Art, an enduring legacy at the Woods
When Sister Camille Neubauer, a receptionist, arrives at Providence Spirituality and Conference Center at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in the morning she has no idea what interesting stories the day will bring. Not only are there planned group tours but unannounced visitors. Frequently it is a past connection with the Sisters of Providence that brings them here.
On this particular day it was a painting done at Saint Mary of-the-Woods in 1898 by his grandmother, Mary Ray McCoy that brought Robert Kirkpatrick Jr., his brother, Jay and sister-in-law, Carole to visit for the first time.
While he never met his grandmother who died in 1934, the 1898 painting hung in a place of honor in his grandfather’s house. The painting now belongs to Robert and his wife, Catherine, who is also an artist. They value it so much that Catherine recently had it professionally restored. The condition of the painting after 120 years spoke to Catherine of the excellent quality of materials and instruction at Saint Mary’s in 1898.
From the beginning, despite extreme poverty, Mother Theodore Guerin was very committed to art and music being an essential part of the curriculum in the schools she established.
In 1898 what is now Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College was called Saint Mary’s Institute. Mary Ray entered the school in 1895 at the age of 14. The painting, likely a reproduction, shows a small community and church in the very distant background along with her signature and date. Robert says: “I think my grandmother might have chosen the scene because the river and the community church reminded her of Saint Mary’s/ Terre Haute as well as of Lafayette, near her dad’s farm where she was born and grew up.” He believes that his grandmother must have had an amazing gift for art to create such a painting at 16 or 17 years old and also must have had outstanding art teachers.
Indeed, as Providence would have it, Mary Ray was likely taught by a very talented SP artist, Sister Mary Albertine Sondermann. Sister was both director of the school at that time and taught art. Sister Mary Albertine was known for landscape reproduction paintings, figure painting and charcoal portraits. She had studied at several renowned places, including the Cincinnati Art Association, the Chicago Art Institute and the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany. One of her paintings, “Sunbeams in the Rockies” was exhibited in the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
Robert noted that upon entering the center they were immediately struck by the beautiful artwork in the hallway. He took pictures of the beautiful iris artwork by the late Sister Rita Ann Roethele, S.P. Later, in the shrine area, he took a picture of a blowup of the old fee schedule and description of available classes at that time in oil painting, watercolor and Asian art.
In this brief visit, it was clear to him that the tradition of outstanding art and artists has continued to the present. He so appreciated Sister Camille’s excellent hospitality, calling her “the perfect person” to greet them and explain the community’s history and the college’s current programs related to music and art.