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Feature Articles

9 Works of Art by S. Augusta Zimmer at the Motherhouse
By Carolyn Kesterman, Communications intern

The Sisters of Charity Community has had many visual artists over the years, but perhaps the most prolific and praised was S. Augusta Zimmer (1904-1990). S. Augusta’s artistic talents were discovered by the Community when the other Sisters at the school she was serving at saw an impressive drawing she had put on her board and asked her to decorate theirs, too. She was encouraged to study art, and after taking classes at the Chicago Art Institute and studying abroad in Florence, Italy, she came to the College of Mount St. Joseph to develop the art department.

Remembered for a humble demeanor and readiness to try new ideas, S. Augusta’s art is treasured at the many sponsored ministries that were blessed with her talents. Her works were so numerous and rarely signed, that when SC historian S. Judith Metz asked her once whether a particular piece was hers, she replied, “Oh, I don’t know. You know how it is, you do everything for God, and when you’re done, you move on to the next thing.” Sisters at the different ministries asked for pieces all the time, and S. Augusta always rose to the challenge. Today, many of these pieces are on display around the Motherhouse, the following being just a sample of her works.

1.
Mother Margaret George Portrait
S. Augusta was asked to paint a portrait of the Cincinnati Community’s founder, Mother Margaret George, since the only existing portrait of her was completed after she had suffered a stroke late in life. Utilizing the previously done portrait to understand her bone structure, S. Augusta created this image in 1984 that has been used since as the primary portrait of the important figure in the Community.

2.

Unused Tiles from Trinidad Mural
One of S. Augusta’s most remembered achievements is the “Trinidad – Our Proud Heritage” ceramic mural that resides in the lobby of Mount San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad, Colorado. S. Augusta, a Colorado native herself, was commissioned by the Trinidad Area Health Association in 1976 to design and execute the piece to serve as a reminder of the rich history of the city. Crafting the ceramic tiles for the 28’ by 12’ mural in her art studio at the Motherhouse, Sister depicted Trinidad’s mining and rail industries, its founders, its major buildings, and the Sisters of Charity establishing the first Mount San Rafael Hospital. These tiles on display in one of the two parlors named after S. Augusta that house her art in the Motherhouse did not turn out as Sister desired, but provide those in Cincinnati with a glimpse of the mural’s artistry.


3.

Metal Etching Plates
One of Sister’s favorite forms of art was metal etching. The S. Augusta Zimmer parlors at the Motherhouse display a number of her etching plates, with some of the resulting prints up on the walls. These prints were used in a variety of ways, including Christmas cards and newsletter covers for the China mission, also on display.


4.

Watercolor Painting of Cedar Grove
When S. Judith Metz began redecorating what is now the Heritage Room to make it a place for Community history, she asked S. Augusta to make a watercolor painting of the second Mount St. Vincent Motherhouse in Cedar Grove to match a watercolor done of the first motherhouse. S. Judith remembers S. Augusta saying, “I haven’t done watercolor in years, but I’ll give it a try.” Not long after, S. Judith was presented with this painting that now hangs on display in the Heritage Room next to the watercolor of the first Motherhouse.


5.

Illustrations of Mail Carrier
S. Augusta was often asked to illustrate historical images for the Community, one such being these drawings of Peter Bohner, the first mail carrier for the Mt. St. Joseph Post Office at the Motherhouse. He began work as the Motherhouse’s mail carrier in 1891 when the post office opened, and remained there for over 25 years, becoming a well-respected figure on the grounds. Four of S. Augusta’s drawings of Peter are on display outside the post office today.


6.

Stained-Glass Doors
S. Augusta often had her art students work on large projects with her to get experience, such as the stained-glass windows of the Mater Dei Chapel at the College of Mount St. Joseph, or the two stained-glass doors to the Motherhouse Art Room. Student Lois Levy of the class of 1949 worked closely with S. Augusta to construct the doors, with classmate Dorothy Murray assisting in cutting out the glass pieces. The door shown here depicts St. Luke and St. Augustine; the other door is of Fra Angelico and St. Thomas. All four saints were chosen because they were writers.


7.

Regina Hall Art Class Mural
In 1938, S. Augusta asked Mother Mary Regina Russell if the old stone laundry building in back of the Motherhouse could be used for her rapidly growing college art classes. Regina Hall, as it was then named, became the new location for the art department in 1939, and until the college moved to its current location across the street 23 years later, students learned and created within its studios. After the college moved, S. Augusta used Regina Hall as her own art studio for many years. She painted two murals inside, including a large depiction of the art classes that had once taken place there. This image shows the left corner of the mural.

8.

Sketchbooks
S. Augusta was often seen around the Motherhouse with a sketchbook in hand. Some of these sketchbooks are in the collection today, one of which is on display in the parlors. The pages visible show studies of some of the Sisters around her. While her completed works are impressive, the talent evident even in her quick sketches shows why S. Augusta has remained one of the Community’s most beloved artists.


9.

Plans for Mystery Mural
One of the most intriguing artworks in the S. Augusta parlors is a long tissue paper design for a mural that was never executed. The mural would have depicted the history of the Community, this close-up showing Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and the first Sisters of Charity. Other scenes depicted on the plans include Elizabeth’s conversion, the beginning of the Cincinnati Community, nursing soldiers in the Civil War, and going to New Mexico. Despite the details of the plans, S. Judith is unsure of the place S. Augusta had in mind for it. Two sets of doors are included, but the Immaculate Conception Chapel at the Motherhouse does not have enough room over the doors for what she had designed. It remains a mystery as to where this beautiful and thoughtful mural would have been placed had she gone through with it, but these framed plans provide a glimpse at the endless artistic inspirations that S. Augusta offered with love and care.