandmother and grandfather — these were the
Sanders, now — my mother's mother and father had the farm.
And the Kents had lived in Minnesota--Minneapolis . And
how they got together I don't know. [laughter] Missed
that part of the history. We're terrible about the history
of our family.
GALM: Are those English or Irish?
CORITA: Irish, yes.
GALM: On both sides?
CORITA: No, my father, his parents were both born in
Ireland. And my mother's father was born in Holland, and
my grandmother was French-Canadian--and then previous to that,
the family was in Chartres, that side of the family.
GALM: How many family members preceded you? How many
CORITA: We were six, and I was the fifth.
GALM: So then the family settled in Vancouver, and your
father would have worked in the restaurant business for a
while. What brought him to Hollywood?
CORITA: I don't know what brought him to Hollywood, except
that I remember we came on a boat. [laughter] Ship, I
guess, in those days. But we came--it was probably, again,
a matter of work. But I don't remember what changed to
bring him down here. But meanwhile, my mother's parents had
moved out here. My grandfather must have been a very enter-
prising man in those days, being that age, and had bought
property in Hollywood. He had, oh, several units, which he
rented. And then we lived in one of those. And after my
grandfather and grandmother died, my mother managed that
until — really, until she died.
GALM: Where was that located?
CORITA: It was 6616 De Longpre Avenue.
GALM: Right in the heart of Hollywood.
CORITA: Right in Hollywood, yes. Vie used to ... . At
that time there was a vacant lot where there are now build-
ings, and across the street was this De Longpre Park, which
used to be called something else. But I think it's now
back to De Longpre. It's just one--like a half a block.
And there was moviemaking going on there, I remember, from
time to time. So we were that close to Hollywood. That
was about it.
GALM: So then when it was time to go to school, where did
CORITA: I went to school about three or four blocks away,
at the Catholic elementary school. Blessed Sacrament
[School] , which is on Sunset, and I went there for nine
years. At that time they had a junior high system. And
then I went to Catholic Girls High, which is now called
Conaty High, on Pico street, which was a school for girls
taught by different communities of nuns. And when I finished
high school, I went that summer to Otis Art Institute, and
then the following September , I entered the community
at Immaculate Heart.
GALM: How did you decide to go to Otis during the summer?
CORITA: Well, I had always been interested in art, since
the time I was really a young kid.
GALM: How young a kid?
CORITA: Let's see, how young a kid? I can remember
always making things, like designing things, paper dolls
and their clothes, and then drawing. And I had a couple
of nuns, especially one — in the sixth grade, I think--who
at that time was taking courses herself at UCLA and took
quite an interest in my talent; and she gave me the classes
that she was getting. So it was really great fun. This was
after school on a private basis, and I think that was the
real beginning of that kind of encouragement. My parents —
my father especially had always been very encouraging. But
both my parents were always encouraging. I took it very
lightly; I didn't think of it as being anything too much.
But I was always interested. I did the posters in school
and all that.
GALM: What form did this encouragement from your father
CORITA: Well, it was interesting because outside of that
one nun. Sister Noemi--who was really, I think, on to a more
stable grasp of the field--most of the training I had was
really very bad. I took art in high school, and we had
this dear old nun who would let us copy things. We got to
choose what we were to copy, and that was the extent of
freedom there. [laughter] I missed the first year because
I came in as a sophomore, but I think the first year we
could choose anything from the drawer that had pencil
drawings, and copy from that. And we would enlarge them.
The second year was charcoal, and the third year was pen-
and-ink. And the fourth year, which I never got to, was
oil painting. [laughter] So it was very .... And I
remember my f ather--getting back to that question--always
saying, "Why don't you do something original?" And it just
never occurred to me. I think as a younger child I did
things out of my head. But then I got into this kind of
training, and I thought that that's the way to ... . I
found in later years, though certainly it was balanced from
a lot of other things, that it was not a bad thing to have
as a kind of discipline and control, in a sense. In a lot
of other ways it was terribly harmful because--certainly it's
not the way I would go about teaching art to young people.
GALM: Did your father have some of the artist in him?
CORITA: Very much so, and I think it never got a chance to
be developed because — well, I think he was probably meant
to be a poet. He could play the piano; he was just a really
fun guy. And he was burdened, I think, by six kids. And
my mother, too, I think was really probably meant to be
more a person of my kind of life, who had a chance to
develop her own thing. So they were both, I think, people
who were saddled with six kids at a time when Catholics
had lots of kids--and I guess Catholics still do. [laughter]
GALM: If they're good Catholics.
CORITA: And so my father, I think, really would have loved
to, was really gifted in his own right, and probably
instinctively saw that in me as something he didn't have a
chance to develop, and he meant to see, or was hoping, that
I would. But he died when he was fifty-six, so he really
didn't have much chance to see what happened--except I think
he sees it from another space. [laughter]
GALM: Was there any art in the home?
CORITA: No, the usual reproductions, you know, that ....
GALM: It would have been more religious art?
CORITA: No, not necessarily. I can remember — and I should
be able to say the artist — that kind of grand nineteenth-
century picture of the three horses' heads. You probably
have seen it.
GALM: Nothing comes to mind.
CORITA: Well, that, I remember, was in my parents' bedroom.
Then there were a lot of my own things always framed around
the house that I had done on my own in high school.
GALM: Did you sense in later years that the poster work
that you'd done was really the beginning of the later work?
CORITA: Never thought of it until you just said so. Uh-huh.
No. But the first time I used words in a picture was
probably back in the early fifties. I began very soon after,
when I began my prints. I began printing in 1951, and it
was in those early prints that they did have words in. And
I remember we had this very remarkable professor come to
teach for us who had come from Germany with the general
exodus in Hitler years. He had been the director of painting
at the Berlin museum, I think, and was just a--oh, one of
the greatest men I've ever known. Besides being a very good
art historian, he had fathered many of the group, like
[Paul] Klee and [Vasili] Kandinski, had arranged for some of
their first one-man shows and that sort of thing, was a
good friend of [Lyonel] Feininger (they were very close
friends up until the end) . And I think he was the one who
first — I always count him and Charles Eames as the people
who educated me. Even going through school, the teachers
I had were — many of them were probably splendid, but those
were the men who really had, I think, the ability to pass
on concepts, and not so much a string of facts.
GALM: Was that Mr. Laporte?
CORITA: No, this is Dr. [Alois] Schardt, who preceded him.
GALM: And he came out of Berlin?
CORITA: Paul Laporte also came from Germany. There was
just I think a year in between when we lost Dr. Schardt
and found Dr. Laporte.
GALM: Where did he go from Immaculate Heart?
CORITA: Dr. Schardt?
CORITA: He died.
GALM: Oh, he died.
CORITA: Yes, in Christmas of — '56 comes to me, but I
wouldn't be terribly sure of that date.
GALM: Did he come directly then from Berlin, or at least
from Europe, to Immaculate Heart?
CORITA: No, I think he must have been around for a while
before we found him. And at that time, he was also teaching
courses at USC and Claremont. But he was a great combination
of a real mystic, if I've ever known one, and a genuine
historian. And he just had a remarkable sense of drama as
a teacher. He really hated teaching; he just dreaded it.
Monday morning: "This is no way to begin a week," as he
always said, and I think felt especially cursed with teaching
young kids, because their education in his eyes was just so
abysmal. [laughter] He would talk about things that they
had never heard of. They just didn't know stories from the
Bible when he was trying to just tell the content of a
picture, and he just couldn't believe what they didn't know.
GALM: Did he think that American education was to blame, or
was it ... ?
CORITA: Oh, I'm sure he did, yes.
GALM: Do you think of any other stories that might illumin-
ate his personality or his mystical quality?
CORITA: Well, there was one marvelous scene I have in my
mind. At that time at school, we were making banners and
getting people to bring us all their junk jewelry and old
beads and buttons and things, and we had a great box of them.
And I remember walking into the room once, where this box
was. The light was not on, so it was in darkness, and here
was Dr. Schardt. He was a large man, with white hair, and
with great presence. And here he was, bending over this box,
picking up pieces of jewelry. And he said, "I have a tree
at home" — I don't know what he called it, the tree of wonder
or the tree of delights or something like that — and he said,
"I'm looking for pieces to hang on it." And this was a
branch, a big branch with many little branches. But he had
that kind of quality that really had reached the simplicity
that you read about, that you would like to reach — you
know, the simplicity of a child. And then I remember once
when Mortimer Adler came to school to speak to the students,
I was sitting next to Dr. Schardt. And at one point he
pulled a piece of paper and pencil out of his pocket and
started, and I thought, "Well, this is sort of the supreme
honor to Adler, to have Dr. Schardt take down something he
said." [laughter] I didn't really notice what he was
doing, but pretty soon he handed me this piece of paper,
and it was a drawing, a beautifully simple drawing of a
rose, open, looking full into it. And he said to me, "This
is the mystical rose. This is going to be my design when
I make my banner." [laughter]
GALM: So he wasn't even listening to Adler at all.
CORITA: And then the next day, the next class we had, this
very bright young nun came in. She was all agog from Adler 's
talk, so she said to Dr. Schardt, "Wasn't he marvelous?"
And Dr. Schardt said, "Well, he is a bright young man," or
something to that effect. The young nun thought he hadn't
really understood what Adler had said, so she began to tell
him what his talk was about, to explain it to him. It was
a marvelous thing. [laughter]
But it seems to me that at the same time — back into the
room where he was choosing the jewelry — Charles Eames had
come, dropped in for something. He had just come home from
an exchange program between Germany and the United States.
The German artists were to come here and bring something
of America home to Germany, and vice versa. And Charles had
chosen to do the two churches--you may have seen his film
called Two Baroque Churches [ in Germany ] ; one is Vierzen-
Heiligen and the other is Ottobeuren, Franciscan and Benedic-
tine baroque churches--because he thought that was a marvelous
example to young architects of real enthusiasm that flowered
into work, instead of just kind of heady stuff onto the
drawing board adapted from somebody else's something. So he
was fresh home from Germany, and he was describing these
churches, which were of course very familiar to Dr. Schardt
— the great drama of the architects. I think it was Vierzen-
Heiligen where the approach is extremely simple farmland;
and this is the way the film begins, showing the patterns
of the earth and the growing green things. So that's
rather plain and flat. And then the facade of the church
is quite classical and simple, and then you open the door —
and Charles is describing this — and then you open the
door, and there's this great burst of, I don't know, like
theater or something. And they both said at once, "And
this was no accident!" [laughter] This was real planning.
And it was so marvelous to see the two of them together,
because of course Charles was much younger, and Dr. Schardt
so seldom, I think, met a person who was kind of equal to
him. He was always the sort of great-grandfather of it all.
GALM: Well, you mentioned that you were picking up concepts
from him. What concepts?
CORITA: I think the main thing I got from him was the sort
of the notion that change is the constant in art, and that
each period really came out of the blood and bones and life
of that time and couldn't be any other. He often took a
subject matter and would trace it back through the periods
and show how the same subject matter would be treated in
completely different manners by different ages, and the
difference between Northern and Southern Europe, how they
expressed things. So you got a sense that . . . because,
as I say, my knowledge was very ... I think I was in the
middle of my college education at that time. I had gone
through Immaculate Heart in kind of a fast way, while I was
teaching. I would take courses at night and on Saturdays,
and it was sort of squashed in between the teaching and what
you had to have ready for the next day. And so then when I
went to Victoria, B.C., it wasn't until I think in the late
forties that I came home from Canada and then finished my
M.A. at use. But it was during those years that I was part
going to school and part teaching that I used to — in fact,
I think for almost all of Dr. Schardt's classes, I showed
slides for him because I wanted to be there. I could do
it and hear him at the same time. But you didn't want to
miss anything he said.
GALM: Had your own art developed at that point? I mean,
could you see his influence upon your art, or ... ?
CORITA: No, not really, except that I had an exhibit which
I remember he came to, and he pointed to one of the pictures,
one of the very early ones [ Benedictio ] — well, this was a very
early-on exhibit — that had words in it. And he said, "Ah,
that is very good." And that from him was really fantastic,
[laughter] because he really didn't ever say anything much
about anything that was around. He said, "I think you have
done something very special"--or words to that ef f ect--"with
the words, the word and the other forms." That didn't
strike me--I mean, I didn't then start doing words and form
together because he said that. But a number of years later,
that came back to me, and I thought, huh, you know, I went
ahead and sort of developed that way. And how much that
small word of praise was unconsciously influential, I don't
GALM: What did words mean to you as a child? Did they have
CORITA: Yes, I always loved to read. I just was a great
GALM: I'm trying to picture Hollywood at the time, whether
it was as billboard-crazy as it is today or not.
CORITA: No, no, I think, especially our little neighborhood.
It was kind of a simple little neighborhood, almost like this,
and there really were no billboards, say, between home and
school, [laughter] or between home and Holly-. ... Of
course, Hollywood Boulevard was a very familiar stretch to
me. It wasn't quite as junky as it is now, but pretty much
so. It was never very great architecture. [laughter] But
I don't think the billboards or magazines — probably before
the picture magazines, certainly .... But as you say,
the fact that I had really — I think I always loved printing.
In fact, I remember a friend in high school--we used to
have kind of friendly rivalry going on together, and I
remember she said to me on one occasion, "You can print,
but I can draw." [laughter] So even my drawing ability
wasn't quite up to snuff — or she thought so.
GALM: Did you have any calligraphy in high school, or would
that come later?
CORITA: No, I really developed the — I mean, the posters I
just did without very much, if any, help from anybody.
The actual calligraphy came — well, there was a time when
I met Martin Oberstein, who is a calligrapher , and he gave
me a lesson. He'd dropped into the school for something and
showed me how to use broad-edged pen. So from then on I
was on my own and learned how to do that, and then I taught
it. But then finally, I suppose from seeing posters and
reproductions of posters, I got ideas of there being differ-
ent possibilities of using letter forms. And I always think
of the letter forms as much objects as people or flowers or
other subject matter. I don't think of them as anything
different. I think a picture with all words is as much a
picture as something with abstract shapes or recognizable
shapes. I think it's all a matter of the spacing and the
kind of totality of the picture that either looks good or
doesn't look good.
GALM: When you were doing these posters as a child, did
you always like to hand-letter them, rather than using a
form or cut-out letters?
CORITA: I think I always hand-lettered them because that
was the only way available to me, and I probably hadn't
thought of any other way of doing it. I would illustrate
them from time to time, too, so it wasn't just printing.
GALM: Why don't we pick up with the chronology? At what
point did you decide that you wanted to become a nun?
CORITA: That was just after high school.
GALM: So it wasn't something that was always . . . ?
CORITA: Yes, in fact, my very closest friend was just
utterly shocked when I told her, during the summer after we
graduated, that I was going to enter this community. So
it was a well-guarded secret. I don't remember keeping it
a secret, but I guess I just didn't talk about it. And she
said, "When did you make up your mind?" And I said, "I
don't know. I think I just always have wanted to be."
GALM: Had anyone preceded you into the order at that point?
CORITA: Yes, it was a typical Catholic family. I had an
older brother [Mark] who was a priest and an older sister
[Sister Ruth] who had entered that same community. These
were the nuns who taught me in grammar school.
GALM: How much older is the older sister?
CORITA: Let's see, I'm going to be fifty-seven this year,
and she must be sixty-four.
GALM: So having religious in the family was sort of a
common thing, growing up?
CORITA: Oh, yes, and I'm sure my parents had the general
idea that this was a great thing to be.
GALM: In one interview or article, it mentioned that you
had wanted to become a missionary sister. Is that accurate?
CORITA: No — you can't really believe all these things.
GALM: Well, that's why I asked — I thought we would at
X6u5'C • • • •
CORITA: In fact, I remember the community opened a house
in British Columbia, in which half of the nuns taught regular
Canadian children in the elementary school in the city, and
the other half taught on an Indian reservation. Everybody
was just dying to go, and I wasn't. I thought there must be
something wrong with me because I hadn't the slightest
desire to go. And then during that first year that that
mission had opened, one of the sisters up there became ill,
and I was sent up to replace her. All through that whole
period of my younger days in religious life, whenever I was
changed from one house to another house, I just really hated
to leave where I was; and then when I got to the new place,
I hated to leave that. But so I did teach in Canada. I
taught at the Indian school for about — let's see, I was
up there three and a half years, and I think I taught a
year and a half there, and the rest of the time at the
GALM: When you decided to enter the sisterhood, had you
seen yourself as becoming an elementary teacher?
CORITA: No, in fact, it's always very humorous to me when
I look back because I was quite sure that I couldn't teach.
I had a low estimation of my intelligence, and I thought
I really wouldn't ever be able to teach. And yet, that was
the only thing these nuns did.
GALM: You couldn't even be a cook-sister.
CORITA: No, I had no notion of being a cook-sister,
[laughter] I mean, I was very young, and that was how
unrealistic I was. As a matter of fact, I began teaching
almost as soon as I entered because I somehow was always
chosen to go when they needed a replacement, even though
I hadn't arrived at the teaching stage yet (because in the
first year, year and a half, you were being trained, and
you didn't teach at that time except in cases of extreme
emergency) . So I really got my beginning in teaching in a
very rough way because I had no training and not much
education at that time, having just finished high school.
GALM: Did that make it better or worse?
CORITA: Both, I think. [laughter] Yes.
GALM: So then the chronology after that: Did you get a
degree from Immaculate Heart?
CORITA: Yes, I got my B.A. from Immaculate Heart. And
then I began taking courses. I took courses at Chouinard,
and I took one summer at Woodbury and, I guess, several summers
at use, and then I went to Canada. And I think it was then
about '45 when the accreditors came to the college. At
that time there was just one full-time member of the art
department, and the other people were coming in from USC and
UCLA to teach a class or two. And the accreditation group
said that there would have to be at least two permanent
members. So, I guess, of the community, I was the one who
had the most points toward a degree and apparently the most
talent, so then I was sent back down. I taught part time
at the college and finished at USC whatever units I needed
to complete the degree.
GALM: Why were you sent, or why did you select USC?
CORITA: I think the general idea was that Sister Magdalen
Mary, who was the sole member of the art department, had
gotten her training at UCLA, and she thought it would be a
good idea to have a difference, if there was a difference
between the two schools.
GALM: Were you being then sort of trained as an art
historian, or as a . . . ?
CORITA: Well, I got my degree in art history, but mostly I
think it was because by that time, we really didn't respect
any art teachers, [laughter] and so thought that the art
history would be a better background, and that I could take
care of the art — you know, what do you call them? — studio
classes, so to speak, on my own. But there were, of course,
studio classes. I mean, I did take studio classes along with
the history classes.
GALM: When did Sister Magdalen Mary come to the department?
CORITA: Goodness. She is about ten years older than I am,
and she was probably there — oh, I don't really know; I'm
just making a rough guess — maybe from five to ten years
GALM: What status did the department have at that point?
CORITA: I suppose about the same as the other departments
in the college. I think it was young and struggling, with
some good teachers coming in and out, and Sister Magdalen
Mary was an excellent teacher. But always, as far as students
were concerned, there were always very few students. In
fact, it wasn't really till the last, oh, I'd say, ten
years that we began to get art majors in greater quantity.
It was always rather a small department in comparison with
the other departments.
GALM: What would you do, just give a B.A. with a major in
GALM: Had Sister Magdalen Mary been handling the painting
and studio classes, too, at that point? Or some of them?
CORITA: Yes, and supplemented by outside visiting professors
from UCLA and USC.
GALM: Again, in my research I'd read that she wasn't an
CORITA: No. Of course, she painted while she was in school,
but then she didn't ever really get started doing anything
on her own as far as painting.
GALM: What kind of teacher was she?
CORITA: She was a marvelous teacher; she really was — a
great teacher. In fact, I think she taught me a lot of
things about teaching. We used to spend some time, Sundays
usually, and pin up the students' work from our different
classes and just talk about them; and I think those were
great learning experiences for both of us and sharpened us
from both sides.
And then, let's see, she and I went to Europe for
about three months at the end of '59 and beginning of '60.
By that time we had begun the folk art collection, but then
we just added tremendously to it. She was a just a fantastic
businesswoman, as far as getting good bargains and finding
good things. So we brought home just literally truckloads
full of things, and that was the great bulk of the collection,
to which she then became very much attached and interested
in. And her interest gradually went in that direction, I
think even away from the teaching. And then I — let's see,
'68, I left the college in '68, and I'm trying to work
backward to think — I was probably head of the department
about maybe five years, or does it say someplace authorita-
tively? It would be a help. [laughter]
GALM: I think you were head of the department for about
CORITA: Four years. So then it was probably about in '64
that Sister Magdalen Mary decided to go to England and spend
some time collecting and studying. She had not been very
well, and I think she also wanted a change. So at that
time, I was just the obvious next one, and so I became the
head of the department until the time I left, which was in
GALM: How did you work together then to build the department
from what it had been to what it became?
CORITA: Well, I think we were both demons for work, and I
was probably a little worse. I used to give very outlandish
assignments, which I kind of gasp at now. But, well, I
figured then, and think perhaps differently now, that there
were people of different interests in the class, and that
those who were really interested would be challenged, and
wouldn't, wouldn't do it anyway; and so, somehow or other,
things would level out.
But then, I think it was in '51, because that was the
year I finished at SC — the last four units I took were
optional, and I could take anything at that point because
I didn't need anything except the numbers, so I took a
printmaking class. I had done some silk-screen work on my
own, but not to any great extent, and so I decided to just
take the class and do serigraphy the whole time for those
four units. And I always got teased because they always
called it my class at home, because I very seldom went to
class. I would stay home and work and then go in and show
them because it was simpler that way. And during that course
I made two prints. And the summer following that, I looked
at one of them, and it was really so bad that I started
adding colors on top of it, making a completely new print,
which is that print hanging over there called The Lord Is
With Thee . It turned into a completely different picture
because underneath it was a picture of the Assumption, with
a very, as I remember it, a kind of fashion-modelish lady
in the center. It was a very unwhole picture. And the
reason that that's kind of historic for me in a way is that
we decided to enter it into the County Museum show where
they had a show of prints, paintings, and sculpture in
different divisions. And it won the first prize in the
print division, which was just sort of overwhelming. And
then that year, I entered it into a number — it won the first
prize at the Sacramento State Fair and a number of other
And so then we got into the exhibition work. We used
to send the students' work to exhibitions along with my own
things. We would go to the exhibit and then get to know
the other printmakers and trade prints with them. So we
began a print collection and got into the art world, so to
speak, more than we had been before. And then yearly,
around Christmastime, we would to to New York, by way of
giving lectures along the way to pay for the trip, and see
what in those days .... This was in the middle fifties
to the middle sixties, before art got from New York out here
so fast, or before Los Angeles was the kind of a center it
is now. What was happening in New York was a number of years
— at least a couple, maybe one--ahead of Los Angeles. So
we would go to see what was going on at the Museum of Modern
Art and the galleries, and do a little collecting, and, as
I said, lecturing at different universities and schools as
we went along the road.
GALM: Were these mainly Catholic schools at that time?
CORITA: No, not necessarily, not necessarily. It was where-
ever somebody had heard about us and wrote and asked. So I
think that helped extend us into the art world.
And then I remember, I initiated a program, which
probably extended over the last two, maybe three years that
I was at the college. We called it our Great Men series,
which of course we wouldn't call it today! But I just
invited people like Charles Eames and Peter Yates and, oh,
a number of different people. We had--who was the great
director who discovered Marlene Dietrich?
GALM: [Josef] von Sternberg.
CORITA: Von Sternberg, yes. And I think they were all
partly amused. Buckminster Fuller was another, and Virgil
Thomson. I just wrote to them and said, "We have this
program of great men; we would like you to be one of our
great men and come." We asked them not to prepare a talk
but just to come and tell whatever they wanted to tell
about their own life, how they had gotten to where they
were, and then to answer questions from the students. By
this time, I guess Sister Magdalen Mary had left, but we
had always felt a need to bring outside people in. For
a long time we were limited to a faculty of three, and we
thought bringing other people in to talk and lecture would
be broadening for the students. And then we had the students
keep their Friday afternoons free of any classes, and we
went on field trips or had somebody come to talk to the
students. We did that for, I suppose, the last ten years
I was there.
GALM: Now, this Great Men series would have been for the
entire student body?
CORITA: Well, no. We wanted to keep it rather small, so
we had the art majors, and we would give like two invita-
tions to each department, so that they could send members;
and of course anybody from the faculty was always free to
come. So it was a little bit exclusive.
GALM: Yeah, it sounds it. [laughter]
CORITA: And we taped those, and those tapes are around at
the college someplace, I'm sure. They were really marvelous,
GALM: Who taught you printmaking at USC? Do you recall?
CORITA: Yes, I recall him, and I'm trying to think of his
name. He later went to New York to teach, and — [Michael]
Andrews? Andrews comes, and I'm not sure. I have a terrible
GALM: Much of an influence on you, or just mainly in
CORITA: No, not really. In fact the person who really
taught me serigraphy is Mrs. Martinez. I don't know if
you're familiar with Alfredo Martinez, who was one of the
Mexican muralists. He did murals, but in his spare moments
he would do silk-screen prints, and he did them on newspaper,
on anything. And then when he died, his widow decided that
she wanted to perpetuate his work. So she went to one of
the art schools, learned the technique, and reproduced a
number of his paintings. And so going back, I'm not sure
if he did silk-screen work himself or if these were all
his wife's. But I remember before I had taken the class
at SC, I had a silk-screen kit, and I wanted to teach the
students how to do this. So I began experimenting, and I
did — in fact, my first work was a little card with callig-
raphy on it. I was using the photographic process because
that was the process described in this little kit, and I
got along fine through the developing and the printing
and then the printing on the silk screen. But when it came
to the removing of the stencil from the silk screen, I
evidently didn't have the proper solvent. I was scrubbing
away one day at this screen, trying to get it off with
different things, and one of the students came and said,
"I know a lady who knows how to do silk-screen work. Would
you like to meet her?" And I said, "Sure." So she came
over and in an afternoon just told me all she knew. She
showed me some things, and that was really all you needed
to know. It's a very simple process. And from then on,
with experiment and with just doing it, I think I learned
the rest. But I don't think I really learned anything new
at SC. It was just a time to be able to make prints.
GALM: And to get your degree.
CORITA: And to get my degree, right. Don Goodall was
really a very good sport. I'll always remember him kindly
because I remember looking at the program — see, I hadn't had
an art major as an undergraduate--looking at the require-
ments for a master's and thinking, "My God, this is going
to take me six years or so to fulfill all these require-
ments." So I went to see him, and I told him what I had
been doing, what I had done. And he checked over and said,
"Well, you don't need this, and you don't need this, and
you don't need this"--because in experience, I had them, and
he was great enough to recognize that. So actually it was
cut down considerably, and I was able to finish. It
only took me eleven years to get my master's all in all.
[laughter] But that was along with teaching and all; it
was a very minor issue on the side.
GALM: Was it mainly summer work?
CORITA: Yes, yes.
GALM: Was there anyone during that period, then, as a
teacher, who you recall as having influence, or whose
work you admired?
CORITA: No, not really. I think what influenced me much
more were things I would see at exhibits. And even though
we had some professional painters with names at USC , I
don't recall their ever being enough to my taste to influence
me. Sort of went through it to get the degree.
GALM: In New York, who were you seeing at that time?
CORITA: Well, the people I remember were people like
[Robert] Motherwell, [Adolph] Gottlieb, and that whole
abstract expressionist school. I guess that was at its
peak when we began our exhibit-going. I think that I kind
of played back and forth, but I always come back to that
kind of thing. I think I feel very much at home with it,
with the loose forms and the simplicity. Mark Rothko was
a great influence, I feel.
GALM: What about Ben Shahn?
CORITA: And Ben Shahn, yes--I love Ben Shahn.
GALM: Did you eventually then meet him?
CORITA: Yes. At that time, I had done a print for the
International Graphic Arts Society, which was a group in
New York organized to help people collect, people who
wouldn't know how or wouldn't go to museums. They would
send out a catalog, and they would commission artists to
do a series for them and sell them at a lower than ordinary,
lower than gallery price. So I had done one or two commis-
sions for them, and Theodore Gusten, who was the head of
that, was a friend of Ben Shahn ' s . And through him we met
him, had a marvelous afternoon.
TAPE NUMBER: I, SIDE TWO
APRIL 6, 1976
GALM: You were talking about your meeting, your wonderful
afternoon, with Ben Shahn.
CORITA: Yes, I remember one of the things he said was
that — I think it was the first or second time we'd been
to New York, and he said he so envied us, seeing New York
for the first time as adults. He'd grown up there and
knew it all, but he said it would be such a great experience
to come on it fresh, as an adult.
GALM: How old were you at about that time — thirty?
CORITA: I would have been probably in my thirties, maybe
GALM: Was there anything to follow in the Los Angeles
art scene at that time?
CORITA: Not really much, as I remember; or, again, as I
say, it wasn't exciting to us because we would see things
in the art magazines and they wouldn't be here, so we would
have to find them in New York. But I'm not sure. I think
we were having those Friday afternoons, and we of course
always found good shows at the County Museum or the Pasadena
Museum or galleries. We used to spend a lot of afternoons
at La Cienega when that got organized into the gallery
district; we'd just go up and down.
But we were really very broad in the sense that our
interest in the so-called fine arts. We'd consider going
to the beach and flying kites an artistic experience, or
watching the sun set with some kind of ceremony. But it
didn't matter to us whether it was a shop with foreign
imports of folk things, whether they were--it didn't have
to be paintings.
GALM: You mention watching a sunset with ceremony. When
did the concept of ceremony enter your life, or had it
always been a part of your life?
CORITA: Well, the school had always had a day in May which
they called Mary's Day, and it was a very dismal affair.
The students wore their caps and gowns, and they would each
carry a calla lily, and we would have a ceremony. They'd
go up and put the calla lily in a vase in front of the
statue of Our Lady, and I'm sure they must have had Mass
and processions and said the rosary and sung hymns. And
it must have been about in '62 or '63 that a new nun had
charge of it, Helen Kelley, who is now the president of
the college. This job was sort of handed over to her from
somebody else. And she was probably the last person in
the world to have that — she has great appreciation for
ceremony, but this whole thing didn't fit with her. And
I can remember that there was a long line of girls in the
corridor, and they were supposed to go someplace. And I
guess the leader was kind of asleep, and Kelley just grabbed
her and started her in a direction, like you would a line
of little kids. Instead of just thinking how to say it,
she thought the easiest thing to do would be just to get
her started and everybody would follow. So I think it was
over a meal that I teased her and said how hilarious I
thought it was, and she said, "How would you like the art
department to take over Mary's Day?" [laughter] I said,
So in 1964 was the first big one we did, then. And
I started out just brainstorming with the students. I
asked if they had a day that they could do anything they
wanted with some kind of ceremony, what would be good things
to do? You know how kids can come up with marvelous ideas.
So we just took them all in and discussed them and tried
to find ones that were possible, and we put together some
great days. And those have been all documented by film--
or most of them. We have some beautiful films on them, made
by Baylis Glascock.
But before that time, we had been interested in a lot
of objects which had been ceremonial objects. So that was
always there, the kind of folk art thing again. And I'd
always been fascinated with the idea that a lot of the
Italian professional artists--! may be wrong historically,
but I think in general [I am] right — that some of the people
like da Vinci or Michelangelo were in charge of the city's
festivities and did the costumes and the floats and what-
ever they had. So that they were really considered an
GALM: Was there anything locally at that time that gave
you ideas for the celebration for Mary's Day?
CORITA: I remember this psychologist friend who wrote and
said he always thought that I had preceded and initiated
the be-ins and the happenings that came after. Now, I
don't know, historically, whether they happened first or
we happened first. But it was about the same time.
GAIiM: But in other words, you weren't, in a sense, copying
CORITA: No, it came out of this very sterile ceremony that
had gone on for many years. [laughter] And we came in as
good amateurs come in, with the idea that everything was
possible. And then I would turn all my classes over to
that, and they would make things for it, for the rest of
the school. But it took a fantastic amount of organization
because you were handling 500 or 600 people who really
weren't--we tried to get them in on the preparation as much
as possible by inviting people from different departments
to come and discuss with us, but as far as the actual labor
was concerned, some of them came, but they had their own
interests and didn't have all that time. The art majors
were doing it for credit, and so they had to do it. And
then we had adult classes, and they did wonderful things
for it, too.
GALM: And this preceded the [Renaissance] Pleasure Faire,
too, didn't it?
CORITA: Yes, the Renaissance Faire, yes.
GALM: Because there seems to be a bit of a similar spirit.
CORITA: Um-hmm, yes.
GALM: A spring orgy, I guess. [laughter]
CORITA: Right, a spring orgy, right, yes. Yes, we always
centered it around — well, I think there were several parts
to it. I thought the assembling was very important. I
remember being in New York once, on our way home from Europe,
I think, the day of the Chinese New Year, And somebody got
us a little balcony in a store right over the beginning of
it. And it took them--if you've ever watched them--about
a couple of hours to assemble. They were setting off fire-
crackers and milling around and talking and having a great
time before the actual procession with the dragon got
started. And I thought, "This is such a marvelous concept,
just the getting together informally with some kind of
anticipation of what was to come." So that was always a
very important part. And we always had some kind of a move-
ment--left over from the procession, I suppose — from one
part of the campus to the other, and then always a meal,
like out on the grass. And then we usually ended up with
Mass, or had Mass in the center, and tried to make it as
special as we could within the confines of the L.A. laws,
GALM: Were the festivities ever the object of criticism?
CORITA: Oh, yes. Every year.
GALM: Oh, every year. [laughter]
CORITA: Every year, yes.
GALM: You could anticipate ....
CORITA: In fact, Helen Kelley, who was (and still is)
president of the college, was really a great person because
she--well, for many reasons, but also because she would take
the gaff. But we got it from inside, too, because some of
the older nuns just felt bad that we weren't saying the
rosary and weren't doing some of the things that had been a
part of it and just saw to it that it was beautifully done.
And we would try always to do things that wouldn't cause
criticism, but — I mean, that was always kind of in the back
of my mind, I'm sure. But of course, anything you would do
would cause criticism because at that point everything we
did was wrong. [laughter] We couldn't win for losing, so
we might as well have a good time doing it.
GALM: What form would the criticism take?
CORITA: Well, the cardinal's office would call the president's
office, and say, you know, "We hear such and such went on."
And then some of the very conservative alumni members who
came were very upset because as conservatives are, the
first little sign of change is a real threat to them.
GALM: So they saw it as perhaps being sacrilegious,
or ... ?
CORITA: Yes, and different from what it had been in their
day, I think, was at the very base of it: that it wasn't
their college anymore.
GALM: You'd broken with tradition.
CORITA: Yes, yes. And you see, we had a very different
notion of tradition. [laughter]
GALM: Well, in a sense, a new tradition was established.
CORITA: Well, yes, in that traditions are what you pass on,
but in the passing on, one would hope they grow and not stay
the same, because if it stays the same, it's dead. This
had been repeated year after year after year. We would try
to have a theme each year, and in those years especially,
I think there was so much happening that it was usually a
social justice theme underlying it. Like one year we
really did a big bang-up thing with billboards, collecting
all the billboards we could find with food; and the whole
thing had to do with being aware of the fact that much of
the world didn't eat. And this worked into the program.
So in preparation for that, the students would collect gobs
of quotations. I remember one time we decided to do a lot
with flowers--! think every class embroidered banners with
flowers--! think every class had to do a flower banner of
some find. And in one class, I assigned each person to do
500 twelve-inch squares that had a bouquet of flowers on
them. And they could do it any way they wanted. I said
they could contact elementary-school teachers and get them
to have their whole classes do one, each do one; and so
there were many, many ways. They could do them in multiple,
do a print, do them lots of ways. So then we pasted these
on the sides of cartons that size and used them as huge,
big building blocks, just stacked them up in great piles
behind the altar.
GALM: Did you get that building block idea from Charles
CORITA: We did indeed, yes. We went out to his house one
time on a field trip. He had had his grandchildren visiting
him, and to entertain them, he had bought them 100 cartons
of about twelve inches square and made marvelous blocks.
And then he had a rope hanging from the ceiling with a noose
down toward the floor, and you could put your feet in it and
swing, pile them up, and knock them all down. But when we
brought this class, they all used them to sit on. We were
doing boxes for quite a while after that in different ways.
GALM: Does that mean your IBM exhibit would have been a
CORITA: Yes, right, exactly.
GALM: How did the folk art collection start at Immaculate
CORITA: I don't know. I think we always had the idea that
the students should be surrounded by real art. And we
found a way of gathering prints. But we really had
practically no budget at that time. So we started collecting
very simple little things, like Japanese paper things,
objects that were beautifully made and were part of some-
body's tradition. And I think I always felt more kind of
in tune — well, I think I always sort of resented the division
between the fine and the folk art, thought that [the folk
arts] were just as fine, and the fine arts just as folk.
GALM: Was that shared by both of you?
GALM: Was it reinforced then by Charles Eames?
CORITA: Oh, yes.
GALM: When did he enter the picture?
CORITA: Let's see, it must have been quite early on,
probably around the early fifties, or maybe the late forties,
because I know I was teaching the kindergarten, first,
second, and third grade in the training school. We had a
training school at that time where the college students did
their practice teaching. They were very small classes; I
had these three classes in one room. I would do that during
the daytime, and then from four to six, I guess, I taught
college classes. One of them was interior design. And I
didn't have the ghost of a notion what to do in a class of
interior design. I'd never had one; when I did have one, it
didn't really help. [laughter] So one of the things I
thought to do was to take the students around to see new
homes that were built and, if possible, to try to get the
architect to be there to talk about his work. So I remember
having seen Charles's house, which was new at that time —
fairly new; I think it was built in '51 or so. I had seen
it in Arts and Architecture , and we had met John Entenza,
who at that time was the editor of Arts and Architecture .
I think I did covers for him, and the students did covers
for that magazine at that time. So I think I might have
called John Entenza and asked him how we could get the
students into that house; and either he suggested it or I
thought of it myself, just calling Charles and asking him
if I could bring students out. And he said, "Sure." Life
wasn't so hectic for him in those days. [laughter] We
were really lucky. So we used to do that every year, and
sometimes twice a year.
I always taught a class in the summer for people who
were going to teach. That was really one of my joys
because I thought it was a great chance to get into the
schools, because those people would all be ordinary
elementary-school teachers. I thought they would do a lot
less harm if they had been through a good course. And
really it turned out to be a class, as so many of the
students have always said, a class in how to teach. Because
I would just throw things at them to do that they had
never done before, and they could see how that was possible,
rather than showing you how to do everything.
GALM: You mentioned Eames — did you try to get in with
[Richard] Neutra and [Rudolph] Schindler? They would have
still been around. Did you make any effort to ... ?
CORITA: Yes, we saw Neutra and went to his house. And
Schindler, no. We may have gone to houses he built, but
I don't think that we met him.
GALM: So the relationship with Eames was mainly, then,
through the class. Did you have a personal relationship
then, too, that continued?
CORITA: Well, he was one of our Great Men, and we saw
him from time to time. I think I've only been out there
to the house socially about, maybe, three or four times,
but then he doesn't do much of that, anyway; and I've
been to the studio a number of times. Then he was a great
help to us in just sitting around and talking when we were
thinking of building a college at Claremont. He agreed to
be in on the thinking part of it for us. So by that time
he had a great affection, I think, for what the art depart-
ment — because that's how he got to know the college--had
done and was very enthusiastic about it.
GALM: Did his wife always sit i n on these meetings, or did
he operate individually?
CORITA: Let's see, no. When he came — he used to come by
himself, and then when we would go to the studio or the home,
Ray would always be there.
GALM: Okay. Why don't we go back to your work, then,
how it developed from this first one in the corner onward,
CORITA: Well, as I say, I think the success at the exhibi-
tions gave it quite an impetus, that I may never have done
anything if it hadn't been for that. You know, I may have
just taught also and not done work on my own. But after
that, I used to make a series of prints each year. The
only time for it really was between summer school and the
beginning of fall school. So in the beginning, it was a
couple of weeks, and I would make one or two prints. And
always, two or three of the nuns would come, drop in and
help, and that got to be a great growing tradition. Then
the students sometimes began to ask if they could come; some
of the adult students came. I had one man, Hobart Burnett,
who came every year; he was really the great solid one who
was always there, first thing in the morning, to take down
the prints that had dried. And then we got this little
space across the street where the students had their seri-
graphy class, and in the summer, I just took the whole room
over. And I would have up to maybe eight or ten people
working, helping me. A marvelous woman, who came out from
New York, Eleanor Carpenter, who was a grandmother, had
lived on a farm and was working toward her degree and after
that taught for about ten years in New York — she would stay
after summer school for those two or three weeks and clean
my screens and mix paint. So it was that group of people,
really, who made the quantity possible, because I never
would have done all that work all by myself.
GALM: How did you handle the first products of your work?
Did you try to find a gallery?
CORITA: No. Sister Magdalen Mary, especially in the
beginning, was much more what you might call a manager.
One of the adults offered her services, and she would mat
things, my things and the students' things, to send to
exhibits. And then we got requests for shows or sent out
feelers for shows. And a lot of that sending out and making
contact was done by Sister Magdalen Mary. I don't think I
was terribly excited about doing it. I was really much more
at that time concerned with the teaching, and this was very
much a side thing always.
And then, I think in the last year I was at the college,
I had done a design--! was meanwhile doing a lot of free-
lance work on the side, designs for covers for people,
magazines and inside illustrations, one thing and another.
invitations — and I did a design for the annual report of
a hospital up north. And they had it printed by silk-screen.
It was such a beautiful job that I asked them who did it,
and I got in touch with this Harry Hambly in Santa Clara.
That year, I prepared the separations and sent half of my
prints up to him to see how that would work out. And then
from then on, he's done all my printing. It's just been a
marvelous relationship, because we've always been far away--
now I'm even farther, in Boston--and he has always been just
directly attuned to what I mean when I say something. So I
can send him--I usually do my work about three inches square,
sometimes--and say, "Enlarge this to such and such a size,
and do this in this color, and this is this color." And he
always either understands or knows enough to ask questions.
So that actually now it's come down to my doing the design
for them--he does the printing. I have a batch coming at
the end of the month, and I'll have a show.
GALM: Where will the show be, here or in Boston?
CORITA: At the gallery.
GALM: At the gallery. At that point, did you already
know that you might be leaving your working situation?
CORITA: No, no.
GALM: So it was just a blessing in disguise.
CORITA: Right, yes, yes. It came as a kind of inspiration,
you know, that somebody could do this, could help, you know.
because among all my helpers, I think I only had one, one
man, who came who could really pull a squeegee across the
screen and do a perfect print every time. And I was the
other one. But no matter what size or shape these people
were, they just didn't have the elbow grease that I had or
the strength in their arms to really--so they could never
do the printing part. They did the cleaning up and the
hanging and all that. There's a lot of muscle work to the
GALM: Early on, you decided that this was going to be your
CORITA: I don't think I decided. I think I just made
prints, and the next year, I decided to make prints again.
GALM: So it just happened to happen year after year.
CORITA: Yes, uh-huh. And it got to be sort of expected,
in a way, that I would make a new batch. The galleries would
expect a new batch.
GALM: When did you find time to collect the quotations and
slogans and so forth that became a part of them?
CORITA: Well, of course, in those days, I was surrounded
by very literate people. That community had some of the
best women you could ever meet, and these were all people
in different fields. So sometimes people would point things
out to me or send things to me. And I was--and I still am--
a great flipper, you know, rather than a reader: flip
through a book and come across good things. And then
sometimes you just found--like I think IBM put out a little
magazine that I got for a time that would have a page of
quotations, and sometimes you'd find one good one there.
So I think that people who think that I'm an avid reader —
I don't read quite as much as it would seem. I've seen
the quotation someplace.
GALM: So you haven't read all of Rilke.
CORITA: Right, right. Almost. Almost. But that was
after I used him, for the most part.
GALM: So the first ones did contain some figures. How
long did that keep up?
CORITA: Well, I think I was very much--not disillusioned,
but I was not very pleased with what was happening in
figurative art. I think figurative art had a hard time and
still is having a hard time, except for a few people like
Milton Avery and maybe Ben Shahn, people like that. So I
think I went back to medieval things--and of course that
[print] is very medieval--and worked from those sources
because, in fact, I did my thesis on some medieval sculpture,
It's a very miserable piece of scholarship, but the sculp-
ture was good. But then, as I started getting into my own,
as I say, being very much influenced by abstract expression-
ism, I found it much more my thing to be nonf igurative . And
now I feel that in a sense the prints have kind of a mixed
audience. I think a lot of people like them for what they
say, and I always thought this was a nice thing because the
people would then be attracted to the form and gradually
get used to looking, whereas they might not if it were a
picture without words. I've done lots of pictures without
words. But I think it's helpful when they have words.
GALM: You also stretch their imagination as far as the
words themselves are concerned, as far as seeing them and
not seeing all of the word.
CORITA: I think so, yes. Right.
GALM: And reverse image and . . .
GALM: . . . other things. And that wasn't present much in
the early work, was it?
CORITA: No, no. I remember once that I was taking photo-
graphs of some of the .... For one of these Mary's days,
we decided to cover every door of the administration building
with one big poster that was the size of a door. So every
student made about five. I was taking photographs of them
one time and taking sections of some because they were
very beautiful. One of them was curved, as I was taking the
slide, and I thought, "Oh, that would be a nifty idea." So
that year, I think almost in all of my prints, I took
pictures from magazines and combined them the way I wanted,
and then I would curl the paper to go the way I wanted it to
and shoot the photograph, the slide, and then enlarge that
and cut the stencil from that. So that's where all the
curly ones came from.
GALM: Did what was happening in "liturgical art" (quote-
unquote) at the time have any influence on you?
CORITA: Yes, I think that in the early days, especially,
I was trying to make "religious art" (quote-unquote) that
would be not quite as repulsive as what was around. And
then pretty soon I realized that anything that was any good
had a religious quality, so that it didn't matter whether
it had that kind of subject.
GALM: Was there anyone doing religious art at that time
who you could respect?
CORITA: I think at that time mostly what was being done
was a kind of resurrection of the Byzantine and the Gothic,
the strong things, and strong periods from the past. But
I always laughed because I think my--well, I know my biggest
rejection was from a liturgical art magazine we had. I
can't think of the man's name, who is now dead. Maurice
Lavanoux. I had agreed to make a serigraph that fit in
the magazine as a double-page spread so that each person who
subscribed to the magazine would get an original serigraph.
And I did 2,100 prints. This was when I was printing by
myself. [laughter] I did it in two colors, I think. So
that was the longest job I ever did. And we sent them off
to him and didn't hear from him. So after a long time, I
wrote and said, "Did they get there?" And he wrote back,
and he said he thought that it was a little too much ahead
for his readers. So I said, "Send them back." So for
years afterwards we were selling them, and finally, unbeliev-
ably, they became rare.
GALM: Do you recall what the design was?
CORITA: Yes. It was a figure of Christ and a figure of Our
Lady, with words. [ Christ and Mary ]
GALM: What do you think really put him off about it?
CORITA: Well, I think that he probably had to play a safe
line to keep subscribers, and even though they did sort of
out of the way things for that time, I guess he must ....
I didn't think it was; I mean, it seemed very tame to me.
But apparently he didn't feel that his readers would think so.
We did this as a gift for him, which was amazing. [laughter]
GALM: When you did start receiving some recognition, were
you ever courted by the same people, as far as commissions
or anything like that is concerned?
CORITA: Well, yes, I think eventually. I suppose the top
thing in that regard would be the mural I did for the
Vatican Pavilion [at the 1964 New York World's Fair]. But
of course the person in charge of that section of the Vatican
Pavilion was Norman Laliberte, who happened to be a friend
and thought what we were doing was great. So it wasn't
exactly that the officials in the church chose, or anybody
official. That kind of recognition just didn't ever come.
GALM: Is any of your work in churches or convents, other
than . . . ?
CORITA: Oh, some in convents. And let's see — I did one
chapel, which we did the complete design of, in Palm Springs,
which has since been sort of taken apart by different people
who came along and thought otherwise. [laughter]
GALM: It's been dismantled?
CORITA: It's been dismantled. And I think I did a series
of the stations of the cross for one chapel, which were
then taken down the next year, sold to another chapel,
which .... [laughter] Those were hard years because I
think even the general public was still very much adverse
to the notion of what they called modern art, you know, any-
thing that was different from the bad copies of the great
masters or the great masters themselves. So we were just
part of the crowd.
GALM: It seems, though, that there would be more of an
acceptance in the late sixties and ....
CORITA: Well, of course, within the community, it was
always mixed. And I always laugh because in my own family,
it was divided exactly in half, you know. [laughter] Let's
see, well, it couldn't be divided exactly in half. I had
my sister [Mary], whose home we are in, and my brother [Mark]
who was a priest, and they were always very much in sympathy
with what I was doing. But the rest of the family thought
I was out of my mind. [laughter] But they've mellowed
over the years.
GALM: What is it that — it was just too far out for them?
CORITA: Yes. Well, two of my brothers have died during
this last year, and those two brothers and then my sister,
who is a religious--Sister Ruth--were very conservative
people. In fact, you might say that one brother [Richard]
and sister were extremely conservative, in many, many ways.
And then the other half of the family, my sister and myself
and my brother who was a priest (who is no longer a priest)
were much more sort of into what was changing. And my
mother — I used to bring her the batch of prints every year
when I finished them, to show her, and I remember the last
time I brought them to her. I think she always half-loved
them because her daughter had done them, so she was much
kindlier toward them than the conservative part of the
family. But she looked at them, and she said, "Don't you
think you've gone a little too far this time?" [laughter]
It's just marvelous. And then I said, "Well, which are your
favorites?" And so she chose two. And one was kind of a
logical choice: it was a beautiful heart with a crown of
thorns, and then the [Juan] Jimenez "Heart of the City"
wr'itten over it. [The Heart of the City print is actually
based on a poem by Miguel de Unamuno; Jimenez's poems
appear in other prints, however, such as Yellow Spring . --Ed. ]
But the other was what I called Wonderbread , for which I
really got the idea from the Wonderbread loaf of bread.
There were just twelve circular images, different colors.
And that was one of her favorites, which I thought was
quite far out, as they say, for her, who thought I had
gone a little far that year.
GALM: How much did your students influence your work?
CORITA: I think there was a great exchange between us.
First of all, we saw the same things, because we usually
went to exhibits together. And then I think there was a
great interchange as far as the classwork was concerned,
as to assignments I would give them and ways they would
interpret those assignments. I think we probably, from
working so close together, had a very similar way of looking
at things and probably similar tastes. I'm sure they were--
well, I think it was really a mutual kind of influence,
that oftentimes I would be stimulated by something, as in
the case of that banner, which was quite accidental: I
had been looking at a student's work while I got that idea,
but it was really the photography that led me into it.
GALM: Had you been doing photography all along, too?
CORITA: Yes. I used to take thousands of slides, and most
of our lectures--I guess all of our lectures--we illustrated
them with slides. And then I used to take slides for Paul
Laporte, for his classes.
GALM: What were some of the assignments that you gave
CORITA: Well, I always had, or developed later, I guess,
this quantity business, with the notion that if they had
to do a lot of things, they would just dig in, figuring that
it was just hopeless, so they might as well just get them
done. Whereas I think sometimes if you're faced by having
to do a single thing, you have great expectations of your-
self that it's got to be great, and you worry over it. The
other way, you sort of get a lot of experience without —
and you get quality through the experience, through doing
it over and over again. For example, I would have them
take a piece of cardboard with a hole in the center, a
square in the center for a finder, and just go over pages
of magazines, and when they found something they liked, a
section of a picture, draw a line around it and cut it out.
Well, I would have them do 500 of those at a time, and some
of them got to be very smart. They would just take a
magazine and the paper cutter and cut, and then go back and
sift through and take out the ones they liked. [laughter]
So it developed this marvelous kind of inventiveness to get
the thing done. They would think of unbelievable ways of--
and I always said, if you can get somebody to do it for you
or with you or to help you, fine. And in that way it
involved other students.
GALM: So it was still problem solving.
CORITA: Yes, right. Exactly. Which is what I think it
ought — it's what it all was. And I think I always tried to
do things that would — see, I think there's a creative
aspect to art, and an analytical .... [telephone rings]
GALM: Do you want to take that, or ... ?
CORITA: No, is that going to bother your . . . ? The
creative is when you're putting things together, and the
analytical part is when you're taking things apart and
criticizing and observing — whereas the other part, you're
in it. This was in the days before mass meditation groups,
but I think that I was always aware of that difference in
consciousness, of when you were criticizing something and
when you were making something, and that you couldn't do the
two things at the same time, and that often people tried
to--especially , you know, nonprofessionals. So especially
in the night classes, where we had a lot of people who had
never taken art, just had always wanted to, and real folk
artists, and some of them marvelous — so I would try to do
things. I would try to give them a list of things to do,
and their mind would get so busy trying to fulfill those
that the thing they actually did would be done freely
because they wouldn't be so worried about the final result.
They thought all these other things were important. Like
to use maybe three colors and have it a particular size and
a lot of little requirements that they could legitimately
busy that part of themselves with [phone rings] while their
creativity part could come out more easily.
GALM: Where were you getting those ideas for teaching,
or were they your own?
CORITA: Well, I think that "necessity is the mother of
invention" sort of thing, that I would just — I think I
always had a horror of boring classes from having had so
many boring classes myself. And so I would try to do things
that would be stimulating and exciting, and so I would . . .
When it stops I'll take it [the phone] off. So I spent a
lot of time in preparation for classes, [gathering] materials
that were not necessarily art magazines or art books, but
just .... I think I'm naturally intuitive, and ideas
GALM: Were you able to use some of the same ideas you
used for your elementary school teaching that you did later
CORITA: Toward the end. But I think by the time I got into
really knowing how to teach, I was teaching older people,
college students, and adults. I often regretted the way I
had taught, though I think I was a fun teacher in a way
with the young kids because I enjoyed them so much. But I
would have--I think I would have been much more challenging
to them if I had known then what I knew later. And that's
why I think I liked that class that was a requisite for
people who were going to teach, because it was a chance to
kind of undo what I had done. [laughter]
GALM: Make up for ....
CORITA: Yes. And could see the possibilities of what they
GALM: What form did that class take, as far as handling
CORITA: Well, I would give them many of the same problems I
would give to the art students, and we would go on field trips,
and I would try to make it as much as possible a problem class.
I thought they really should be learning something about art,
as far as tastes and recognition and so forth, because it
seemed to me that as much as I could give them, they would
have to have that kind of appreciation to be able to intelli-
gently get their students to do things. And I must say that
we had marvelous equipment, like films. We had, in those days,
all the Eames films; and those are, if you've seen them, I'm
sure .... In fact, one of the assignments I gave them was
when Charles first gave us the India film on the exhibit that
Alexander Girard did at the Museum of Modern Art. [ Textiles
and Ornamental Arts of India] I showed them the film, and then
afterwards I said, "Now, go home and come back tomorrow
with 200 questions about the film." [laughter] And it was
marvelous because any of these things are .... I would
have them look at things for--like, we would sit around in
a circle and each have a Coke bottle and look at it for
say an hour, or maybe ten minutes sometimes, depending.
And we did a lot of looking exercises. And you find that
these things are very difficult to do. The first ten or
twenty questions are painful. But after that you get very
slaphappy, and you start opening up and expanding. A lot
of the questions were worthless, but out of that whole
batch, you would get some marvelous things; and, again, the
whole process, I think, was a good stretching exercise.
And some of them--I mean, some of them came back with 50
questions, and maybe two people out of the class did 200.
But even that was fun.
GALM: They're the ones that couldn't stay awake for the
CORITA: Right, right.
GALM: What did you do about grading them, the students?
CORITA: Well, in the last few years, that was the last
assignment, to grade themselves and to justify the grade.
And they were really pretty good. I very seldom had to
change them. Ordinarily if they were too low, they would be
wrong, or seem not right to me. And I used to tell them that
I thought the important things were to be in class every
day--not because I thought I was so great that they needed
to hear me, but I think the things that happened when we
were all together, the discussions and what have you, were
the way they really grev\?, and that they couldn't learn,
they couldn't catch up if they weren't there. I'd be
furious if they weren't there on the day that I gave an
assignment, or on the first day of class, which was really
a big bang-up sort of orientation. I said, "If you've
missed the first class, you don't know what's happening in
the rest of the class, because that's the only day I
GALM: Was the adult class already going when you . . . ?
CORITA: Um-hmm, um-hmm, yes. But in those days, there
would be about six people in the class. And in the adult
classes. And then there got to be about fifty or sixty in
GALM: And there was just a one-session class.
CORITA: Yes, once a week, um-hmm. And at night. And
Saturday mornings we had adult classes, too. Those were
mostly teachers, people working for their degrees.
But I remember once we did a--what is it?--the NAEA.
The National Art Education Association had its meeting in
Los Angeles, and we were asked if we would like to do the
commercial exhibits. All the people who had commercial
products that they wanted to sell to schools set up their
exhibits. And you've probably been to some of those exhibits
--tables with green felt and all that — they're really
ghastly. So we took it on, and I think it was at the
Statler [Hotel] downtown when it was in its first year.
And we took over some huge room, and I assigned each student
in my classes to ... .
TAPE NUMBER: II, SIDE ONE
APRIL 6, 1976 and APRIL 13, 1976
GALM: You were talking about an exhibit that your students
did at the Statler for the National Education ....
CORITA: National Art Education Association. Each student
was responsible for getting in touch with the manufacturer
or distributor--the salesman, I guess--of a particular
company — like, say, the American Crayon Company — getting
materials from them and getting enough things made out of
those materials that we could cover .... We got these
metal sections that you make bookcases out of, and every-
body used those. We got a whole batch of them, and they
had to all paint them white. That was the only kind of
regulation thing. And they could set them up in any way
they wanted. Their job was to sell the product that they
were in charge of. We had two companies who came in and
changed their exhibit back to the old thing, but that was
out of about, oh, eighty some companies that we were working
for. And that was a fantastic experience that we probably
never would have gotten into if we had realized how much
work it was going to be.
GALM: I'm sure that must have happened more than once,
CORITA: Yes, exactly. One of the things Charles said that
always stuck with me, he said that they always tried to
maintain their amateur status, because an amateur was a
person who was always willing to do something because he
didn't know it couldn't be done. [laughter] And he would
GALM: Does this then predate the — I know you did an
CORITA: This was in 1957.
GALM: I know you did an exhibition of banners at the . . .
CORITA: . . . National Gallery [in Washington, D.C.].
GALM: Was it at the National Gallery?
CORITA: Um-hmm, yes. We had done the banners. In fact,
we had done the banners before the celebration days
began, because I think I had gotten the idea from looking at
a picture. I thought it would be a super project. And
everybody thought they were outrageous. So we decided that
we would go down to Watts, to the [Watts] Towers--you' re
familiar with them. And in those days, nobody knew where
they were, even in Watts. We'd ask somebody on the next
corner, and they wouldn't know. We had a kind of little
procession around in and out of the towers, mostly to take
pictures, just to see how they looked, objectively. And
they were reproduced in Arts and Architecture , some of
the photographs. And Fritz Gutheim, who was, and I think
still is, professionally doing exhibits for big occasions.
was in charge of the AIA [American Institute of Architects]
centennial, which was to be in the National Gallery and
was to consist of photographs. And he thought the exhibit
would be pretty dull and that the banners hung with them
would make it more lively. So that was one of the early-on
things that got the people in the community impressed. We
always thought it was great fun if we could impress the
people in the community, because they took us as a little
offbeat, as I say. We had our supporters, but most of the
people thought we were a little bit odd.
GALM: When you say, "the community," do you mean . . . ?
CORITA: The sisters, the nuns.
GALM: The religious community.
CORITA: Yes. And this surprised us no end, because they
were so impressed. Everybody was so impressed that we had
something in the National Gallery. It's just marvelous
how people make their judgments.
GALM: But was that the only time you hung banners, did a
CORITA: Oh, no. We had a marvelous banner exhibit at the
GALM: At Exhibition Park.
GALM: Now, were those banners left over then from Mary's
Day, or were those different banners?
CORITA: Well, for a number of years, at least one class a
year I would have make banners. We were always rather
brutal in those days because we said that anything the
students did really belonged to the college if the college
wanted it. We collected all the banners, so we had a
great accumulation because the people were doing them for
several years, so that on the big days, we would have enough
for most of the people to carry. But that exhibition was
great fun. [Jim] Elliott was the one who got us to do it,
asked for it. It was in the rotunda. And I had this idea
--we had made small banners, silk-screen rectangles about,
oh, maybe, sixteen inches square, and I had the idea of
their hanging horizontally in space, way above--you know
how high that room is. And then I think the other banners
were hung from the four corners, where there must have been
something to attach them to. So we got four poles established
on the floor, and strung these banners, probably about, oh,
maybe sixty or seventy of these sixteen-inch squares. From
the corner of each one to the four poles went a string. So
there was this whole maze of banners that were beautifully
spaced. And then the problem was to get the whole thing up
into the air, which we did by taking one pole up and fasten-
ing it to a light, a chandelier, while everybody else held
the other parts as they went up. It was beautiful. But
again it was kind of an impossible thing. And that was
happening during summer school: summer school meant
something like a three-hour class in the morning and a
three-hour class in the afternoon, and after the last class,
we would get a gang and go down there and work on it. So
we were crazy in a way, like I guess all enthusiastic
GALM: Here again, your making of banners — do you think that
had an influence on a popularity for banners among other
CORITA: I think it could have. These days got to be very
well known, and toward the end, there were probably about
half students and half outsiders, because people just heard
about them, and they wanted to bring their kids to them;
they just wanted to come and be a part of it.
GALM: Because I know banners always had been, of course,
a part of religious celebration or any celebration.
CORITA: Any celebration, right.
GALM: But there was a period there in the sixties in which
they became more of a liturgical expression, too.
CORITA: Well, yes. I think the banners really did have a
great — well, I would say they had a wide influence, not a
great influence. I picked up a little Hallmark [Cards, Inc.]
book the other day--in fact, somebody sent it to me because
they were laughing over it--and as you turn page after page,
it looked like stuff that had been thrown away in the art
department. It was a very bad copy of almost everything
we had ever thought of doing. And I think with the banners,
the same thing has happened. People have started making
banners, but they're dead. They have a kind of nonenthusiasm
GALM: Why don't we stop for today and then we'll resume?
CORITA: Okay, fine.
APRIL 13, 1976
GALM: Before we continue with the interview, I would like
to clarify something. We talked last time about two banner
shows, one at the National Gallery and one at our Los
Angeles County Museum of Art (and at that time, I think it
was in Exposition Park) . Was this one and the same show?
CORITA: There may have been banners that were repeated in
both shows, because as I think I said, we collected them
from the students, and they thought of--I think they were
forewarned that they were doing this for the cause, so to
speak, and that other people could use them. So that
some of them may--no, I take it back, because it's coming
to me now that we did those banners especially for that
Washington show. I gave the students the theme of "House
or Home," and they were to do some research. I think at
that point we did mostly biblical research and just found
great quotations about the home or the house or the building.
anything to do with that area that we'd hopefully somehow
tie in with the American Institute of Architects show, which
they were helping. And then probably some of those banners,
or all of them, were used in the Los Angeles County Museum
GALM: Was the curator at the museum actually just bringing
that show from the National Gallery?
CORITA: No, this was a banner show we did for the County
Museum, and had no relation to the architects' show.
GALM: Because it occurred in the same year. 
CORITA: Well, it could have been. See, my memory is not
terribly efficient. It could have been; it was certainly
differently arranged because we had the arrangement of it
here in Los Angeles. I remember in the National Gallery
they were hung in a very static manner, and I was very
shocked when I saw them because they were almost hung as
other pictures, and banners are meant to hang freely.
GALM: In other words, you produced the banners for the
Washington show. You didn't install them.
CORITA: That's right, that's right.
GALM: You installed them very definitely at the County
CORITA: Yes, yes. And we had the great help of Jim Elliott,
who was one of the curators there.
GALM: So that was in '58, I believe. What other student
exhibits--was the next large one, then, for the IBM
CORITA: We sent out a lot of student shows for the art
department, which included paintings, ceramics, some ceramic
sculpture, prints, and so forth. And then I think I mentioned
the NAEA exhibit we did. And we did ....
GALM: "Survival with Style" — that came later.
CORITA: Yes. "Survival with Style" we did originally for
the college, and that travelled. The only other time I
saw it aside from our own use of it was when Boston
University had a retrospective of my work, and they included
that as part of the teaching work. The last summer I was at
the college, in 1968, I did an exhibit with the students
for the World Council of Churches when they met in Uppsala
[Sweden]. And that consisted of about, oh, sixty to seventy
structures, which were made of two pieces of cardboard
eight feet square that intersected and stood like you'd
stand two cards, slit one and slide the other one into it,
so they were at right angles and supported themselves. It
was John Taylor, who is the head of film and communication
for the World Council, who got us to do that. And I was to
go, but I was on my way [out] ; so I chose a very remarkable
student we had [Donna Villicich] , and she went with the
exhibit and talked to the people and to the press and so
forth about it, over there. And they had made a film, which
I have seen, in which Pete Seeger is singing and the young
people are dancing around in and out of the exhibit. And
they opened some great castle in Uppsala that was used as
a kind of museum but had never had an exhibit in it, and
they filled this huge hall with the structures. And again,
I only saw photographs of that exhibit, but they really
did a marvelous job of setting it up.
GALM: Pete Seeger was there in person?
GALM: Did that show then go on to Geneva, or was that
still yet another show for the World Council?
CORITA: I had a show at the World Council building itself.
GALM: I see, in 1970.
CORITA: I guess, yes. Was it in 1970?
GALM: That's what it says.
CORITA: Yes, yes, it was.
GALM: Were parts of that . . . ?
CORITA: They used their big main entry place, which is an
exhibit space, for that, hanging some of them from the
ceiling; and it's like a great — more than two stories, two
extra stories high. And that was a beautiful exhibit.
GALM: Did you go for that one or not?
CORITA: No. My sister and brother-in-law were in Europe
at the time, and they were there in time to see it. But
for that, the Franciscans, the people who do the "Hour of
St. Francis" and those commercials that you may have seen.
lent us their television studio to do those in. They weren't
doing anything at the moment in the studio, so we had it for
about — it must have been a month and a half. Both the day
students, again, and the night students worked on that; so
they just could come in and out and down there and leave
their stuff out. So you can imagine, there were — let's see,
I think each person had to do four complete structures. And
it was again probably bigger than I would have done, if I
had known ahead of time how much work it was going to be.
Some of the students fell by the wayside, and others profited
by it immensely. So again it was a kind of mixed blessing.
GALM: When you say "wayside," they actually dropped out,
or they just . . . ?
CORITA: Right, um-hmm, or finished some and not others.
GALM: Would you assign a general theme?
CORITA: Well, that was in the sixties, and there was a
great deal of social consciousness among students at that
time anyway, so it wasn't difficult. And it seemed that
it largely centered around poverty and justice, injustice
and justice--however you want to put it. But again, the
students found dozens of quotations and did them in connec-
tion with visual things.
GALM: You mentioned students' social consciousness.
CORITA: Well, I probably urged them. [laughter]
GALM: When was your social consciousness awakened? I'm
sure it was always there, but in the direction of your
CORITA: I suppose people like Dan [Berrigan] had a lot
to do with it because I remember he was the first one I
ever heard of speaking about the Vietnam War. And this
was way back in the early days. I had hardly caught up with
him in relation to the black problem and poverty, and
suddenly he was saying, before I had heard anybody else —
or I'm sure before I had thought of it myself — that it was
wrong for us to be at war. And I thought, "How can he say
that?" [laughter] So I think that meeting people like him,
and then people I think particularly of Mary Jean Pew, who
was in the community and is now still teaching at the
college, in political science. She was in charge of the
sodality which was in charge of this Mary's Day, which the
art department took over the visual aspect of it; so we
worked together. And I think living with people who were
also socially conscious helped a lot. I'm sure if I had
been a nice proper housewife, I would not have bumped into
all of these ideas. And of course once they get into you,
you start noticing and expanding, too.
GALM: Did the war seem to stimulate the consciousness
more than, say, the civil rights movement had?
CORITA: No, I don't think so. I think they were both very
real issues to us. Perhaps more in the community than among
the students: I think it really originated in the commun-
ity and then, through the teachers, filtered into the
GALM: Were any members of the community going to the South
in those years and marching?
CORITA: Yes, I think somebody went to Selma, yes.
GALM: Off the tape, I was asking when you first met Dan
Berrigan, and you said that the first real meaningful contact
had been during a summer at Montecito. Could you describe
CORITA: Well, it was extremely informal. We would cele-
brate the Eucharist every day. And Dan is so magic with
words that they just pour out of him in glorious form.
So those were always very special events in which he would
tell a story or would usually have maybe a kind of sermon.
And then we would just meet to talk a couple of times a
day. And again it was largely informal, though I'm sure
Dan did most of the talking, because he was so good at it.
But in a sense he doesn't ever take over, so that what he
says is probably not more in quantity but more in quality;
and I remember it as being the most talking. He says so
many things by not saying them and by understatement, which
is, of course, the poet in him. He's going to teach a
course this summer at the college.
GALM: What is the course?
CORITA: It's called tentatively "From Poetry to Politics."
GALM: [laughter] And back again to poetry.
CORITA: Back again to poetry, yes, indeed. Because he's
gotten very rauch--well, he did a book [ The Raft Is Not the
Shore] with [Thich Nhat] Hanh, the head of the Buddhist
community in Paris. He was a very good friend of Thomas
Merton's, and he started the Thomas Merton Center in New
York, which was a place of contemplation, really. So I think
part of him has always moved in the direction of contemplation,
without disturbing his activities.
GALM: In looking through your prints, I don't see too much
Thomas Merton. Have you used . . . ?
CORITA: No, I don't think so. I think I read Thomas Merton —
when everybody was reading Seven Story Mountain, I read it.
But for me — I'm sure I would feel differently if I knew him,
but I've heard a tape of his recently, and it really just turned
me off. I think his ideas are marvelous, but I think the way in
which he states the ideas are still enveloped in a kind of
church language, which is ... . That's unfair, because it's
probably more of a classic church language than we are used to
hearing. But I always think of it as coming largely from work-
ing with the adult classes, who were mostly--certainly most of
them were not Catholics, and many of them were Jews ....
Most of them, I think, were Jews. I think we would not have the
arts without them. But I think in working with those people,
I was always very conscious of trying not to talk in a way
that would sound proselytizing to them. And we had some
rather delicate things because they often worked on these
exhibits and projects that we were doing, group projects.
So that the themes were really broad enough, certainly, not
to be called Catholic themes--but I wanted that to be
understood. Of course, these people had come to take an
art course, not to take a political science course or a
social awareness course. But by that time, I didn't know
how to separate the two. So they got involved, and so on.
I think in working to keep it being an art course and an
idea course that I got accustomed to choose statements that
would be understandable by everybody, rather than by just
the Catholic community or a church-affiliated community.
GALM: You said that you learned to separate the two. How
did you . . . ?
CORITA: No, I learned that I couldn't separate the two.
GALM: Oh, that you couldn't separate the two. I see.
Because I was curious how you could. [laughter]
CORITA: No, I couldn't.
GALM: In describing Dan Berrigan, you had mentioned that
he was a pixie. Why "pixie"?
CORITA: Well, when he speaks he has a kind of a--he is
small and slight, and he has a kind of twinkling Irish way,
and he never comes down on anything heavily. His brother
[Philip] is much heavier. But Dan always says things with
such indirection and such humor that you're taken a little
off guard. He's always asking the probing question, but
he's asking it in a kind of surprising way, rather than
coming down on you hard. He has the light touch.
GALM: Did you ever feel the need to be out in the front
lines with him?
CORITA: No, in fact I think I really had no guts at all,
until it finally occurred to me that I really had my own
place. But certainly Dan never felt this. He felt that
what I was doing was — and Phil also, which surprised me,
felt that I was doing great things for whatever movement
was going on, in my own way. So then I figured I was more
comfortable with that and could do that. I couldn't march
and be in the public that way. I had to bring it into the
work and into the students' work, make it available that
way. And I thought--again, the idea that using words with
visual forms and using just short passages is often a way
to help awaken people to something they may not be aware of,
rather than enclosing it in a book or making a speech about
GALM: Let's shift back over to the IBM exhibit .
How did you get that invitation, or did it just come in the
CORITA: No, it came by phone call. [laughter] I often
remember, because that exhibit got to be pretty hard. It
was at the time when the students were just beginning to be
restive about being given assignments; they wanted to go off
and do things on their own. And that increased after that
until — I think that's where we had so much difficulty with
the exhibit for Uppsala, because that was again a group
project, and some of the students were just finding their
own individuality and didn't want to be involved in a great
big group project that was really under my name. This
really disturbed some of them, and it disturbed me, too.
But there wasn't anything I could do about it because that
was where the publicity was; so we just had to take that.
But the IBM exhibit was a good experience for me, because
I--I think I was always very good at getting other people
to work. I worked very hard myself, but I was also very
good in sharing responsibility, even though I had to have
the final responsibility, because I was the one who had
accepted to do the thing. So for the IBM exhibit, I chose
two seniors (Michaela Myers and Paula McGowan) to be in
charge, one in charge of one half, and the other in charge
of the other half. They were really in charge of seeing
that the students were doing what they were supposed to do;
and they kept track of the supplies, which is a monumental
task with that kind of exhibit. They took all that off my
hands. It was very good experience for them. And then IBM
flew them to New York to put the exhibit up. And then I
think I was in Washington--we were on one of our tours, and
I guess I'd gone to Georgetown to speak, so I was in
Georgetown--and I got a phone call during my own exhibit
from one of the student leaders who was setting up the
exhibit, saying they were having a terrible time. I
don't know if you've heard the history of this, of the
CALM: I've heard a little bit about it, the reaction to it.
CORITA: It was at Christmastime, and we did it with boxes.
We had one whole section, which was probably the size of
that wall, composed of boxes, which when they all fit
together said, "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men." And
when that got up, people started coming in off the streets.
It was a very — what shall I say? — explosive time. Anyway,
I guess people looking at IBM didn't know what to make of
this, and they thought it was kind of a hippie thing. So
they came in and questioned the IBM people, and so they got
them to — what did they ask them to do? Oh, to put the
scriptural source underneath it. [laughter]
GALM: Give it validity.
CORITA: Made it okay, you see. Put a different tone on it.
And then there was something else very humorous. I can't
remember [it exactly] , but it was a statement from Pope
John which a number of people came in and reacted to very
violently, and we had to take that out. So the students
were there making these decisions, you see, because I was in
transit. So they called to tell me what they had done.
So there wasn't much we could do about that. I said, "Just
do whatever you think is best on the spot." But it really
created a great — I suppose not a very great percentage of
New Yorkers complained, but enough to make a little trouble
GALM: Why did IBM choose Immaculate Heart to do it?
CORITA: I wish I could think of the man who was in charge
of their design department who had known of our work and
just knew we would put on a good show. [Robert Monahan]
GALM: And just didn't see that a peace theme could be a
radical . . .
CORITA: . . . could be dangerous. No, in fact, he came out
during the preparation of the exhibit and looked at most
of the material that we had and just thought it was marvelous.
I guess they had never done anything quite like this and
didn't know what the man in the street was going to make
GALM: Was there much student activity at Immaculate Heart
during the disruptive campus years?
CORITA: Well, it was very mild, whatever there was, compared
with what was going on at Berkeley, for example. Nothing
like that. It was at that time almost totally a girls'
school. There were some boys in the music department. I
think the students were involved, but they were ....
Well, at that time--I can't speak of now, but at that time —
none of them were involved in drugs or in that end of the
scene, and they were probably involved in school and their
own social life.
GALM: Did the art department ever become a hub of political
CORITA: No. Other than those things like the IBM exhibit.
That's as far as we went. And the Mary's Day things,
which were political in a sense, as far as issues were
concerned. But certainly not about candidates.
GALM: Why don't we shift over to a major commission that
you had, and that was the Vatican Pavilion wall. You
mentioned last time that the invitation to do it did not
come from church authorities.
CORITA: Didn't come from Rome. [laughter]
GALM: Who did it come from?
CORITA: Norman Laliberte was in charge of a large area on
the first floor. It was a two-floor exhibit. Did you see
CORITA: So he was really the one who wrote to me and asked
if I would do it. So I did three and chose the one I liked
best and sent it.
GALM: You did three, what? in scale or in full?
CORITA: No, I did three full ones because I had never done
anything that big. Well, I had done, I think, a billboard,
small, and then it was blown up. I've forgotten what it
was for, even. But I just felt I wanted to do more than
one. In fact, I usually do more than one of a thing when
I'm doing a job because I work very much from a kind of
intuitive level; I have to be very free when I'm working,
and sometimes you're not free when you start. And then you
get relaxed into an idea, and there is a greater communica-
tion, I think, between what starts at the gut level and what
comes out of your hand. At that time, I had a good friend
who was principal over at the [Mother of] Good Counsel
School [Carol Carrig] , which was close to the college, and
she lent me their school basement, which was stored with
all kinds of furniture, including two large tables. So
we moved all the furniture to one side of the room — this
was forty feet long — and I would spread out the area I
was working on, on two big tables, probably about once and
a half again the size of this room. And then the other
part--as I finished it, I'd drape it over the furniture
and then pull it down as I needed it. [laughter]
CALM: Were you given the theme — the Beatitudes--or was
that . . . ?
CORITA: I think I was, yes.
GALM: I came across something, and it sounded like it was
the description for the commission, that it had tCi be
4 X 40 feet, or was that just . . . ?
CORITA: That's right, no, that's right. That was the
space that they had for it.
GALM: And were you given $2,500 to do it?
GALM: It had to be to New York by March 1?
GALM: You got $700 for two sisters to fly out to check
GALM: You mentioned that you did three. Would you recall
which one you actually took?
CORITA: Yes. I'm trying to remember whether it was first,
second, or third, in order. Is that what you're asking?
GALM: I'm trying to test your feeling of opening up after
you've worked with--whether it actually was one of the
CORITA: I'm not really sure. It was either the second or
the third. I did one that was very, very much like my
prints, very free shapes, and just the words of the Beati-
tudes themselves. I had made my own set of Beatitudes by
taking phrases from different translations of Scripture that
I liked. None of them quite seemed all good, but some of
them were good in parts. I put my own together, so to
speak. The first one had just the words, and then--don't
remember the order of the other two, but for one I chose
words from John F. Kennedy and Pope John, who were, of
course, the great heroes of the time; and then the other
one was much smaller in scale. In fact, I really liked it
better than the one I sent, but it was to be up above eye
level, probably from about eight feet down four feet. And
the one that consisted of quotations from many, many people
was much smaller in scale. The words were too small, I
felt, to be read at that level, though I liked it better
than the one I sent. And later, that one, the first one,
got sold at an art sale when I was away. And the one with
the smaller words was purchased by the United Church
people; they circulated it for a number of years, and I
don't know where it finally ended up. And--or did they
buy the . . . ? Yes, I take it back. They purchased the
one from the Vatican Pavilion and circulated it among their
groups. And the one with the small printing, I exhibited in
a couple of places; and then it was finally purchased by
Fullerton Junior College, and it's in their cafeteria now.
And that's kind of a nice offshoot. It's right down above
the table which holds the food, so it's great. The students
can read at eye level as they go by.
GALM: What was the reaction to it? I've heard of the
positive reaction. Was there much negative reaction to it?
CORITA: I don't remember any negative reaction connected
with that. Actually, Laliberte's work was very much, at
that time, in tune with it. So that whole area was really
very nicely designed as a kind of unit. The mural you
passed by just before you got into the Pieta area. And if
there were bad things, I don't remember ever hearing them.
I got a lot of good response from it, but I don't remember
ever hearing anything negative. Probably was said, I'm
sure, among all those people.
GALM: Then you did get some other major commissions. The
Westinghouse — that came a little bit later, 1966.
CORITA: You're so good with my dates.
GALM: I've looked them up.
CORITA: The Westinghouse series, I guess you'd call them.
David Lewis, who is in charge of advertising — or sales
promotion, some such thing — came out to see me in the art
department when I was still teaching and talked about this
series. At that time, neither of us knew how long it was
going to go on. So I said, yes, I would be interested.
So I did it, and it's still going on. About three or four
years ago, they made a portfolio. When they put the ad in
the magazine each time, they also have a silk-screen print
made from it in an edition of about 200 or 300, and these
are sent as gifts to the people on the president's mailing
list — that is, [Donald H.] McGannon. Not the president of
the United States, [laughter] the president of Group W. And
they also have reprints which they send to people who write
in for them, which are printed on better paper. They made
a portfolio of the past designs--! think they're the first
sixteen, beautifully presented--and then this also was
mailed to that same mailing list [ The Corita Collection :
An Expression of Broadcasting Philosophy ] .
GALM: It's unfortunate that's such a limited edition.
CORITA: Yes, right. Except the original thing in the
magazine is not very limited, and usually it's in about
three or four magazines. Not always the same ones: some-
times in a trade magazine, and then sometimes in Fortune ,
sometimes in Time and Newsweek , or ... .
GALM: Did that please your goals, the fact that it would
receive such wide circulation?
CORITA: Very much. Because I think this is what really
kept me in prints after I got started, though I have done
some paintings. I really like the idea of lots of people
being able to have them and my being able to keep one
myself. So, yes, I've always had the feeling that I want
the stuff to get out. Like I would love to do billboards.
GALM: You've done one, haven't you?
CORITA: Yes, I've done one, and I've done another one
that will go up this summer, I think, for the college.
GALM: For Immaculate Heart?
CORITA: For Immaculate Heart. But I just love the idea of
the work being really public. I think I feel a bit private
now about myself, but I like the work to be public.
GALM: Was the Container Corporation [of America ] --was that
a similar project?
CORITA: That was just a single invitation.
GALM: In other words, that wasn't a series.
CORITA: No, no. It was a series, but I was just one of
the people in the series.
GALM: Oh, I see.
CORITA: In fact, I think they sort of really had a great
deal of influence on magazine ads. At least some companies
since have done that sort of thing, giving an artist a whole
page and just a byline for the company. And of course the
Westinghouse people went one step further and gave me the
whole page without a byline. They have a separate page with
their information on it.
GALM: Did you have any input as to the selection of the
men, the words of wisdom?
CORITA: No, David usually chooses those. I always have
the freedom to refuse to do it if I don't like it, and
they'll find another one. But they've always just been
things that were very much to my liking.
GALM: Never refused a one.
CORITA: Never refused a one, yes. That's been a lovely
kind of relationship because there has never been any kind
of written contract or any confusion or complexity or
trouble. It just has been a very simple arrangement.
GALM: I heard through a second or a third or a fourth
party that you also did a happening for the Westinghouse
people back in Philadelphia. Would you describe that?
CORITA: Yes. It was in a program with an architect and
a city planner, so there were three of us on the program.
No, I'm getting it mixed up with Winterfest, which I did
for Boston. Well, I did several of these, and they mainly
consisted of an introductory talk, in which I would discuss
a bit of the feeling and reason behind celebration, what
visual things did for us, and what it meant for a group of
people to do things together. [I would] just sort of get
the people to the point where they would do the things
from a spirit of their own understanding rather than having
something silly dictated to them to do or something that
would make them feel silly, because I think if they were
taken out of context, they might feel silly doing them.
We had prepared, I think, a bag for each person, and there
were — let's see — there were balloons and hats and I can't
remember what ....
GALM: I think a quotation, too, possibly.
CORITA: A quotation, yes, a quotation that they were to
read to the person next to them. So it was an effort to have
a small celebration just about being together because it
really wasn't commemorating anything or celebrating anything
outside of just the fact that we were there together.
GALM: This individual said that they all broke out singing
"Auld Lang Syne. "
CORITA: Yes, now that you say that, yes. [laughter]
GALM: Which does seem to indicate that the spirit was
CORITA: Yes, yes. Well, again, then I think--maybe I
mentioned this to you when I was talking about giving
TAPE NUMBER: II, SIDE TWO
APRIL 13, 1976
GALM: You were going to mention something about student
assignments in connection with — did you actually call
these happenings, or . . . ?
CORITA: Yes, they did.
GALM: Oh, they did. [laughter] What did you call them?
CORITA: I don't know--they were just jobs. [laughter] But
in giving assignments to the students, I think I talked to
you about trying to separate their reasoning function from
their intuitive function, or maybe more their analytical
function from their synthetic function, their putting things
together. Or their critical — that's better — the critical
from their creative function. So that if you could get
people to the point where their critical faculties were
involved in something, almost anything, their creative
functions could function more freely, because they don't
go together: one is taking apart, and one is putting
together; one is making, and one is reviewing what has been
made. And if you're reviewing while you are making, you
become very awkward in the making. I suppose it would be
like an actor thinking "Now I am acting and what is the
audience thinking?" instead of just being fully in the part.
So for the happening, I usually had about five or six things
as instructions that I would tell them to do, and they were
very definite with very short-term goals so that nobody
in the room would feel that they were difficult to do. I
mean, trained as we are to do what we're told to do, they
were very serious about this and they would do them — one,
two, three, four, five. And they were so constructed,
the directions, that they created the form for the celebra-
tion, and the people then brought that form to life.
GALM: What was the company trying to accomplish by these
CORITA: I think companies or anybody that puts on conven-
tions is always trying to do something that will make the
convention less deadly, [laughter] rather than just having
all speeches or all discussions--to have something. In
fact, where was it that we did a program with . . . ? Oh,
I know. I was invited to put on one of these happenings
at a ... . What was it called? I'm trying to think if
it was at Yale or some comparable institution, and they
were having a meeting of theologians. And we were on the
last night. I brought two people along to help me. And
all of the people said, "You know, it would have been much
better if this had happened at the beginning of the confer-
ence instead of at the end." Because it just sort of undid
everybody: they started talking to each other and being
very relaxed. And it would have been a good thing to start
with and then carry on their deep theological discussions.
GALM: I know when we ended last time, you mentioned that
you had just received from a friend a Hallmark brochure or
CORITA: A book.
GALM: . . . and that what they were doing were things that
you and your students at Immaculate Heart had thrown away,
or had ....
CORITA: Well, I was thinking not so much that we had
thrown away, but they were obviously borrowed techniques.
They were poor examples of things that we would have
discarded if I had the group. You know, if I had each
person do a group of fifty, then we would choose the best
from that. And I think it had the tone that they were things
we wouldn't have taken.
GALM: You mentioned that they were dead. What techniques
did you use to infuse life into . . . ?
CORITA: Well, I think for me, in a picture, life is a sort
of synonym for quality. And if a thing has quality, it lives,
And if it's hackneyed or if it's amateurish, or if it just
doesn't have good form, doesn't have good shapes, it just
doesn't work. Like bad poetry, you know. They can use
marvelous words, but put them together in the wrong order,
or use corny words--you know the difference between a good
poem and a bad poem, or one that just really excites you
and which you can live with for a long time or something you
read and you say, "Well, that's rather obvious." So I
think some of those same distinctions hold, and it's a
matter of just exercising yourself in looking until you
become more and more refined. And then, of course, you
always have surprises, too. I always had great surprises
with the students. As they would put out their things, we
would all stand around and talk about them. A lot of
times, I would look at a certain piece and say, "I don't
like that." I would say this to myself, and as different
people talked about it, a lot of times I would look at it
again and find that there was something in it that my set
of prejudices had prevented me from seeing; I began to see
it differently and liked it. So that it wasn't a matter of
quality, it was a matter of myself blocking myself from
seeing what may have been a new form to me.
GALM: I noticed in one of the things that you'd written — I
assume that maybe it was a pass-out to the students--that
you were talking about screens that operate and that there
are two major screens, one being the screen of history,
and I think the other screen being that--it has to do with
ugliness, that ....
CORITA: We have in our minds that certain things are ugly,
and so we don't really look at them.
GALM: Did you have any specific assignments for them to
overcome this prejudice?
CORITA: Yes, I remember at that time I was very excited
about billboards. I guess it was the whole era of pop art.
And I also got very excited about sections of the city that
I would have called ugly before. I took the students to —
there were two Mark [C] Bloome tire companies; one was the
one on Sunset Boulevard, I think, and the other was down on
La Brea, perhaps, or in that area below Wilshire. So we
just went there, either with cameras or with little finders,
you know, a piece of paper with a rectangle cut out of the
center which you can look in and just see a small section.
And we just spent the afternoon, two afternoons, one at
one place and one at the other, just looking. And of course,
taking off small pieces, little rectangles, that are like
taking a picture, you can take a section, or maybe a section
of a letter [where] not the whole word shows and certainly
not the whole gas station. There were some things you
couldn't do anything good with, like artificial flowers.
And there was a marvelously funny wall behind the one down
on La Brea, behind piles of tires. The piles of tires were
beautiful because they were really just piled up so nicely,
and they were nice looking as tires, and all. And behind
them was painted — or I guess it was wallpaper — a kind of
imitation bricks and ivy. [laughter] It was hysterical.
But then I was thinking the other day — I was driving
down, riding down Western Avenue, down as far as Third
street, and I couldn't believe how ugly a place could be.
And then of course I think I feel very differently about
Hollywood, having lived in Boston, because I'm living in a
part of Boston in which the houses were built in the late
1800s, and they have such a community. They belong together,
even though they're very different and have kind of funny
parts to them, as if they were taken out of a catalog and
put together. But they're all kind of brownstone, and
they're all about the same height, and they're all residences
— though by now cut up into apartments, but they were
GALM: Of course, massage parlors moved into Western after
CORITA: Right. Oh, yes, yes.
GALM: Can you see beauty in those signs? [laughter]
CORITA: No, I couldn't. I said to myself, "This is really
depressing. This is really ugly." So I think it had to
do with selecting out of that. It was not really ....
Then, of course, if you put a lot of things together, like
a whole row of neon signs, for example, even if they have
little cocktail signs with water dripping into them, still,
the conglomerate can be kind of exciting. Like Broadway, I
guess. Somebody said if you couldn't read English, Broadway
would be beautiful with its night lights.
GALM: Your prints that now depend — no, I shouldn't use the
word "depend" — that use phrases that are so well known to
the mind, like "a tiger in your tank"--well, of course,
twenty years, thirty years from now, no one' 11 realize the
significance of some of those phrases, those catch phrases.
CORITA: I don't think I ever worry about something I do
lasting forever. I think at that time, those were very
meaningful to some people, and it was just a kind of
contagious, fun thing that I got into.
GALM: Do you think they can still stand on their own merit,
CORITA: I think so, visually, um-hmm. Not in the same
sense, I suppose, as the more poetic ones would, but I
think those distinctions are not really valid. Things are
different, and maybe one isn't better than the other.
And some things that last longer may not be better than some
things that are just good for the moment. I think I don't
like distinctions much. [laughter]
GALM: Can you remember the first time that you decided to
take a slogan, a TV slogan, or a Madison Avenue phrase?
CORITA: Yes. One summer, the last print I made — I think
it was the last print I made — was Go Slow . Well, that
was taken from just a traffic signal, and it had a — what is
it? — a reverse curve, that warns you that you're coming to
the end. It also has an arrow. And then I entitled it
Luke --I ' ve forgotten the chapter and verse, but it was that
section in St. Luke where he talks about Mary keeping all
these things in her heart [Luke 2:14,51]. And there was a
big, red heart in it also. So I really thought of that as
my then picture of the Immaculate Heart, which was just a
very bold, graphic set of symbols. That was the first one.
And then another one of the very early ones was, I took the
"In" from the parking lot next to us and the arrow and used
that pretty literally [In] . But it depends on the colors
and shapes and what you do with them.
I did this for two or three years, two at least, and
I remember it was the second year, that summer we were up
at Montecito with Dan Berrigan. And I remember once, we
had a marvelous night. There were about four of us with
Dan, and I knew that I was going to come home and make my
prints. And I thought, "VJell, this is a great opportunity.
I'll get some help before I go." So we all got together
with a bunch of magazines and tore phrases. I suggested
that everybody take two phrases from separate ads that were
fun together. And some of those I actually pasted up and
GALM: Was there an inclination at first to tie in the
phrases to something more--such as a biblical phrase, or
a . . . ?
CORITA: Yes, for the most part, I thought of them as meaning
something else. Like, "put a tiger in your tank" I really
think of as saying [that] the spirit, whatever the spirit
means to us, is inside of us, the God who is in us, or who
is us, whatever, however you want to say it. Coming out of
me, I think people read them on that level. And usually,
these prints were seen in the context of a show, where there
was enough — how shall I say it? — well, there might be a
poem or another phrase, or it might even be a scriptural
phrase juxtaposed or a poetic phrase juxtaposed. So they
got the idea that these were to be read on another level.
So they became symbols, in a sense.
GALM: Did you always feel that juxtaposition was necessary
for the people to understand? Or eventually could the phrase
stand on its own, even though it was, say, a common phrase?
CORITA: I think I always wanted to do something with it
myself, because even the In print, as I now think, had a
little phrase from Lewis Carroll which says, [laughter] "When
I choose a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."
GALM: I guess that's exactly what you're doing, isn't it?
CORITA: Yes. [laughter] It's the old teacher in me, I
GALM: What about colors? When you decide upon color ....
That one is black, and it's blue, and it's very strong.
CORITA: Yes, yes. I love that print [Iri] . It's
one of my very favorites. Well, the color--you know, it was
funny: in that time when I was describing working with a
group of people helping, a lot of times whoever was mixing
the paint would say, "What color are you going to use next?"
And I would say, "Why don't you make one, and we'll see if
it works?" So, sometimes it was a surprising thing like
that because somebody else would be throwing in a color. I'm
sure if I hadn't liked it, I would have said no. But if
it came from somebody else, and I liked it, I took it.
For example, the colors in my newest prints, I just felt a
need to move away from the primary colors, the rainbow
colors, which I'd been using for a number of years, and
do something that was just a little different, kind of off,
kind of calm. And these prints — they just came this morning
— as I look at them, I find them very calm and quiet. From
time to time I have read myself, and now I think I'm more
up with myself, and I know that there is a calming in me.
When I was making the prints, I didn't think, "I am feeling
calmer now," but as I look at them now, I say, "Yeah, that's
what's happening in me, too."
GALM: So in that middle period, say in the sixties, there
was perhaps more of a need to make strong statements with
GALM: You mention community. You mentioned the students
began to reject the idea of working in a group assignment.
CORITA: Some, not all. Some were the good old-fashioned kind
who were willing, gung-ho to do anything. And I thought of
these group projects as marvelous experiences for the
students, because I thought, well, if they're going to get
into art work, this is what they're going to be doing.
They're going to be working for somebody, and they're going
to have to take orders from someone; and they'll never
have it this good because they'll never get to really do
their own things. They'll probably in the beginning be more
often told what to do more specifically than I was telling
them. But I thought here was a chance to have their work
shown publicly and also to be a part of something bigger.
But that was my view of it, and it wasn't always theirs —
or the view of all of them.
GALM: Do you think the Immaculate Heart art department
was unique in that it undertook so many group projects?
CORITA: Yes, I think so.
GALM: Anybody else that you know of that was doing . . . ?
CORITA: No, no. People were having exhibits of student
work, but they would be assemblages of individual work. I'm
not saying again that one is better or one is worse, but
they're just — it was a kind of different experience.
GALM: Was that an approach that you began immediately as
soon as you started teaching in art?
CORITA: No, no. I think in the beginning I taught more as
I had been taught, and this sort of evolved as we bumped
into different things, as we bumped into new problems.
GALM: Do you think that the fact that you were part of a
comrnunity--did that have any bearing on your ability,
perhaps, to work with community projects?
CORITA: I never thought of it, but I'm sure it made it a
very natural thing to do, yes.
GALM: Because there must bave been other things within
the community that you did as a community.
CORITA: Um-hmm, um-hmm, right.
GALM: Learned how to make use of the best.
CORITA: Yes, that's right, um-hmm. In fact, the whole
community was just that. [laughter] With each person doing
what she could do best.
GALM: Well, it sort of struck me when you said that about
the students beginning not to want to do as much as group
projects that maybe--was it just a reflection of time change?
CORITA: Well, I think maybe that was a reflection, and maybe
this is getting back to the question you asked earlier,
that that was probably the form that revolt took place. I
mean, the form which the revolt took on our campus was that
the students got to be not wanting to be told what to do.
And it began to sort of disintegrate all of the requirements
and the prepared programs. Now I think there are no require-
ments except those that each department sets up. And those
are very few. I think in one sense, it was a necessity, and
they probably had to come to it. But I think in another
sense, something is lost because there were many required
classes that the students would take and would then get
wildly interested in. It may just have turned their whole
direction or made them change their major, and if they
hadn't been forced into the class, they would never have
chosen to take it. So I suppose it's like anybody, like
people raising children. It's always a hard line; it's
always hard to draw the line or hit the balance as to what
young people should be just commanded to do which they'll
never have sense enough to choose for themselves, or how
much they should be allowed .... I remember Margaret
Mead saying — I went to a very small seminar of hers in the
East, and there were about four students who came with this
one teacher. They were college-age students, young college.
And Margaret Mead was saying that she thought everyone
should put in two years of voluntary service to their country
— certainly not going to war, but just helping people.
And this one young man said, "I don't think that's a good
idea. I wouldn't mind volunteering, but I wouldn't like to
be told what to do." And she turned on him, and she said,
"That's just the trouble with you young people today. You
don't want to be told to do anything." [laughter] She
said, "You know very well that if it weren't enforced, or
if it weren't an obligation, most young people wouldn't do
it." She really gave it to him in no uncertain terms. But
I think that's true: a lot of people wouldn't. And yet at
the same time, it's awful to force people to do things.
GALM: You also mentioned that there was perhaps a certain
resentment of your growing reputation as an artist.
CORITA: Um-hmm. It was a very difficult time, I think, for
the students because I was away a lot more than they thought
I should be away. And again, I thought that was good for
them because I would leave them with a lot of work to do.
They had peace and quiet to do it in, and then when I came
back, you know, we would look at the work. And then it got
also very difficult because we began to have a lot of
visitors at the college, and sometimes that interfered with
classes, or it would take me out of the class. And some of
the students resented that. So the fame sort of got in the
way, in a sense. And they were just angry. But as I say,
students were angry in those days. So it was . . .
GALM: You were a focus for some of it.
CORITA: Yes, yes.
GALM: When did your fame really begin?
CORITA: I think it just sort of grew as I began to exhibit
and then do some public things.
GALM: Was there any one particular . . . ?
CORITA: You see, I've been at work a long time.
GALM: From ' 51 to . . . . [laughter] That's pretty good.
CORITA: Yes, to '76. At one of my exhibits, this young boy
came up to me and said, "You know, I really like the sort of
stuff you're doing, this putting words and shapes together."
He said, "You know, I'm out of a job now, and I was wondering
if you could tell me how to get started in this, producing
these things." He was looking at the cards that were made
from the prints. And I had such a sinking feeling because
I thought, here's this young kid who just thinks he can
start, and what a rude awakening he has in store for him!
So then I think I said something about, well, you know, I
taught for thirty-two years and did this on the side, and
then I began — I was finished teaching — doing it full time or
as much time as I wanted to spend on it. So I said, "It's
a matter of working at it for a long time."
GALM: Was there ever a point before you stopped teaching,
that you thought to yourself that you wanted to be artist
first and teacher second?
CORITA: No. No, I always thought I wanted it the other
way around. I always thought that I was a teacher and not
an artist, and that I really did that on the side.
GALM: Was there a great enough shift in feeling that it
entered into your leaving the community?
CORITA: No, no. I think — well, I shouldn't say that,
because I think that first summer that I went away, it was
[with] this friend of mine, Celia Hubbard, with whom I
went to stay in Cape Cod, who lives in Boston. She was the
one who had, I think, written a letter--! found this out
later--to the president of the college to say if something
weren't done about me, I was going to have a nervous break-
down. Other people could see the pace at which I was
going, which was really insane toward the end, and I don't
think I quite realized it. I was young and healthy, and I
said no to so many things that I thought I was saying no to
as much as was possible. But apparently I wasn't. So
when I found out how simple life was just staying with one
person and making prints for a whole summer, it began to
dawn on me what I had been doing, and I just couldn't do
it anymore. I had to get away from it, I think, to see it,
get out of it to experience what it was to be out of it,
before I could realize it. And it was at that point that I
decided that I just couldn't teach anymore, that I didn't
want to teach anymore. Because I had a lot of offers to
teach after I left, marvelous people who wrote, you know.
Some of them were worried about what I was going to do.
[laughter] "We'll take you!" And in fact a couple of years
ago, I was asked to be the artist in residence at Harvard,
and I just burst out laughing because it just struck me as
so funny, really. I said I was sorry; I was really very
impressed and very honored, but I just couldn't connect it
with me. But then I said I really wasn't ready to get back
into that, if I ever would be, because it would mean, you
know, going to the school two or three days a week, being
there, doing my own work, and letting the students come as
they wanted to — and I think I can't work anymore except by
myself. So to think of having students around--! suppose if
I did it, it might be fun; and I really don't ever close the
door and say I will never teach again. In fact, I did teach
a night [class] --this time I was in Los Angeles--for a
group, but it was because I was very interested in the person
who had the group and I wanted to do it. And it was a fun
experience. But I love the freedom of not being responsible
for anybody else.
GALM: But during those last years, you had never got to the
point where you actually resented the students?
CORITA: As interfering with my own work? No. Because I
really thought that was my work. See, I think I am very
creative, and I think my teaching was very creative. I
think it's possible to do anything, like to teach — almost
anything that's relatively human--and be creative in it. I
don't think you have to be painting or sculpting or composing
music to be artistic or to be creative. And I think that
that satisfied my creative .... I found teaching really
always very hard because I think I always maintained the
feeling that I couldn't do it, that I wasn't quite up to it.
So I worked very hard, and I think I made classes very good
because I wasn't too sure of myself. So that was a kind of
a bonus, a painful bonus.
GALM: Were your students able to go out and be themselves
as artists, or was there an inclination for them to be
CORITA: Little Coritas. Very few of the students in the
early days went into the arts. In fact, we used to discour-
age them against it. We said to them very frankly, you know,
"If you go into the art field, you will start at the bottom;
you will do things that you know you don't want to do and
that you know you are not good at. It would be much better
if you got a job typing or teaching or doing something and
did your art on the side until you got to the point"--
which I suppose was really my own pattern — "got to the
point where it would be acceptable. And then you could
switch over into the art." And for the most part, the art
majors became teachers. And I suppose this was a very
natural outcome because they were taught in such a way that
they made great teachers. They learned how to throw problems
to their students and let them open up under the problems,
instead of just sort of teaching them in a routine fashion.
We really, I think, sent out some spectacular teachers.
GALM: You had mentioned Celia Hubbard. Now, wasn't she the
woman who . . . ?
CORITA: She was the director of the Botolph [Group Inc.].
GALM: Botolph. Were you connected with the Botolph Group
from the very beginning?
CORITA: Yes, we had things on exhibit. I had things on
exhibit — and I think the students did, too — in the first
exhibit they put on. And then, whenever we'd go East, that
was always one of the places we stopped and spoke for that
GALM: How did she form that center?
CORITA: She was a convert to Catholicism. She had been a
professional artist, and coming into the Church, she could
see the kind of ugly artifacts that were available to most
people and thought it would be a good thing to do to create
a place where people could come to find things for the home
that were beautiful, like crucifixes and pictures and
sculptures and creche sets and so forth. And then they also
did some consulting jobs for churches and chapels in the East.
GALM: So her relationship with you would have been just to
invite you to show your work or to actually purchase your
work . . .
CORITA: . . . and to come and speak, yes.
GALM: But you wouldn't have been active in, say, its
CORITA: No, I think at least toward the end, that need is
melting away, people are also learning that a lot of objects
are religious which we didn't formerly think were religious.
So it [Botolph Group Gallery] grew into a kind of a shop.
It was always a very sparkling kind of thing because Celia's
a very sparkling kind of person, and they always had a lot
of my things around, a lot of my cards and prints. I
suppose I was sort of their chief permanent artist, so to
speak. But there were always interesting things there, and
it attracted a lot of young people.
GALM: I know there was a Boston Tea Party held there. When
was that? I wasn't able to establish the date. Harvey
Cox and . . .
CORITA: . . . and Dan Berrigan and Judy Collins, yes.
GALM: Was that after you moved back?
CORITA: Yes. I was living with Celia. I stayed with Celia
that first year when we moved from the Cape back up to
Boston. I stayed with her. And it was during that year--so
it must have been '69 or '70. I think it could have been
around Christmastime. And we put it on in a place called
the Boston Tea Party, which was a discotheque, [laughter]
which had been an old church. It had been many different
kinds of churches, but it had originally been built for a
church and had been taken over by different denominations.
In fact, it still had the words sort of sculptured over a
great central arch that said something about — it was a
scriptural quotation; I can't think of what it was. But
it had just stayed there all the time. So it was just
really for the building that ....
GALM: Was it just sort of a fund raiser, or was it just
an evening of celebration?
CORITA: No, it was just an evening of celebration. No
hat was passed. [laughter] No admission was charged. It
was just a celebration, and it really went .... I
showed a lot of slides, and we had, of course, music with
them. That was during the wartime, so there were a lot of
visual commentaries on that. And then Harvey and Dan spoke,
and Judy sang, and I spoke, and then we had enough bread
and wine for everybody. We passed it around. It was an
unbelievable crowd, but we did it.
GALM: Did you multiply it a bit, or ... ?
CORITA: No, we just bought enough. [laughter] But that
was a really marvelous evening, and it was great. And some
people got a little disturbed. Some of the older Botolph
board members got a little disturbed because they thought
we were having communion--which indeed we were. [laughter]
But we were not tyring to usurp the powers of the Church.
We were just eating and drinking together.
GALM: Now, with these commissions, you were making some
CORITA: Um-hmm, yes, yes.
GALM: Now at that time, was the money then funneled back
into the community?
CORITA: Into the college.
GALM: Into the college.
CORITA: Um-hmm, yes. And then, whenever--toward the end,
it was really, you know, greater amounts, as jobs began to
multiply, and so it would go to the college. And then,
whenever we needed anything, we would just get it and send
the bills to the business department. So that in a sense
we could do a lot of things because we really had money to
GALM: When the college was contemplating a move to Claremont,
did the fact that you and the art department were so active
as far as commissions play into the possiblity of its
having money to move?
CORITA: No, it never was that much money. No. I think it
was more that--I mean, the contribution we made in that area
was more that we had sort of publicized and helped to create
first, I think, some of the spirit that was communicable.
A lot of spirit had always been going on before the art
department got active because we always really had a very
creative faculty. But I think we gave it a kind of push
from the inside. Also I think we could make it public, in
a way. For example, the science department or the language
department, though they were good departments and doing
perhaps as effective work as we were doing with their students,
had no way of making themselves known--somewhat to the resent-
ment, understandably, of, say, the science teachers, who
would go to a convention, and if they said they were
from Immaculate Heart — "Oh, that's that art college."
[laughter] And they didn't like being called an art
college. So that was difficult. But, no, the money wasn't
GALM: Did you play a part administratively within the
college, other than chairman of the department? Did you
serve on any boards of note?
CORITA: There was something — what was it called? I think
it was called the academic senate, but I wouldn't be too
sure--which was composed of the heads of the departments.
And we discussed programs and such like.
GALM: Did you ever enter into any heavy decision making for
CORITA: I don't know. I used to try to avoid committees
as far as possible. I'm not a meeting person. But there
was so much interchange among us as faculty that I think if
there was any contribution made, it was made more on those
terms than in a kind of political fashion. I think it's a
better kind of politics.
GALM: When did you get into the book publishing business?
What was the first book?
CORITA: Continuum was a magazine — I don't know if it's
still in existence--that was printed in Chicago, which was
kind of a quality theological popular magazine, probably not
too popular, but good quality. I'm trying to think of the
man's name who wrote and asked me if I would do a section
for them that would be published in the magazine and later
would be published as a book. [doorbell rings; tape
recorder turned off]
GALM: You were talking about Continuum . Was it Continuum ?
CORITA: Continuum , yes. And so then they — I think Herder
and Herder; there was some connection with Herder and
Herder — and then they published it in a book form. It was
called Footnotes and Headlines . 
GALM: So the prayer book was the first publication.
CORITA: That's right. That's really the only one that I've
written, if you would call it written. The others are all
books which I've sort of coauthored, by the fact that some-
one wrote the words and I did the visual part.
GALM: How did--like the To-Believe-In series--how did you get
caught up with the poet?
CORITA: Well, I had met Joe Pintauro--in fact, he was a
priest in the early days, when I was going to New York. There
was sort of a group of friends in New York whom we'd see all
the time, and he was sort of in that group. And then when
he began working in the publishing department--he ' s working
for an advertising agency and writes on the side. And he —
oh, I know. I used to answer letters on things that I had
printed. No, that doesn't make sense. If I did something
for a company or an organization, I would usually say,
especially in the days before I got paid, do 500 extra for
us or 300 extra for us. And then we would give these away,
or I would write letters on them. And I had answered one
of his letters on the back of a reproduction of one of my
prints which says, "To believe in God is to know that all
the rules are fair, and there will be wonderful surprises."
And he just got all inspired by that and started to write,
wrote me a great letter--! think it came for Easter--f illed
with all kinds of confetti and what have you. But on each
page he had written his own "To believe in God is . . . ."
And that was the book [To Believe in God ] . So then later we
got the idea of publishing it.
GALM: What about the other book?
CORITA: There's one To Believe in Man and one To Believe in
GALM: The other question I had is, tell me about Easter
tomatoes. Was that the Heinz Ketchup series, or is that
CORITA: Well, I did a print — Sam Eisenstein is a teacher at
[L.A.] City College, an English teacher who writes. He had
come to one of the Mary's Days and had been very moved and
wrote me this letter saying how great it was. And he
included this marvelous thing which he had written on Mary;
and one of the phrases that really made it memorable was
"Mary was the juiciest tomato of all." [laughter] And in
the context, it was really beautiful. The whole thing was
gracefully done. So I made a print from it, using those
words [ Tomato (1967)). Well, I was aware of how "tomato"
was used colloquially, but I felt--you know, at that time,
language was taking a turn [such that] you could hardly
use a word without it having some other meaning. And I
figured that wasn't fair for people to destroy words that —
and at that time, I did a lot of research into tomato, and
Sam did some for me, too, and found out that it really had
a marvelous history and was connected in fact, at one point,
I'm quite sure, with the mystical rose.
TAPE NUMBER: III, SIDE ONE
APRIL 13, 1976 and APRIL 20, 1976
GALM: I believe you were tracing the origins of tomato
and the mystical rose.
CORITA: Yeah, there was some medieval use of it as a
religious symbol for Our Lady, I think. I hope I'm not
making this up. But that caused just more trouble than
could be imagined over such a simple thing, because people
said, you know, "That's a dirty word. How can you use that
in connection with the Blessed Mother?" So that was ....
GALM: Did you get in trouble with the chancery on that, or
just overall criticism?
CORITA: Well, they had a funny way of acting. I suppose
it was very normal, because it was a very hierarchical way.
I never got into trouble: the head of the community and
the head of the college got into trouble. [laughter] But
they [the chancery] wouldn't bother dealing with me.
GALM: How would the head of the college and the head of
the community then deal with you?
CORITA: Well, fortunately, they liked what I was doing, you
see, and believed that we should be able to do what we
wanted to do. So they would tell me about it, and we
would kind of groan together, and ....
GAUI: Go on.
CORITA: Yes. But nobody said, "Don't do that anymore."
GALM: So was the community life ever a restriction on your
CORITA: No. I remember we had a few — two people I think of
who were at one time or other the heads of the community
who really didn't like what we were doing, tastewise. I
mean, it wasn't to their taste. But there was never any
kind of restriction about it. And I thought it was very
interesting, because one of these people [Sister Regina
McPartlin] is now working in a hospital and came to me the
other day to ask me to design three rooms in the hospital.
So if you wait long enough, [laughter] things come round.
GALM: Why don't we stop for today?
APRIL 20, 1976 [video session]
GALM: We're here in North Hollywood at 5126 Vineland Avenue,
and we're speaking with Corita Kent in her gallery [Corita
Prints]. And with us are two members of the gallery family,
Mary Downey (Mrs. Frank Downey) and Gladys Collins. I think
we might first find out how the two women became members of
Corita' s gallery family. Mary, when did you become active
in Corita' s art life?
DOV^nsiEY: Well, Corita first called me in about 1968 and
asked if I would come up and help her just for a few hours
a week. I was glad to do that because I've loved this woman
all of my life and knew how hard she'd worked. Before that.
the students had helped with the exhibits going out, and
friends [had helped], but this seemed to be a bleak period,
where everyone had abandoned the ship for some reason.
CORITA: And the work got heavier.
DOWNEY: That's right. The stacks — the exhibits went up
that high. So I went up at first for just a few hours a
week. But then it soon increased, because during that time,
right at that time, I might say, the change in the community
began yeasting. So then that's when I began actually
working directly with Corita in this work.
GALM: Had something happened in your own personal life
that allowed you the freedom at this point?
DOWNEY: Well, I had lots of boys at home, and I knew when
I had finished with the boys and they had all gone on
their own way that that was going to be my fun work. I was
going up to help Corita at the art department. I didn't
know what I could do, but I knew I could do something to be
of help — scrub floors or something. [laughter] So at this
time, some of the boys had left--one was in Vietnam, and one
had left unhappily, so I was kind of unhappy myself. So it
was nice to have that break. It was an exciting place to be.
GALM: Mrs. Collins, when did you come to the gallery?
COLLINS: Well, I had known the both of them for a long time,
and I wasn't doing anything, and [I was] feeling useless,
you know, like I should do something for humanity or something.
So I'd help somebody, and I went and asked Mary if I might
come up and help her one day a week. And in about two
weeks after that, I was helping every day.
CORITA: We never let her go, [laughter]
COLLINS: We moved out here, and from then on ... . Oh,
my friends are so envious of me, to have such a beautiful
job, which is just as I want, you know, to come and go as
I please, almost, and its being such a lovely place. "How
did [you] fall into it?" they say.
GALM: At that time, had you any inkling of what it might
become for you?
COLLINS: Oh, not at all; oh, not at all. I had no thought
of it. I was just getting tired staying home, and wanted
to--I've always loved Immaculate Heart. The art department
there was an inspiration, really. It was just nice to be
there, and I thought I'd go back, be with the young people
and the arts and that.
GALM: Corita, when did you meet Gladys, then?
CORITA: Well, I had met Gladys, I'm sure, because she was
a longtime friend of Mary's. But I think I--well, I was
away, actually, when she came to help Mary. So I really
met her, got to know her, when she was working in the
GALM: But didn't you know her also as a student, then?
CORITA: Yes, I knew her as a student, true. Those were big
crowded classes, and we didn't get very much chance to have
contact. But Gladys was in classes for quite a while.
COLLINS: Eight years.
CORITA: Eight years, during those times, yes.
COLLINS: Adult education.
GALM: How large were those classes?
CORITA: Well, they started out at about--they could be
sixty or seventy, the first night. They weren't always
that big the second night. [laughter]
GALM: What did you do to scare them away?
CORITA: Well, the first night was sort of an indoctrination
and the beginning assignment.
COLLINS: Oh, that did it.
CORITA: That did it. I remember once we had a mathematician
who did a great deal of traveling in his work, and he had
to miss classes once in a while. He finally came and said,
— he was doing his work on the plane going back and forth,
what could be done in a small space — and he said, "When
I came to take the course, I didn't know it was going to
take my whole life." [laughter] But the weak ones dropped
GALM: So you must have been a very strong one, Gladys,
because you stayed for six or eight years. [laughter]
CORITA: She was a strong one, yes.
GALM: What was your feeling, the first assignment period
that . . . ?
COLLINS: Well, as she said, the first day, she would tell
them a big assignment, and that would scare a lot of people.
But I thought maybe I could get [by] with not so much.
DOWNEY: She being a teacher knew some of the tricks.
GALM: So you thought perhaps there was a little bit of
COLLINS: I thought there was a little break I could get
GALM: Over the years, over the time that you were a
student, what assignment stood out as being the most exciting?
COLLINS: Making banners, I believe. Corita had charge of
those banners, and during several years at Immaculate
Heart, they made huge banners. They would have parades, and
they were tall--they were as tall as a room. We'd make
those, and very often we'd make a story, in the banner, of
GALM: Did you participate in Mary's Day?
COLLINS: Yes, yes. I did.
GALM: Can you describe what it was like to be a participant?
COLLINS: Well, very exhilarating, very exciting, color and
happiness. And everybody was happy, walking up the hill with
their banners flying, and color, and sitting down and eating
bread. I don't know whether they had wine or not.
CORITA: Yes, we had wine, I think.
COLLINS: I don't remember that.
DOWNEY: It was real, wasn't it?
COLLINS: Yes, it was a spontaneous movement, I believe.
I don't think anybody--it was never rehearsed.
COLLINS: They just did it, and they did what they felt
CORITA: There was a lot of planning behind it, but it
COLLINS: Oh, I'm sure.
CORITA: But the actions weren't rehearsed.
GALM: Why did you need a gallery at this point?
CORITA: Well, at that time, the art department was getting
more and more crowded, partly because of the folk art
collection and partly because the students were increasing.
We finally got down to having one big room where everything
happened. So Mary and Glady would be wrapping exhibits to
go or taking care of their business, and the lights would go
out for that class to show a film. So it was partly crowded
and partly the amount of activity there. And we decided
that it would be better for the prints to be out someplace
else. It was at that time that Mary and Frank located this
place, which was close to their home. We thought of it at
that time just as a storage space, and then it gradually
worked into a gallery.
GALM: Were you having any problem with security of the
prints at Immaculate Heart at that point?
CORITA: No, not really. I think we used to have a kind of
joking curse over the door that — I mean, it was purely
mental — that anyone who took anything would really feel
bad about it.
GALM: For days.
CORITA: Right, right. [laughter] No, it was really
amazing, but we didn't have that problem.
GALM: Or even, I mean, the handling--perhaps too much
CORITA: Well, they were always in cabinets and fairly safe,
or up on the wall where people could look at them.
GALM: I see. Well, once you had decided on the property,
Mary, how did you go about creating a gallery?
DOWNEY: Well, just as Gladys said earlier, it just evolved.
Because first we kept pouring the stuff in from the art
department up here, and our boys helped and some students
helped and Frank helped. And it was just like Bekins
storage: we got a big truck and just carried them in and
carried them in. We've taken pictures of them, of the
gallery in those early days--just stores, stacks of these
prints. And we brought the drawers right out from the
cabinets up there, rolled the drawers out. And then the
boys brought the shelves and they drove them right in here.
And then the other prints — Frank made all those cabinets,
those levels of shelves. And we got the idea to make
boxes, so we made our own boxes, with staplers and such,
and numbered them and all. And we were just so much
intent on that, on caring for the prints and getting them
in an order, that I don't think we ever thought of it as a
COLLINS: We just kept — one thing would happen, and then
something else, and we would change.
GALM: What prompted you to start thinking of it as a gallery?
DOWNEY: Well, I think some of the people did know we had
moved here with Corita's prints. That's the attraction,
you must remember. And they kept coming in. And then I
can't stand a place when it's ugly. And I think Corita's
prints are so beautiful that they really deserve a beautiful
background. So Corita paid to have — we asked her, and she
said, "Just go ahead," so we had it painted, we all pitched
in and painted; and then later on, we had the floor laid,
and it came to be what it is today. The background is nice,
and it's not really very pretentious; but it is an atmosphere
like Corita and her prints are, that everybody feels welcome.
They're not put off, like a fancy gallery might. They feel
welcome and at home and able to look at the prints, no
pressure for them to buy. We know they'll buy; [laughter]
they can't help but buy.
GALM: This is an iffy question. Do you think the gallery
would have its same popularity — or not popularity, but
perhaps atmosphere — if it were located on La Cienega or
in Beverly Hills?
CORITA: I think that's an easy question to answer. I
think it would have the same atmosphere if the same people
were in charge. I think it's these two people and their
helpers who are behind the scenes right now who really make
the place, rather than the address. I don't think we could
ever get fancy. [laughter] We can be beautiful, but not
GALM: At this point, were you represented by any galleries
in Los Angeles?
CORITA: Yes. Early on, when I started to make prints, we
began sending them out to galleries. We usually had about
twenty-five to thirty galleries that handled the prints
and would have shows, perhaps once a year, when I would do
a new set of prints.
GALM: Did you have any outlet, though, in Los Angeles,
other than Immaculate Heart?
CORITA: No. That was its own good outlet.
GALM: So what were the first duties, then, as far as the
gallery? You created storage for the prints, but then what?
DOWNEY: Well, that did take some time and some doing.
And then Corita--this Plexiglas frame that is so beautiful
combined with Corita's prints .... We asked Corita if we
could have some frames to hang, and she said yes, but she
said she didn't want us to get involved in frames because
she didn't want us to work too hard. But we chose to get
involved in frames. And they caused us many headaches, the
frames. But so we did begin hanging them. And then people
did keep coming in. And then your big--it was Jack, a
friend of Corita's, Jack Mullen, who has since died, but he
was a super swell guy. It was his idea that as long as it's
going to be a little gallery that Corita should have good
publicity. He was a PR man for the movies, and he had a
beautiful spread in the L. A. Times when we decided it would
be a gallery. We had nobody who knew we were here. That
was a very, very lovely time. And it had a great deal to
do, its success, in a sense, with Jack, who had the know-how
and the gift to--he wanted Corita to have the best.
GALM: Do you recall the date of that opening, the year, at
CORITA: It must have been about '70, I would say.
DOWNEY: Yes, it was.
CORITA: In '69 or '70.
GALM: When you first started using the Plexiglas, was this
before they became sort of standard sizes, or did you have
to actually have it custom-made?
DOWNEY: It was very new then.
CORITA: And hard, because I'd forget to make things
standard size. [laughter]
DOWNEY: We feel she shouldn't be bothered with that limita-
GALM: So since that time, it is not even a consideration
when you do a print.
CORITA: No, no.
GALM: It's just the design itself that determines the size,
or ... ?
CORITA: Yes, it's sort of, I suppose, the way you feel at
the moment, how you feel about the design, what size it
DOWNEY: Well, and too, people have asked her, if she's done
little ones, "Oh, why don't you make big ones." She used to
make really a lot of big ones, the size of this one, A Man
You Can Lean On . And then she's made little bitty ones, as
tiny as the ones to the left, there. So in one way, you
try to accommodate people who ask you; and in another way,
she does what she feels like.
GALM: Does it have anything to do with being able to offer
something that is less expensive than, say, a print of this
CORITA: Well, it's not always that the print is more
expensive if it's bigger. That's not always the case. But
the frames are always more expensive if they're bigger. So
that's a big item. Often the frames are more expensive
than the prints.
GALM: What type of person comes here to the gallery? Can
you sort of give a general description?
DOWNEY: Really, it's varied. Teachers bring their students
here, elementary on through high school; and students
themselves, art students from the colleges, come and just
practically spend a day here. And we have movie actresses
and TV people, engineers and artists themselves. And there
are a number of Oriental architects: some come from San
Francisco, and this is their favorite stop when they come
down on a business trip here. And Corita's work is admired
and respected by I think a wide, wide spectrum of old, young,
poor, rich. It has in a way a very universal appeal, it seems,
from who comes in here.
COLLINS: Yes, oh, yes, they do. People who are — they don't
know very much about art at all. They are not art collectors,
or they don't know very much about art, but they just like
this. It's vivid, and it just suits the people.
DOWNEY: And others are very sophisticated art collectors.
COLLINS: Oh, yes.
DOWNEY: So it is a kind of a broad spectrum.
GALM: Do they want to know a lot about the artist?
DOWNEY: Oh, yes, yes. It means a lot to them to know about
GALM: What was Corita like as a young child, as a member of
the family, Mary?
DOWNEY: Well, I'm prejudiced, because I've said she's my
favorite person. She was delightful. She was the next to
the youngest. So at this time I'm speaking of, in Canada,
she was the youngest. So Mother would give her to us, the
older ones, on vacation. We'd take her off; we'd play in
the woods up in Canada. And when we'd bring her back, or
when we'd go back to school. Mother has often said later
that she couldn't do anything with her because she was so
spoiled. But she was a little pixie kind of a young girl.
And then as a girl in high school, when she graduated.
Mother made her a beautiful white organdy dress; I curled her
hair for her, and she really was beautiful. We have the
picture of her — just lovely. And always a lilt about her.
She had a great group of high school girlfriends, who she
had such fun with. They had a car--one of the girls had
a car in those days--and that was pretty racy, to have a
car with the rumble seat in. They would drive to high school
in the car, and there would be a standard argument in the
morning: Mother would want her to wear a sweater, and she
would not wear a sweater. She was a free spirit, I think.
GALM: What was the family's reaction to her decision to
become a nun?
DOWNEY: Well, you see, our oldest brother — first, our oldest
sister had already become a nun. And then our brother, who
was the next in line, was becoming a priest. So I think
with Mother and Daddy, it was probably in that day they
were very happy.
CORITA: A-OK. [laughter]
DOWNEY: In those days, that was supposed to be the highest,
the bestest that you could do.
GALM: How do you arrange your hours here in the gallery,
COLLINS: From eleven to four, and we are very free to come
and go. If we have something else to do for the day, we
just speak to the other one, and we have another helper, too,
Evelyn [Neuendorff ] , who comes in on Saturdays. We don't like
to work on Saturdays, so she works, comes in Saturdays. But
usually, one of us will take one day off a week sometime to
do something else that we want to do. And one will come a
little early, and the other one come later and go home. It's
very free, very easy.
GALM: Are you open year-round?
COLLINS: No, no.
DOWNEY: Yes, yes.
GALM: Is the gallery open year-round?
COLLINS: Oh, the gallery is open year-round, but we are
not always here, both of us. Mary takes three months
vacation. [laughter] I take a month, maybe two, a different
time. I'll take a month at a time.
DOWNEY: Glady is very faithful to stay. She really does
carry the whole. We've left her sometimes with a whole
series of new prints to get out . . .
COLLINS: . . . and new exhibits. That was one.
DOWNEY: And new exhibits. And she's carried on, and . . .
GALM: When did you decide to expand the activities of
the gallery, or the activities, really, of your art work,
to include greeting cards and your High Cards?
CORITA: Well, the high cards were actually the fourth
book that I did with Harper and Row [ High Cards ] . We
simply decided not to bind them, not to bind the pages, and
have them just be cards and printed on the back with
postcard material. So that was what happened with the High
Cards. I had already done three little books with them:
To Believe in God , To Believe in Man , and To Believe in
Things . And then some of the other cards were done when I
was staying with Celia Hubbard. I stayed with her when I
went back to live in Boston for that first year. She
operated a gallery shop called the Botolph Group. And I
had some of my prints reproduced for cards and did some
original cards for them. They were sold from the store,
and then they also began to distribute them. So that was
really the beginning. And then another couple picked them
up. The greeting card company business is very difficult.
And now I'm going to have them with the American Artist
Group, so they will take care of the distribution. So
this is the way things happen. They start in a bungling
way and eventually get shaped up so they work — or get
GALM: How often do you come back to North Hollywood and to
CORITA: I'm usually back here at least once a year, some-
times twice. When I have my prints, I have them sent out
here to sign them. I have a group of prints ready for a
show the last of this month. And other times when I come
out, I just have a sense that it's time to come, and then
things happen around that coming that probably wouldn't
happen if I weren't here. So it has worked out very well
that way. And then I go back for a little peace and quiet
and come back again.
GALM: How do you arrange the exhibit when you show new
things? Do you take everything down? Or what do you do?
CORITA: Well, it depends. I think the present plan is to
take everything down and start again for this exhibit. We'll
play around with perhaps having some of the--a very few of
the older prints because I think people are interested in
seeing what happened in the beginning, back in the fifties.
DOWNEY: We did have a fun Never-Never show.
DOWNEY: Never-Again show. So many people cooperated, who
loaned their old, old prints of Corita's. They weren't
for sale, of course, but people enjoyed that so much because
many of the people who had come to know Corita in her later
years had no idea of the quality or the type of her design
in the early days. And they were so generous, because
you're always running a risk, as Glady well knows, in
loaning your precious prints. [laughter]
GALM: Why does she well know? Why do you well know?
COLLINS: Well, one sold that was not supposed to have
been sold. [laughter]
DOWNEY: Not at our gallery. At a gallery up north.
GALM: I see. Well, perhaps we could go into the other room
and look at some of your prints.
CORITA: Okay. [tape recorder turned off]
GALM: Well, you've laid out some prints, Corita.
CORITA: Here we are.
GALM: Why don't we look at this early one? This is the
first one, right? [The Lord Is with Thee]
CORITA: Well, no, it isn't actually the first one. It's
probably about the third or fourth one.
GALM: Oh, this isn't the one that you did that summer?
CORITA: Yes, it is. Underneath is another print which I
had done that summer, and I had made a couple of prints
before I took that class and one other print in the class
before this one. But this was the one I revised into this
when I got home, after summer school was over. And I think
it was really this one that started me exhibiting because
we sent it to the County Museum show and it won the first
prize, and then we sent it to the State Fair and it won the
first prize. We sent it here and there, and it would either
win a first prize or not be accepted in the show. [laughter]
GALM: So it was an either-or situation.
CORITA: So those were the days that we learned that you
didn't base your reputation or your confidence on what the
jurors said. I think that was a marvelous lesson for me
and the students, too: that it didn't have anything to
do with the quality of the print, what the juries said. It
could be the same print, and some juries would turn it down,
while others would think it was good. But this did get me
started on the printing.
GALM: You have moved so far away from this approach. Is it
still a favorite, or how do you feel about it?
CORITA: A lot of the early ones I really can't bear to
look at, but this is not — not too bad. To me now.
GALM: What is the quality that you don't like?
CORITA: Well, I feel that it's extremely derivative. It
was in my very learning days. It's very Byzantine, and I
think it doesn't have much of me in it. So it feels awkward
GALM: Sort of representative of what "religious art"
(quote-unquote) was doing at that time?
CORITA: Well, no, it really wasn't, because religious art
was at that time very sort of late nineteenth-century, but
a bad nineteenth-century quality, sort of the last unflowering
of the Renaissance. I went back earlier to try to find
something that was stronger, and that's what got me into
the Byzantine era, where at least there was strength and
beauty. I thought that was a better thing to be working
GALM: Were the French doing much in the Byzantine style
at that time?
CORITA: Yes, yes.
GALM: I'm trying to think of the sculptor.
CORITA: Marvelous sculpture on the cathedrals.
GALM: No, no. I mean in the nineteen-f if ties.
CORITA: Oh, in the nineteen-f if ties . I'm trying to ... .
GALM: Is it [Lambert] Rucki?
CORITA: The church at Assy was built either in the fifties
or early sixties, which combined a group of artists to work
in a single church. Then I think it was [Henri] Matisse's
chapel [Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence] . Was that in the fifties?
I think so. And those were ....
GALM: Now, this is another one from the early period.
CORITA: That's the same era. And that's beginning to have
a little something because this was really meant to be a
picture of the Christ with a home in his hand, as sort of
a house blessing, and it has the word benedictio , which is
for blessing. [ Benedictio ] And I tried to do a little
drawing of the Eames house. So it's sort of the modern
sneaking in, [laughter] which is in itself an old tradition
because in the early paintings, if you looked out the window,
or if you looked down in the left-hand corner, you could
almost tell what was coming in the next period. I think
that almost told what was coming in the next period for me.
GALM: In our other discussions, you mentioned that one of
the professors at Immaculate Heart had reacted to — I
believe it was to this work — the fact that it had contained
words. And this is perhaps what really set you to explore
further in this direction.
CORITA: Well, I think, first of all, he was so choice with
his compliments that it was a rare thing, and I think that
must have stuck with me, I didn't think — as I think I
mentioned to you — I didn't think at that time, "Ah, now
I will do pictures with words in them." But I think that
was in one. And in the early poster making, I think those
two things came together in the picture making.
GALM: That was Doctor , , .
CORITA: . . . Dr. Schardt. so those were the early days.
GALM: Then what happened? [laughter]
CORITA: Then what happened!
GALM: I'm going to let you just sort of at random pick
them, and perhaps we can discuss.
CORITA: All right. This is from about four, five years
back, perhaps. [I^ Love You Very ] I think I've never lost
the words, except occasionally I do prints without words.
But this was when I moved back into the era of great, free
brushstrokes, which I was doing in the early sixties. This
is a much older print than that without words. [ Let Him
Easter in Us] But in between these two came many of the ones
that had rather commercial letters, which in fact were taken
from billboards. Let's see if we can find one. I'm trying
to reach that one that says, "The." These two, yes. In some
cases they were billboards; in some cases they were words cut
out of magazines and photographed, and sometimes photographed
with a curve in them so that when I projected them and made
the stencils, they seemed to have that kind of movement. And
there were two pictures, one quite similar to this. The other
one says, "Who came out of the water?" [ Who Came out of the
Water ] And this one just says, as you see, "Ha!" [Ha]
GALM: Now, you were beginning to print on a different type
of paper, too.
CORITA: Yes, these are on pellon, which is a 3M product.
It's actually cloth material, used for clothes lining, like
men's coats, in tailoring.
GALM: Now was this something that you discovered, or were
other printers using it for production?
CORITA: I don't know that anybody else used it. They were
using rice paper and similar papers, but this seemed so very
practical and was much cheaper than the rice paper and much
GALM: Did it give your serigraphs a different quality?
CORITA: The paint does look different on them. When you take
a slicker surface or a harder surface, the paint has a more
brittle quality — a brighter, sharper quality, whereas these,
no matter how sharp the line is, the paint has a soft look.
So there is that difference. This is one [untitled] I did
for L.A. city, for their celebration of the Bicentennial.
So it was done in Boston for L.A. This whole pile, right in
here, are prints that I did as commissions for groups who
wanted to raise money. This one was for the Chavez people,
taking one of Cesar Chavez's statements ["He gives us the
gift of life . . . ."] and making an edition. Sometimes I
write the edition on and sometimes I don't. [laughter]
GALM: Did they usually come to you, the people with the
cause, and say, "Would you do this for us?"?
CORITA: Yes, yes. Right. And then sometimes — it depends
on the group. If I feel that it's a group that has no money
and can't raise any money, then I will do it for them for
nothing; and if it's a group that can afford to pay, then
they pay. So it's almost as if they're paying to help the
other people. And this was a group of prints done for the
Hunger Walk. [International Walk for Development, May 8-9]
GALM: Is the dove out of your toy collection or your folk
CORITA: No, the dove is from my own apartment. It's a
beautiful wooden dove made by probably a Maine primitive.
It's a lovely, very roughly hewn wood. I've used it in a new
print this year because it's just a favorite of mine.
GALM: Now, from the older ones to, say, the more bold ones,
is there a difference in technique, or is it just in inter-
CORITA: Just in interpretation, yes. The technique is the
GALM: So that hasn't changed at all.
CORITA: Well, to a certain extent. Some of these were done
with a cut paper stencil, and others were done by painting a
stencil with glue onto the screen. So there can be a rougher
texture, as in these, and again in the new one. Well, in this
one, perhaps, but also in the close-up strokes, you can see
here that this actually was done originally as a painted stroke,
[Bicentennial Print] And then it was--I now have someone do
my printing for me. So he takes my small original and blows
it up, so that it has left a painterly quality to it. But
that can also be achieved by the brush stencil technique.
whereas the cut stencil technique comes out sharp and clear
GALM: Do you have any of the--this is not watercolor here,
GALM: Do you have any of the ones that were based on
CORITA: Yes, I think we have some in here that are done.
Maybe, Glady, those two. One is a print, and one is a water-
color. This is a watercolor [untitled] from which a print
could be made, except that the shading would not show: they
would turn out as solid colors. And I'll show you one in
which — that's right. [ Bird of the Rainbow] Now, this was a
painting that I had done as a watercolor. And then I had a
print made from it. And you can see the difference, that the
gradation of colors is missing. In some cases it gets a little
heavier because the camera picks up just the very strong things
and tends to drop out the weaker. So it really becomes differ-
ent because it's a different medium. But if I feel that it's
going to work all right, I can use it. And let's see. Now,
this is one made from a photograph with a screen as you use to
reproduce photographs and then simply printed with a silk
screen. [ Growing ]
GALM: Is it one of your own photographs?
CORITA: Yes. And this is one of the brushier-looking ones.
GALM: Let's see, when was that done? About the nineteen-
seventies or ... ?
CORITA: This was one of the seventies, I think, yes.
GALM: Now, you were saying that you've sort of gone out
of this. This would be in your rainbow series?
CORITA: That's right.
GALM: And you sort of moved away from that somewhat?
CORITA: Yes. In fact the new ones, which I have over here--
now, these are the brand-new ones, just four of the set
which I'll have in the show Sunday. And as you can see--
well, the camera can't see, but ....
GALM: The camera can't see. What are they?
CORITA: We can see that this [Our Original Nature : shell
writing #7] is a lavender and a gray, which is very different
from this, which is the straight rainbow array of colors, the
very vivid primaries. So these are much subtler in color,
closer in value.
GALM: Now are these again making use of photographs?
CORITA: Yes. These four, and about three or four of the
other new ones, are done from photographs of shells. In fact,
this one [Now Is^ Enough : shell writing #8] is done from a
shell which is about, oh, I would say, three-eighths of an inch
big, and then just simply blown up, so that it has a rather
monumental quality. This one [Our Original Nature ] has an
even more monumental quality, I think. It could be the picture
of the moon or the world, or some other planet — or, as it
was, a small shell. That was probably about an inch-large
shell. And then these two are sections from a shell. [I^ Am
the Sacred Words of the Earth : shell writing #3; You Are
Alive : shell writing #4] I don't think that in any of them
you would know that they were shells, because they're sections
of them. But I was fascinated by the design on them and
thought they would make good prints. And I call them shell
writings. This is my writing; this is the shell writing.
GALM: I see. How many are in the series?
CORITA: There are about six or eight, I think.
GALM: You've always, of course, incorporated your own writing
on almost every one, haven't you, in some way?
CORITA: Except for the ones when I was using the magazine
words or the billboard letters, yes. And then, as in the
case with the "magical friend," of different kinds of script,
of printing. [ You Can Never Lose Me ]
GALM: Why do you like to use your own writing, other than
it being, of course, the most intimate expression of your-
self, personal expression?
CORITA: Well, I really think of the writing as drawing. I
think I have stayed away from the figurative work lately
because I think somehow we haven't been able to find a figura
tive manner that works in our own time. Or at least I can't
find one that I'm comfortable with. And I feel that letters
are objects, just like fruit and people and roads and cars;
so that I'm just drawing the words.
GALM: Do you ever purposely slow down the viewer, so that
they will actually read what you've chosen?
CORITA: Well, this has been one of the nice by-products, I
think. I don't think I intended it that way in the first
place because I think when I'm writing the words, I am some-
what conscious of the legibility. That is, if I know it
really can't be read, I'll go back and change a word. But if
it's just slightly difficult, I think that's okay — if it looks
good. So that those things, I suppose, are of equal concern —
that it look good, and that it be legible, at least with some
work. But I don't try to make it difficult.
GALM: I think there is quite a difference in color, too, in
your latest ones.
CORITA: Very different, yes. These are very muted colors.
And those are very bright.
GALM: Do you have any from the Vietnam days?
CORITA: Yes. This one [ Stop the Bombing] was one based on a
peom written by Gerald Huckaby, with whom I did a book [ City ,
Uncity ] at one time; and again, these are words probably taken
from a newspaper or magazine and photographed on a curve, with
the words of the poem written smaller. And then there were a
couple here, this--the two Berrigans burning the draft cards,
with the beautiful statement which Thoreau made about--what
does he say? "Under a government which imprisons unjustly,
the true place for a just man is also in prison." [ Phil and
Dan ] And another — this is a kind of interesting print, which
I just noticed this morning in looking through these. [Love
at the End ] This section in here, without the little square,
was a book cover I did for one of Dan Berrigan's books [Love,
Love at the End ] ; and then later we got the idea, when I was
working with the people at Botolph, of using just the heart
and the word as a greeting card. And then this year, I've
taken that design and blown it up into a serigraph. [ Yes ]
GALM: I believe that's the one on the front door that we saw.
CORITA: The one on the front door, right. So it's had an
GALM: Talking about the gallery itself, when did you put up
the sign [the large "Corita" signature] out front? When
did you have that done?
CORITA: I think that must be about three years old by now.
TAPE NUMBER: III, SIDE TWO
APRIL 20, 1976 [video session cont'd]
GALM: And when was that? Was that used before, somewhere
CORITA: No, that was just a plain unused fence. And we
just took a signature and had a sign painter blow it up.
GALM: It's very dramatic.
CORITA: People were having a hard time finding us, for one
thing. They would get lost in the neighborhood. So we
thought that would be a help to them to find us.
GALM: I think it's curious that when we came today--! had
been here, of course, before--and this morning, when I
arrived, there was all kinds of graffiti on the walls, on
the building surrounding the fence, but nothing on the fence
CORITA: Yes, we were grateful for that.
GALM: Sacred property or something.
GALM: Why don't we look at something from the circus
series? Do you have something from there, like The Greatest
Show of Worth?
CORITA: Yes, we have The Greatest Show .
GALM: Does that come in two sections?
CORITA: Yes, in fact these are two letters. It was the
summer of '68- '69 that I did--maybe if you hold that one.
I'll hold this one--I did two alphabets, one of them with
the circus letters and the circus theme. And this was for
the G and that was for the 0. Put them together, it reads
GALM: Oh, I see. [laughter]
CORITA: And they were meant to be used separately, if
anybody wanted to. I felt they worked as single prints,
and yet, at the same time, they could be put together and
used as a big print. And then that same summer, I did the
International Signal Code flags and worked designs in with
them. That's the of the Signal Code. [0 m^ God ]
GALM: How many are in that series?
CORITA: There are twenty-seven. I think there are more,
because they have other words that they have, but I just
did the twenty-seven. And then these worked into the circus
book. We just simply reproduced them into the book that Holt
published [ Damn Everything but the Circus ] .
GALM: Is the Love series one of the more popular prints
that you've done?
CORITA: Well, I think Love is always a very popular ....
GALM: Or don't you even think of one being more popular
than the other?
CORITA: Or one being more loved than the other, yes.
GATiM: Okay. Why don't we sit down and talk about a few
other things surrounding your life, or as part of your life?
This interview, of course, is being done as part of the
series that we're doing at UCLA on the Los Angeles art
community. And you've mentioned some of the individuals.
You've mentioned Charles Eames and the role that he played
in your life and really within the art department as a
visitor at Immaculate Heart. Were there any other artists
in the Los Angeles area that you knew well?
CORITA: It's hard for me to distinguish, because the first
person who came to my mind was Buckminster Fuller. I think
we were never too choosy about whether people were artists
or just people with ideas. So we kind of sought out the
people with ideas and principles and made our association
with them, rather than just finding artists.
GALM: Did you interact at all with, say, other art depart-
ments in the area, or wasn't it really necessary?
CORITA: No, we really didn't. We would try to. We would
take the students out to different exhibits and galleries.
And of course many, many times, we'd go to UCLA or USC for
shows, because they put on some very good shows. But outside
of that, we didn't really work with any other art departments.
GALM: Was there an art community?
CORITA: A student art community?
GALM: No, no. A practicing artist that you really . . . ?
CORITA: Well, in the fifties, when I first started exhibiting
prints, we met a lot of the printmakers who were in the same
shows. We traded prints and got to know some of them. I'm
trying to think and see if I can remember some of the names.
They don't come to me now. But we were associated more
with printmakers, I think, than with painters.
GALM: Were there any particular galleries that you followed
religiously, their shows?
CORITA: Well, of course, when La Cienega started, we
found that, and the County Museum was always a favorite.
I'm trying to think of the name of the gallery out on
Sunset, which was really the first gallery that brought the
New York work to L.A. quickly. I don't remember the name of
GALM: I don't think it's the Ferus gallery, is it? That
would be later; that was on La Cienega.
CORITA: Was that on La Cienega? Was it originally on
CORITA: Yes, it could have been, could have been.
GALM: Well, in our other interviews, we sort of brought you
up to the point at which you left for Boston, but we really
never talked too much about your decision to leave. How did
the decision within the community itself to form a lay
community affect your decision?
CORITA: Well, actually that decision was made after I left.
GALM: So that didn't apply at all.
CORITA: By about two years. No.
GALM: Did you participate at all in the general chapter of
[the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary]?
CORITA: Yes, yes. I was at the chapters the two summers
before I left, in which the changes certainly began. I
suppose those were really the two important ones which were
the turning point of the community.
GALM: Were you one of the delegates, then?
CORITA: Yes, yes.
GALM: At that point, when you established, as a result of
the chapters — are they called decrees of renewal?
GALM: Did you feel that it would run into the problems that
they eventually did?
CORITA: Well, I think that it was a funny situation, a
rather unique situation, because I think we were used to
being in trouble, you know, in many ways. I think especially
in the art department we were, both because some of the
alumni who were more conservative and were nervous about
any kind of change were nervous about us as we changed--
and I think, as long as we kept alive, we keep changing--and
then [also because] the community at large, I think, was
somewhat nervous because the I.H.M.'s were doing things that
they thought hadn't been done before. Actually, I think
many of the things that the I.H. community was doing had
already been done by other communities in the East or in the
Midwest. But it depends so much on the attitude of the
hierarchy in the different areas. If the top man is a
progressive person, then the changes come much more gradually
and gently. But in the Los Angeles situation, there was
an extreme rigidity on the part of the hierarchy. So
that what should have been very normal growing — organic
changes were not allowed to be organic because everything
that changed created such a big sensation that it blew it
out of proportion. So that that was unfortunate, especially
for the people outside the community who didn't quite under-
stand what all the fuss was about, or why we made such a
big fuss — for example, why we were so insistent about
changing the habit or not wearing the habit, whereas that
didn't seem a very big thing to them (they thought we should
just continue wearing it) . But we began to feel that it was
a long overdue change, and that this separated us from the
people we were working with, and that it also had something
to do in sort of allowing the people in the community to
be individuals. Like any kind of uniform, it had serious
drawbacks. And I think as we became more and more alerted
to the drawbacks, we thought it was normal to change. But
the people who were more conservative — I think they often
feel that one little change is going to lead to many others
(and they're certainly right). I think that's why they're
so frightened by little changes.
GALM: Where did they really feel that you were going?
What was the real danger that they saw, or was it an
CORITA: Well, I think it was the unknown, largely, because
the nuns had always looked like this. And I think that
one of the very serious reasons for our being so insistent
on the habit was that people, for the most part, or many
people — I'm not talking about the people who are able to
carry themselves--but many people sort of had their religion
in us. And when we changed, it was almost as if their
religion was changing. Which is a very sad commentary on
their religion, you know, if the mode of dress — which,
as we know, has always changed through the centuries —
would mean that much to them, would become that big an
issue. It was really a nonissue.
GALM: Yes. Did Immaculate Heart lose much support from
its alumni as a result of the change?
CORITA: I don't know. We've never had, especially in the
past, much financial support from the alumni, mostly because
the people who went to school were not that wealthy or
their husbands graduated from other schools, which made it
difficult. [laughter] But I think the alumni support has
increased within the last few years.
GALM: Was the community surprised by the action that Rome
took on the decrees?
CORITA: I think by the time they were actually out, we
knew there would be difficulty. We had hopes that they
would see what was happening as an organic movement. And
I think, perhaps again, if we had had a different hierarchy,
Rome might have heard a different story.
GALM: But you, of course, had anticipated that you wouldn't
be getting strong support.
CORITA: Or strong approval. We never expected strong
GALM: From the local hierarchy. But possibly that Rome
might go along with you?
GALM: Well, I know that in one of the issues of the alumni
news [Alumnae on the Move, Spring 1968] , there was an
article which really explained the community's position.
And the position that it seemed to delineate was that a
nun was also a woman. ["We'll Admit It: A Nun Is a Woman"]
GALM: When did that start opening up within the community,
the sort of almost a tie-in with the feminist movement, but
probably at a different level?
CORITA: Well, I think in history, there comes a time for
things, and then they pop up in different areas, without
the different areas being aware that the other is doing the
same things. And I think that this was one of those cases
where the time had come when people were beginning to
pay much more attention to the fact of individuality. Of
course, the rules of the communities were written by men
originally, and they had been followed for so many centuries.
And I think the longer things aren't done, the harder it is
to change them. So I think a great many of us went along
being very concerned with the work we were doing, teaching
and so forth, and were not as concerned with ourselves as
people until we began to realize, along with everybody
else, that what happened to the individual is largely what
happens to the community; and that if the individual is
developed to her fullest extent, that can only be good for
the other people that she's working with or for. But I
think that's a new concept — say, since Jung and Freud and
the people who first began to see that individual problems
meant that the people were individual.
GALM: It must have been a difficult decision to make — to
CORITA: For me to leave?
GALM: The community. Or again, was it maybe a decision
that made itself?
CORITA: Well, in a way, I suppose when I left that summer,
it was only for the summer. And then when I got back East
and was all quiet and peaceful, it just seemed that it wasn't
possible to go back. So in a sense, I made the decision
after I had gotten out, or after I had gone away. And I
think the decision was then made in the years that followed,
rather than the years that preceded, with a lot of the
thinking. Because I had never thought of leaving up till
that point, so I wasn't having any difficulty with the
thought. But after I left, I looked back. And I've never
had any regrets about leaving, even though there have
GALM: What have been some of those difficulties?
CORITA: Well, I think the idea of living alone for the
first time in my life. I'd grown up in a big family and
had always been with a large group of people. Of course,
in the community there were 500 or 600. And in the house I
lived for about fifteen years, there were about 110 people.
So I was accustomed to having a lot of stimulating people
GALM: Are there new joys that come with it?
GALM: What are those?
CORITA: Well, I think a calmer life, and a chance for more
inner development, which I think is not only different
but also normal for a person. As you know, as you finish
the extreme active part of your life, the part that is out-
ward, you tend then to want to develop what hasn't had a
chance yet. And I think I'm having that chance to develop
more inwardly than I had before,
American Artist Group
American Institute of Architects
Arts and Architecture (periodical)
The Raft Is Not the Shore
Blessed Sacrament School, Los Angeles
Bloome, Mark C, Tire Company
Boston Tea Party discotheque
Botolph Group, Inc.
Botolph Group Gallery
68-72, 92, 104,
California State Fair, Sacramento
Catholic Girls High School
see Conaty High School
Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence, France
Chouinard Art Institute
Conaty High School, Los Angeles
Container Corporation of America
Corita Prints gallery
8, 39, 106
3, 5, 14
Downey, Mary Kent
48-49, 66, 112-128
Textiles and Ornainental Arts
Two Baroque Churches in Germany
7, 10-11, 24, 36,
37-39, 54, 58-59,
see Westinghouse Broadcasting
Hallmark Cards, Inc.
Hanh, Thich Nhat
Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.
Herder and Herder
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc
City , Uncity
Immaculate Heart College
Alumnae on the Move (periodical)
Great Men series
Mary ' s Day
"Survival with Syle" exhibit
International Business Machines
International Graphic Arts Society
International Walk for Development
4, 7-13, 18-21,
23-26, 29-44, 50-58,
60-63, 67-75, 81,
85, 87-89, 92-103,
114-118, 120, 131,
76, 109, 116-117
John XXIII (pope)
Kent, Bridget (grandmother)
Kent, Edith Sanders
see Downey, Mary Kent
Kent, Richard (brother)
Kent, Richard (grandfather)
Kent, Robert Vincent
Kent, Sister Ruth
30-31, 34, 100
1-2, ^. , 6, 49-50, 124
15, 48-49, 66, 125
1-2, 4-6, 125
16-17, 49, 125
47, 76, 80
Liturgical Arts (periodical) 46, 47
Los Angeles City College 109
Los Angeles County Museum of Art 22, 29, 60-61
Los Angeles Times (newspaper) 121
McGannon, Donald 80
McGowan, Paula 73-74
Mclntyre, James Francis Cardinal 34, 145-147
McPartlin, Sister Regina 112
Magdalen Mary, Sister 18-21, 24, 41
Martinez, Alfredo 25
Martinez, Mrs. Alfredo 25-26
Matisse, Henri 130
Mead, Margaret 97
Merton, Thomas 7
Seven Story Mountain 70
Merton, Thomas, Center, New York 7
Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. 132
Monahan, Robert 75
Mother of Good Counsel School, 77
Motherwell, Robert 27
Mullen, Jack 121
Museum of Modern Art 23, 54
Myers, Michaela 73-74
National Art Education Association 56-58, 65
National Gallery of Art 59-60, 63-64
Neuendorff, Evelyn 125
Neutra, Richard 39
Newsweek (periodical) 81
New York V7orld's Fair, 1964 47-48, 76-80
Vatican Pavilion 47-48, 76-80
Noemi, Sister 4
Oberstein, Martin 14
Otis Art Institute 3
Ottobeuren, Germany 10-11
Pasadena Art Museum 29
Pew, Mary Jean 68
Pintauro, Joe 108-109
Renaissance Pleasure Faire 33
Rilke, Rainer Maria 44
Rothko, Mark 28
Rucki, Lambert 130
Saanich Indian School 16-17
Sacramento State Fair 23, 129
Sacred Heart Elementary School, 16-17
Sanders, Adeline 1-3
Sanders, Herman 1-3
Schardt, Alois 7-13, 131
Schindler, Rudolph 39
Seeger, Pete 65
Shahn, Ben 28-29, 44
Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary 144-148
see also Immaculate Heart College
Statler Hilton Hotel, Los Angeles 57-53
Sternberg, Josef von 24
Taylor, John 65
Thomson, Virgil 24
Thoreau, Henry David 138
Time (periodical) 81
Unamuno, Miguel de 4 9
United Church 79
United Farm Workers of America 133
Univeristy of California, Berkeley 75
University of California, Los Angeles 4, 18, 20, 142
University of Southern California 8, 12, 18, 20, 22,
Vierzen-Heiligen, Germany 10-11
Villicich, Donna 65
Vinci, Leonardo da 31
Watts Towers 59
"We'll Admit It: A Nun Is a Woman" 147
(article. Alumnae on the Move )
Westinghouse Broadcasting Company 80-84, 86
The Corita Collection 81
Winterfest, Boston 83
Woodbury University 18
World Council of Churches 65-67, 73
World's Fair, 1964, New York 47-48, 76-80
Yale University 86
Yates, Peter 24
INDEX OF CORITA KENT WORKS
A Man You Can Lean On 122
Benedictio 12-13, 131
Bicentennial print (untitled) 133, 134
Bird of the Rainbow 135
Christ and Mary 47
City , Uncity (book) 138
Corita Collection , The ; An Ex pression 81
of Broadcasting Philosophy
Damn Everything but the Circus 141
Footnotes and Headlines (book) 108
Go Slow 91-92
Greatest Show of Worth , The series 140-141
Heart of the City 49-50
He Gives Us the Gift of Life 133
High Cards (book) 126
I Am the Sacred Words of the Earth 137
(shell writing #3)
I. Love You Very 132
In 92, 93-94
International Signal Code series 141
International Walk for Development 134
Let Him Easter in Us 132
Lord Is with Thee, Thf 22-23, 40, 128-130
Love series 141
Love at the End 139
Now Is Enough (shell writing #8) 136
my God 141
Our Original Nature (shell writing #7) 136-137
Phil and Dan 139
Shell writing series 136-137
Stop the Bombing 138
To-Believe-In series (books) 108-109
To Believe in God (book) 109, 126
To Believe in Man (book) 109, 126
To Believe in Things (book) 109, 126
Who Came out of the Water 132
Yellow Spring 50
You Are Alive (shell writing #4) 137
You Can Never Lose Me 137
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