New Books Network

Sister Mary Corita, IHM (1918-1986), was a beloved artist and teacher whose role as the rebel nun continues to inspire contemporary audiences. Corita joined...

Sister Mary Corita, IHM (1918-1986), was a beloved artist and teacher whose role as the rebel nun continues to inspire contemporary audiences. Corita joined the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1936 when she was just eighteen years old, and soon after became an initially reluctant Art teacher at Immaculate Heart College. Corita remained part of the community on Franklin and Western Avenues in Hollywood until 1968 when Los Angeles archbishop Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, and other conservatives, targeted the orders reformist ways. Corita’s Pop Art styled prints celebrating the presence of God in the most ordinary of everyday subjects (Mary is the juiciest tomato of all) drew the ire of McIntyre in particular. At age fifty, she took one of many unconventional steps and left the order to start life anew as an independent woman.

In Corita Kent: Art and Soul: The Biography (Angel City Press, 2015), April Dammann traces Corita’s path as an artist and religious woman who participated in the heady scene of the Los Angeles art world in the 1960s while engaging her own devout spirituality at the same time. Coritas journey into printmaking took her beyond the confines of the college to the world of the most famous artists and designers in Los Angeles including Charles Eames, John Cage, Edward Kienholz, and Tony Duquette. She interacted with Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and other members of Los Angeles literary avant-garde. Clad in her nuns habit, Corita was more than a picturesque observer of the scene, however. Her highly refined silkscreens combining word and image with meticulously placed colors transformed the medium. She culled subject matter from the ideas of thinkers and social commentators ranging from Goethe to Isaiah, to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and radical priest and soul mate Daniel Berrigen. Corita’s students, many of whose voices color Dammann’s carefully researched book, were beneficiaries of Corita’s aesthetic and intellectual explorations. As we reconsider the life of Corita Kent, we are confronted, in the quiet yet powerful manner of the artist herself, with a woman whose contributions to the radical forms of the 1960s are immense.


Kirstin L. Ellsworth has a Ph.D. in the History of Art from Indiana University (2005) and currently, is an Assistant Professor of Art History at California State University Dominguez Hill. Email: kellsworth@csudh.edu.