Postcards I picked up today around the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz.
Found the ’80s wonder above at a quirky shop on Hillhurst called Meowdy. I mention it because the shop owner is so friendly and accommodating, and she recently acquired a ton of vintage shoes! If you’re not familiar with Corita Kent, here’s a fascinating bit of art, religion and counterculture history for you. (If you are familiar with Kent, feel free to comment!)
When Vatican II called for the Catholic Church to modernize, Los Angeles’ Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary responded whole heartedly. In 1967, the entire order participated in a series of “encounter groups” led by the psychologist Carl Rogers, who was associated with the holistic Esalen Institute. Through these candid discussions, the sisters realized a common resentment of certain Church rules–habit-wearing, dictated times for prayer and sleep–that were solely about subjugation, having nothing to do with the order’s mission. Los Angeles’ archbishop forbid them from shaking off the rules, and when they wouldn’t back down, he barred them from teaching at the city’s many parochial schools, their primary work.
The sisters appealed over the archbishop’s head, all the way to the Vatican. Rome refused to intervene on behalf of either the nuns or the archbishop. At a stalemate, in 1970, mother superior Anita Caspary and 90% of her order were dispensed from their vows. As Caspary told Time magazine, “While I saw the break as inevitable, I didn’t really want it…But I wondered how much energy you could spend fighting authority when you could spend that same energy doing what you should be doing…” Caspary and the former nuns founded the independent ecumenical organization (including men), the Immaculate Heart Community. Many members continued teaching, and serving those they’d originally set out to help, only now through fields such as social work and law.
Amidst all this was Sister Mary Corita (Corita Kent), who started making screenprint art at the same time as Andy Warhol. And like Warhol, by the ’60s, her work was rooted in pop culture and current events. (I don’t mean to suggest too much of a likeness, but to emphasize the lesser-known Kent’s progressiveness as both an artist and a nun.) As the head of the art department at Immaculate Heart College until 1968, Kent often collaborated with her students. IBM required her students to alter their 1965 “Peace on Earth” exhibit in the company’s New York showroom, finding it too outspoken about the Vietnam War.
The Corita Art Center, run by the Immaculate Heart Community, is right next to Immaculate Heart High School in Los Feliz. I attended that school for two years not long ago (then got the hell out) and didn’t even know Corita Art Center was there. We didn’t visit on field trips, or learn about the former sisters and the IH Community in class, and none of Kent’s art hung in the school. Were we being kept in the dark on purpose? I have to say I found the all-girls school distinctly un-feminist, and structured in such a way as to suppress change. Okay, that’s it for my sermon.