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MC 583; T-247

Corita, 1918-1986. Papers of Corita, 1936-2015 (inclusive), 1955-1986 (bulk): A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 583; T-247
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Corita, 1918-1986
Title: Papers of Corita, 1936-2015 (inclusive), 1955-1986 (bulk)
Date(s): 1936-2015
Date(s): 1955-1986
Quantity: 4.6 linear feet (11 file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 2 folio+ folders, 8 oversize folders, 9 supersize folders, 13 photograph folders, 19 slides, 7 audiotapes)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Papers of graphic and serigraphic artist Corita Kent.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 81-M68, 90-M161, 90-M166, 90-M184, 90-M185, 90-M189, 90-M204, 91-M2, 91-M12, 93-M155, 2000-M66, 2015-M147, 2015-M200, 2016-M75
The papers of Corita Kent were given to the Schlesinger Library by her estate between 1990 and 1991; a poster was transferred from the records of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective in 1981, and additional materials were donated by Lucille Myers in 1990, Patricia King in 1993, Jeanne Bird in 2000, Eleanor Rubin in 2015, and acquired from Joseph C. Nahil in 2015. An anonymous donation was made in April 2016. Accessions 2015-M147 and 2015-M200 were added in December 2015; 2016-M75 was added in April 2016.

Processing Information:

Processed: March 2009
By: Jessica Tanny
Updated: April 2016
By: Anne Engelhart

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Corita Kent is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in her artworks is held by the Immaculate Heart Community. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Corita Papers, 1936-2015; item description, dates. MC 583, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Donors: Corita Kent, Lucille Myers, Jeanne Bird
Accession number: 90-M161, 90-M166, 90-M184, 90-M185, 90-M189, 90-M204, 91-M2, 91-M12, 93-M155, 2000-M66
Processed by: Jessica Tanny
The following publications have been removed from this collection and added to the Schlesinger Library Book Collection:


Artist Corita Kent was well known for her unique style of serigraphs (silkscreen prints) and public works. Often lauded as a Pop artist, Corita used a combination of quotations from contemporary intellectuals paired with brightly colored iconic images. Her art appeared in magazines, book jackets, greeting cards, billboards, postage stamps, and even on a 150-ft. high gas tank.
Born on November 20, 1918, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Robert and Edith (Sanders) Kent, Corita spent her formative years as Frances Elizabeth Kent. In 1936, she joined the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, taking the name Sister Mary Corita. After graduating from the University of Southern California, where she studied art with Charles and Ray Eames, Corita began teaching art at the Immaculate Heart College (IHC), a Catholic liberal arts women's college in Hollywood, California, run by the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Los Angeles.
Known for its progressive teaching style and way of life, Immaculate Heart College was an early adapter of the 1965 Second Vatican Council, promoting a spirit of renewal and openness to new theological ideas in their curriculum. Attracting national attention for their educational practices, no department received as much attention as the Art Department under the direction of Sisters Corita and Mary Magdalen Martin. Corita was a demanding and inspirational teacher. Seeing herself as a bridge between her students and other artists, Corita strove to impart the theory of how art was changing in response to changes in the world. She saw art not as separate from humanity, but as an integral part of it.
Although the school received national accolades for their educational system, they were condemned by their male superiors within the Church. In May 1965, the cardinal archbishop of Los Angeles accused Immaculate Heart College and the Sisters themselves for their implementation of the ideas sanctioned by Vatican II. At least two of his accusations centered around Immaculate Heart College's famous Art Department: "Why do you permit the use of modern art to portray religious subjects?" and "Do you know that the Christmas cards designed by your art department and the sisters are an affront to me and a scandal to the archdiocese?" (from Anita Caspary's Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of Los Angeles, page 3).
The Church was all too aware of the increasing national recognition of Corita's art. Only a year earlier, she was commissioned to design a banner for the Vatican Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Using her unique style of printmaking, Corita's banner used a series of quotes from two modern day Johns: Pope John XXIII and John F. Kennedy. Because the quotations used in the banner were called "Beatitudes," some in the Church directed their displeasure over this new interpretation towards the Immaculate Heart College.
The cardinal archbishop of Los Angeles saw Corita's art as sacrilegious. He used her work and teachings as examples when condemning the Sisters for their activities. In 1966, he was so upset by Immaculate Heart College's celebration of Mary's Day, featuring decoration provided by art department students and faculty, he wrote to Mother Humiliata (Anita Caspary) a severe letter: "May I say further, that we hereby request again that the activities of Sister Carita [sic] in religious art be confined to her classroom work and under your responsibility" (from Anita Caspary's Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of Los Angeles, page 41). In response to the constant accusations, the Sisters wrote a declaration for their vision of their future in 1967. The Immaculate Heart Decrees of the Chapter of Renewal was revolutionary. The prologue stated "women around the world, young and old, are playing decisive roles in public life, changing their world, developing new life styles... American religious women want to be in the mainstream of this new, potentially fruitful, and inevitable bid for self-determination" (from Anita Caspary's Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of Los Angeles, pages 244-245). But the pressure from the Church continued and in 1970 four hundred Immaculate Heart Sisters of Los Angeles surrendered their vows and reformed as the Immaculate Heart Community. Now they were free to promote their vision of liberation, no longer restricted by male-dominated rules and regulations.
Two years before the formation of the Immaculate Heart Community, Corita surrendered her own vows when she went to pursue her career as a full-time artist in Boston, Massachusetts. Even before she left the order, she had been receiving various commissions from outside the Immaculate Heart College art department, including commissions to design book jackets, magazine covers, and advertisements. Although she loved being an educator, Corita wanted to devote more time to her own art.
While in Boston she received steady commissions. In 1971, Corita was asked by Boston Gas to design a mural for one of their 150-foot high gas tanks located in Dorchester. She was specifically chosen for this project "to capture, in her unique style, the spirit of Greater Boston as well as Boston Gas, its employees and its product... [It was believed] her use of vibrant colors, unrestricted movement and imagination [would] accomplish this" (#9.1).
In the mid-1980s, Corita became involved with Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a non-profit advocacy organization for anti-nuclear and environmental issues. She worked with several local Physicians for Social Responsibility chapters, including chapters from Greater Boston and San Luis Obispo, California, to create the "PSR Billboard Peace Project." Designing at least three different billboards featuring her statement, "We can create life without war," the Peace Billboard Project raised funds and awareness throughout the country.
Also during this time, the United States Postal Service (USPS) commissioned one of Corita's most recognized designs. In 1981, she was asked to design the third stamp in the famous Love Stamp series. To Corita, her 22-cent Love Stamp (released April 1985) expressed "good will and harmony that could exist among all peoples" (#9.14). Later, she was "appalled" to learn the postal service arranged for the opening ceremonies to be held on the set of the television show The Love Boat, and boycotted the event.
Throughout her life and up until the day she died on September 18, 1986, Corita remained dedicated to creating art to engage people with the spirituality and joy of everyday life. In 1979, at a testimonial dinner held in her honor at Immaculate Heart Community, Corita spoke on her philosophy of being an artist: "There is a myth around that artists suffer a painful and lonely task in their making -- And of course the myth is true if we acknowledge that every human being is an artist -- that pain and loneliness and making is in each of us -- not only in those who paint or dance or make music. But there are joyful times too and the artist is never alone actually in that everyone else is going thru same process -- each with her own unique sound -- So we are really all in it together and there are no people who are not artists" (#5.3).


The collection is arranged in five series:


This bulk of the Corita Kent Papers were sent to the Schlesinger Library four years after her death. Her former student and close friend, Mickey Myers, was responsible for organizing the collection, labeling the folders, packing up the papers, and shipping them to the Library. A few of her notes have been retained with the collection when relevant to the documents. Additional materials received in 2015 (accession numbers 2015-M147 and 2015-M200) were added to the collection in December 2015. These materials are housed in #4.16-4.17, OD.7, SD.2-SD.8, and Mem.4. Two folders (OD.8 and SD.9) were added in April 2016. All other files remain in the same order.
Series I. BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1936, 1953-1990 (#1.1-2.15, OD.1, Mem.1), includes awards; calendars; clippings; oral histories; materials regarding death, education, family, genealogy, and memberships.
Series II. CORRESPONDENCE, 1943-2015 (#3.1-4.17), includes personal and business and professional correspondence.
Series III. IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY OF LOS ANGELES, 1953-1990 (#5.1-6.5), includes materials from Immaculate Heart College (IHC), a Catholic college in Southern California. Chartered in 1916 as a women's college, Immaculate Heart College became coeducational and non-sectarian in the 1960s. In 1970 the Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary reformed as the Immaculate Heart Community. After Immaculate Heart College closed in 1980, the Immaculate Heart College Center took its place for several years, offering degrees in subjects like feminine spirituality and other related fields. This series includes an admission catalog; Art Department faculty materials, course notes, and student work; Christmas cards; programs and related for commencements and other events. Also included are materials from the Immaculate Heart Community: commissions, Corita Peace Award, and correspondence.
Series IV. ART AND RELATED, 1951-1992 (#6.6-11.8, FD.1, F+D.1, OD.2-OD.5, SD.1, Mem.2-Mem.4), includes notes, source material, preparation work, draft art, commissions, galleries and exhibits, publications and writings, published cards, broadsides, and posters. Corita used the term "scribbles" to refer to her personal notes regarding her artwork.
Subseries A. Source material, preparation work, and drafts, 1978-1986, n.d. (#6.6-8.5, OD.2), includes sketches, separations, reproductions, and color work for commissions (e.g., Hands Across America, Interfaith Hunger Coalition, United States Postal Service Love Stamp, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) peace billboards, and Schlesinger Library); also clippings, images, and quotations collected to use as inspiration.
Subseries B. Commissions, 1964-1992 (#8.6-9.21, OD.3, Mem.2-Mem.4), includes magazine covers, and material related to work for Boston Gas, Digital Equipment Corporation, Group W of Westinghouse Broadcast Company, Physicians for Social Responsibility, ProPeace, United States Postal Service, and the Vatican Pavilion.
Subseries C. Galleries and exhibits, 1951-1987 (#9.22-10.12, OD.4), includes catalogs, print lists, exhibit fliers, programs, postcards, and clippings. Especially well represented are exhibits at the DeCordova Museum, and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
Subseries D. Publications and writings, 1959-1982 (#11.1-11.5, F+D.1, OD.5), includes Corita's published essays and creative writings, collaborative work with Daniel Berrigan, and ephemera associated with Corita's publications. A large number of publications by Corita were transferred to the Schlesinger Library Book Collection; see Separated Materials.
Subseries E. Published cards, broadsides, and posters, 1974 (#11.6-11.9, FD.1, SD.1), includes cards, broadsides, and posters often meant for sale and not directly connected with any particular project or exhibit.
Series V. AUDIOVISUAL, MEMORABILIA, OVERSIZED, AND PHOTOGRAPHS, 1961-1992, n.d. (#T-247.1-T-247.7, Mem.1-Mem.4, FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1-OD.8, SD.1-SD.9, PD.1-PD.5sl) is the shelflist for audiovisual, memorabilia and oversized items (posters, calendars, clippings, etc.) throughout this collection. Some are listed in previous series and contain documents directly related to folders in those series. There are also several "catch-all" oversized and photograph folders of items found loose or removed from folders in other series. Photographic materials (photographs including Polaroids, slides, and transparencies) found in folders with non-photographic documents are located elsewhere in the collection, as noted.
Subseries A. Audiovisual: audiotapes, 1971-1985, (#T-247.1-T-247.7); includes radio interviews and speeches.
Subseries B. Memorabilia, 1967-1992, n.d. (#Mem.1-Mem.4); includes paperweight award, lucite commemorative object, pin, and replica of the Boston Gas tank.
Subseries C. Oversized, 1961-1985 (#FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1-OD.8, SD.1-SD.9); includes artist's drafts, broadsides, book jackets, calendar, cards, magazine covers, posters, and serigraphs.
Subseries D. Photographs, 1970-1986 (#PD.1-PD.5sl); includes snapshots of Corita, gallery and art installations.
Some photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Art, American--20th century--Exhibitions
Art, American--Massachusetts--Boston--20th century
Art and religion--United States
Book design
Book jackets--United States--Design
Catholics--United States
Catholic women--United States
Ex-nuns--United States
Oral histories
Pop art--United States--Exhibitions
Postage stamps--United States
Printmakers--United States
Religion in art
Serigraphy--20th century--Exhibitions
Women artists--20th century
Women artists--California--Los Angeles
Women artists--Massachusetts--Boston
Berrigan, Daniel
Caspary, Anita Marie, 1915-2011
Eames, Charles
Eames, Ray
Fuller, R. Buckminster (Richard Buckminster), 1895-1983
Hubbard, Celia
Immaculate Heart College (Los Angeles)
Immaculate Heart Community
Laporte, Paul
Mekelburg, David
Myers, Mickey
Nin, Anaïs, 1903-1977
O'Gorman, Ned, 1929-2014
Paine, Howard E.
Pintauro, Joseph