Biography

Corita Kent (1918–1986) was an artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. At age 18 she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary, eventually teaching in and then heading up the art department at Immaculate Heart College. Her work evolved from figurative and religious to incorporating advertising images and slogans, popular song lyrics, biblical verses, and literature. Throughout the ‘60s, her work became increasingly political, urging viewers to consider poverty, racism, and injustice. In 1968 she left the order and moved to Boston. After 1970, her work evolved into a sparser, introspective style, influenced by living in a new environment, a secular life, and her battles with cancer. She remained active in social causes until her death in 1986. At the time of her death, she had created almost 800 serigraph editions, thousands of watercolors, and innumerable public and private commissions.


Born

1918, Fort Dodge, Iowa

Died

1986, Boston, Massachusetts

Active

1951–1986

2016 AIGA Medalist Biography
Courtesy of the AIGA

Chronology


November 20, 1918

Frances Elizabeth Kent is born in Fort Dodge, Iowa.


1918

Kent family moves to Hollywood, California.



1936

Corita graduates from Catholic Girls High School—now Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto—and enters the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, takes Sister Mary Corita as her religious name.




1941

Corita finishes her BA at Immaculate Heart College.


1944

Corita is assigned to teach primary school in British Columbia.




1947

Corita is called back to IHC to join the faculty of the Art Department, she begins graduate school at University of Southern California.


1951

Corita graduates from USC, begins screenprinting near the completion of her master’s degree.



1952

Corita wins first prize in both the Los Angeles County print competition and the California State Fair for the lord is with thee.




1952–1959

Corita continues working and teaching at IHC, her reputation as an artist and teacher growing.



1959

Corita and Sister Magdalen Mary, her mentor, go on a trip to Europe and Egypt. Sister Mag acquires many pieces for the Gloria Collection of folk art.



1961

Corita takes over planning for Mary’s Day Celebration.




1962

Corita sees Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, produces her first Pop print that summer. Pope John XXIII
convenes Vatican II.



1963

Corita is commissioned to create a banner for the Vatican Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.



1964

Corita becomes chair of the IHC Art Department.



1965

Corita and students Mickey Myers and Paula McGowan organize the Christmas display at IBM in New York.



1966

The Los Angeles Times names Corita one of nine Women of the Year.



1967

Corita is on the cover of the Christmas issue of Newsweek Magazine. The IHMs encounter increasing resistance from the Archdiocese to the changes they are making under the directives of Vatican II. A commission of Corita’s is printed by Harry Hambly at Hambly Studios in Santa Clara. Corita is very impressed with the quality of his work. She sends some of her own designs to him for printing.




1968

Exhausted, Corita takes a sabbatical in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. At the end of it, she decides to seek dispensation from her vows and leaves the IHM Order. Corita begins sending all her prints to Hambly Studios.



1970

Corita gets her own apartment and lives on her own for the first time in Boston. The religious order IHM reforms as an ecumenical lay community, the Immaculate Heart Community.



1971

Corita receives a commission from the Boston Gas Company for one of its gas tanks. Corita’s design becomes the largest copyrighted artwork in the world.



1974

Corita is first diagnosed with cancer.


c. 1977

Corita is diagnosed with cancer a second time.


1979

Corita’s beloved and very close sister Mary Catherine dies of cancer.



1980

A major retrospective of Corita’s work is mounted at the deCordova Museum in Massachusetts.



1983

Corita receives a commission from Physicians for Social Responsibility. Corita calls the “we can create life without war” billboards the most religious thing she’s done.



1985

Corita was asked to design a postage stamp in 1980. After several years in limbo, the design is issued. The unveiling takes place on the Love Boat. Furious, Corita refuses to attend saying that was not the kind of love she meant. She had wanted the stamp to be unveiled at the United Nations. In response she makes the work love is hard work.



1986

Cancer is found again, this time in Corita’s liver. Corita dies from cancer September 18. She leaves her unsold works and copyrights to the Immaculate Heart Community.



1968–c. 1995

Corita Prints, Inc. operates in North Hollywood selling Corita’s prints and merchandise.


c. 1997

The Immaculate Heart Community forms the Corita Art Center to honor Corita’s legacy.


Since 1997

The Corita Art Center has facilitated hundreds of exhibitions of Corita’s work, overseen her images rights, sold her prints, and developed educational programs based on her methods and work.




Frequently Asked Questions


What is the proper way to refer to the artist, Sister Mary Corita, Sister Corita, or Corita?

Corita. Her birth name was Frances Elizabeth Kent and Corita took the name Sister Mary Corita when she joined the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Because it was an order devoted to Mary, all the nuns had a variation of Mary in their name, but they frequently dropped it when speaking to each other. After 1968, Corita was no longer a nun and toyed with going back to “Frannie,” her childhood name, but at that time, she was already well established as an artist and decided to remain Corita. While she never legally changed her name to Corita Kent, we honor her wishes by using that name.


What were Corita’s artistic influences?

Corita showed an early proclivity for art and her father encouraged her to develop it. As a young artist, Corita was influenced by medieval art she was studying. She was also very interested in the contemporary art of her time. Her early work shows some abstract expressionist influence and then she was certainly influenced by the Pop art movement that developed in Los Angeles in the early 1960s.


Why did Corita choose serigraphy?

Corita began serigraphy or silkscreen printing as she was finishing her graduate degree. She thought it would be a good method to teach to her students, many of whom were pre-service teachers. Serigraphy appealed to Corita for another important reason, she wanted her art to be affordable and widely available and serigraphy allows for the production of multiple works.


Why did Corita not number her works?

Along with the work being affordable and widely available, Corita did not want any of her prints to be more valuable than the others. She did not number them and sometimes she did not even record the full size of the edition. Her prints are hand-signed though and typically were only issued as one limited edition.


Why did Corita leave the Immaculate Heart of Mary order?

Corita was exhausted from a trying schedule of teaching, exhibiting, speaking tours, and a newfound level of celebrity in 1968 when she took a sabbatical. Based on sources from the college and people who knew Corita, she intended to come back the following year. However, during her time off, Corita changed her mind and decided she did not want to return to the order or to teaching. She sought an official release from her vows (a “dispensation”) and she left the IHMs on good-terms. In fact, two years later when the entire IHM order decided to reform as a lay community, Corita spoke on behalf of her former sisters during a visit by the Papal Nuncio. Her affections and ties remained strong throughout her life and the Immaculate Heart Community, the lay community formed by the IHMs, was the major beneficiary of her will.


Where are her works for sale?

The Corita Art Center in Los Angeles sells the original editions of Corita’s work.


Where are Corita’s works held?

The Corita Art Center in Los Angeles has the largest collection of Corita’s works and related materials. The Hammer Museum, also in L.A., has a very comprehensive collection. Public institutions and private collectors around the world hold Corita’s work.


Corita’s Work is Included in these Institution’s Collections


Academy Art Museum

Easton, Maryland

Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts

San Francisco, California

Addison Gallery of American Art

Andover, Massachusetts

Albion College

Albion, Michigan

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Sydney, Australia

Berkeley Art Museum

Berkeley, California

Bibliothèque Nationale

Paris, France

Brauer Museum of Art

Valparaiso, Indiana

Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn, New York

Brooks Memorial Art Gallery

Memphis, Tennessee

California State University Chico

Chico, California

Cape Cod Museum of Art

Dennis, Massachusetts

Carnegie Art Museum

Oxnard, California

The Centre Pompidou

Paris, France

The Chartwell Collection

Auckland, New Zealand

Cincinnati Art Museum

Cincinnati, Ohio

Collection of the Associated Sulpicians of the United States

Baltimore, Maryland

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas, Texas

Dom Museum

Vienna, Austria

Fisher Museum of Art

Los Angeles, California

Frac île-de-france

France

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art

Norman, Oklahoma

Free Library of Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

New Plymouth, New Zealand

Gutman Library

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Hammer Museum

Los Angeles, California

Harvard Art Museums

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Honolulu Museum of Art

Honolulu, Hawaii

Hood Museum of Art

Hanover, New Hampshire

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts

Stanford, California

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Sarasota, Florida

Jundt Art Museum

Spokane, Washington

Library of Congress

Department of Prints

Washington, D.C.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles, California

Luckman Gallery

Los Angeles, California

Ludwig Museum

Cologne, Germany

Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, New York

Mills College

Oakland, California

Museum Fine Arts

Boston, Massachusetts

Museum of Contemporary Art

Los Angeles, California

Museum of Fine Arts

Houston, Texas

Museum of Modern Art

New York, New York

National Gallery of Art

Washington D.C.

New York Public Library

New York, New York

Newport Art Museum

Newport, Rhode Island

Oakland Museum of California

Oakland, California

Oregon State College

Corvallis, Oregon

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philbrook Museum of Art

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Portland Art Museum

Portland, Oregon

The Print Center

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art

Brisbane, Australia

San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego, California

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

San Francisco, California

Schlesinger Library

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery

Lincoln, Nebraska

South Dakota Art Museum

Brookings, South Dakota

St. Catherine University

St. Paul, Minnesota

Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery

Saratoga Springs, New York

Texas Wesleyan College

Fort Worth, Texas

Thiel College Collection

Greenville, Pennsylvania

University of British Columbia

Vancouver, Canada

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

University of San Diego

San Diego, California

Victoria and Albert Museum

London, England

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Richmond, Virginia

Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art

Santa Barbara, California

Whitney Museum of American Art

New York, New York

Zanesville Museum of Art

Zanesville, Ohio