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
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (de Young Museum and Legion of Honor)
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 University
VALPARAISO, INDIANA
Brooklyn Museum
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Brooks Memorial Art Gallery
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
California Museum
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA
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
St. Mary’s Seminary and University
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND
Dallas Museum of Art
DALLAS, TEXAS
Dom Museum
VIENNA, AUSTRIA
Fisher Museum of Art
University of Southern California
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Frac île-de-france
FRANCE
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
University of Oklahoma
NORMAN, OKLAHOMA
Free Library of Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery
NEW PLYMOUTH, NEW ZEALAND
Gutman Library
Harvard University
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
Hammer Museum
UCLA
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Harvard Art Museums
Harvard University
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
Honolulu Museum of Art
HONOLULU, HAWAII
Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts
Stanford University
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
SARASOTA, FLORIDA
Jundt Art Museum
Gonzaga University
SPOKANE, WASHINGTON
Library of Congress
Department of Prints
WASHINGTON, D.C.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Luckman Gallery
California State University
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 Galleries of Scotland
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND
National Gallery of Art
Rosenwald Collection
WASHINGTON D.C.
New York Public Library
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Newport Art Museum
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art
Utah State University
LOGAN, UTAH
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
Harvard University
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
Sheldon Museum of Art
University of Nebraska
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA
South Dakota Art Museum
South Dakota State University
BROOKINGS, SOUTH DAKOTA
St. Catherine University
ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA
Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery
Skidmore College
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
Westmont College
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
Whitney Museum of American Art
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Zanesville Museum of Art
ZANESVILLE, OHIO