Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lost and found: the art of Sister Ignatia

Mount convent (Rossiter Hall) in ruins after the 1961 Bel Air Fire.
SISTER IGNATIA CORDIS, CSJ, founded the Mount Art Department in the 1920s and passed away in 1986 at 99, renowned for her sometimes avant-garde work and for pushing the boundaries of what was considered suitable for a Catholic nun to paint.

In a film cabinet drawer in the College Archives, a yellowed envelope tells a familiar story of pictures borrowed and never returned. A typewritten label dated December, 1985 -- a few months before Sister Ignatia's death -- reads:
Lost -- set of slides of Sr. Ignatia's art show. The set was removed from the archives and never returned. I have asked the Art Department, the press, etc., but no positive results.
It's signed by Sister Margaret Lynch, then the College Archivist.

Every archivist knows that kind of frustration, but for Sister Margaret it had to be especially painful. When the Mount convent (Rossiter Hall) was destroyed in the Bel Air Fire in November, 1961, most of Sister Ignatia's early work also went up in flames. She continued to paint -- including documenting the damage to the College in a series of impressionistic watercolors like the one above -- and in October, 1979, the College staged a tribute exhibit of 50 of her paintings. Photographic copies were carefully made of the hanging work by Los Angeles photographer Gerson Bender and a set handed over to the Treasure Room (as the Mount's Archives & Special Collections were then known).

We are happy to report that after nearly 27 years, the slides have surfaced. Our intrepid volunteer Vivian Santibáñez unearthed them in a shoebox full of unmarked yellow slide boxes, and the Skirball Cultural Center archives kindly let us scan them there last week.

We'll post some of the images over on Facebook at MSMC Archives. Mostly buildings and interesting landscapes, some paintings have historic value, like the one below, a drawing of 21 Chester Place. This imposing white mansion next to the Doheny Campus was torn down and the land sold to L.A. Unified to build Lanterman High School.

That's life in the archives world -- you lose a few, you find a few. Some of Sister's originals hang here and there around both campuses, but the location of many from the 1979 show is unknown. At least now we know what we're looking for. We're sure Sisters Margaret and Ignatia are pleased.

21 Chester Place was the model for the Addams Family home in the
classic 1960s sitcom. No other images exist in the MSMC Archives.

1 comment:

  1. Please contact me at alexander29659@sbcglobal.net regarding an original watercolor I own signed by Sister Ignatia.