12 Treasures of the Art Room
By Carolyn Kesterman, Communications intern
The Motherhouse Art Room is one of the best places to view the many works of art completed and collected by the Sisters of Charity Community over the years. Constructed between 1892 and 1895, this room has an ornate woodwork balcony surrounding its perimeter, making it one of the more unique and beautiful rooms in the building. It was designed to be an art gallery for the Sisters and their students, and although the room was occasionally given other uses during its time with the college, it eventually returned to its original purpose, giving the Sisters and visitors a place to study some of the works of art that have come into the Community.
1. Portraits of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s grandparents
These painted portraits are the only existing images of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s maternal grandparents, Reverend Richard and Mary Bayeux Charleton. In the 1940s, a Sister’s friend who was living in New York where the Charletons had lived heard that these paintings were going up for auction and called the Sister to ask if the Community would be interested in them. Mother Mary Zoe Farrell went to the auction and purchased them, bringing them back to the Motherhouse where they have been treasured ever since.
2. Spanish Crucifix
This crucifix, displayed in a mirror-backed case on a walnut pedestal, is from the 16th century. It was brought by martyr Father Juan de Padilla during the expedition to Mexico led by Spanish conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. After hanging for two centuries in St. Augustine Church – the Isleta Pueblo Chapel in New Mexico – the crucifix was given by Reverend Doschet, a Franciscan Father, to S. Rose Alexius Broderick in 1925.
3. Unique Painting
On a wall devoted to Cincinnati artists, several pieces are by four Sisters who studied under Frank Duveneck at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in the 1910s. One of these paintings, a portrait of a female student, has a unique story. S. Ernestine Foskey, one of Duveneck’s students, had begun a landscape on the reverse side when Duveneck took the canvas and painted the head of a student. Curators from the Cincinnati Art Museum recently looked at the painting and agree that the head seems to be in the style of Duveneck, although the rest of the body was definitely finished by another student in his style.
4. Ebony and Mahogany Furniture Set
These five pieces were given to the Community by William T. and Mary Cunningham Powell, parents of Sisters Miriam Regina and Miriam Theresa Powell, biological twins who joined the Community together in 1929. The pieces were bought by their mother with money she had intended to use for a trip to Europe before having a nightmare about a ship sinking the night before she was supposed to set sail. Unable to shake the images from her mind, she called off the trip and used the funds on five elaborate ebony and mahogany pieces, including this settee and chair.
5. Trinity and Mary Triptych
This triptych features Mary being crowned by members of the Holy Trinity on the main panel, with images of Saints John the Baptist and Joan of Arc on the side panels. It was a gift of Reverend George Schwarz to Cincinnati Archbishop John Purcell. The Archbishop had a long history with the Sisters, encouraging and assisting them in their decision to form their own Community in 1852. He gave this triptych to the Sisters, along with several other gifts that can be found around the Motherhouse.
This white marble tabernacle was first used in the West Wing chapel (now the Rose Room). When the current Immaculate Conception Chapel was built, a new tabernacle was used, and this one found a home for many years in the chapel at St. Joseph Hospital in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, before returning to the Motherhouse Art Room. It has a bronze door and is topped by four translucent alabaster Corinthian columns supporting a white marble arched dome with a cross.
7. Mosaic of Mary and Jesus
This mosaic, entitled “Sogetto: Perpetuo Succorso” (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), was purchased in Vatican City by Catherine Foster, who gave it to the Community in memory of her daughter, S. Mary Colleen Bauer (1949-2005). S. Mary Colleen came to the United States from Ireland as an orphan when she was adopted by Mrs. Foster. She is remembered dearly by the Community and those she helped for being an innovative nurse. This mosaic serves as a memorial to her memory.
8. Silver Filigree Pieces
These four pieces sit with the next two entries on an ebony desk that is part of the Powell furniture collection described in number four. These pieces were a gift to S. Victoria Fulwiler (1849-1920) as she celebrated 25 years with the Community – her Silver Jubilee – in 1892. S. Victoria served as an administrator of St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in Cincinnati as director of St. Joseph Infant Home and administrator of Good Samaritan Hospital.
9. Penrose Inkstand
This white porcelain inkstand decorated with flowers was a gift from Julie Penrose, the wife of Spencer Penrose, a wealthy industrialist from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Spencer was treated for cancer by the Sisters in what was then Glockner Hospital, and he donated money to open up the Penrose Cancer Institute in the hospital to help patients like himself. After his death in 1939, Julie donated additional funds and the hospital was renamed Penrose Hospital in thanks for all that the family had done to make improvements there. The couple owned a mansion at the base of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, and Julie donated this house to the Sisters to be used as a retreat house.
10. Set of Miniature Books
This set of miniature books was owned by Margery Reed Mayo, a young woman from a wealthy family from Denver, Colorado in the early 20th century. During World War I, Reed Mayo went to Glockner Hospital in Colorado Springs to take a Red Cross nursing course. Here, she met the Sisters of Charity and became close with them. These books are one item that the Community was given to remember Margery after she died. The collection includes several works of Shakespeare, a book of poems by Torquato Tasso (seen in box), and Die Jungfrau von Orleans by Friedrich Schiller, a tragedy based on the life of Joan of Arc, which can be seen open in the photo. The Schiller book is inscribed “Margery Xmas 1910” in the front.
This bellows pump organ is from the late 19th century, made by the S.D. and H.W. Smith organ company in Boston, Massachusetts. The organ seat and pedals have floral needlepoint on them done by the mother of Marcie Mahrt, the sister-in-law of Sisters Salome and Cyril Marhrt (1895-1979; 1892-1979). Marcie’s mother brought this organ with her when she emigrated from Germany.
12. Rookwood Display Case
This ornately carved display case holds several pieces of Rookwood Pottery. The Rookwood Pottery Company has been in Cincinnati since 1880, started by Maria Longworth Nichols who, since women were not permitted to paint on canvas, followed her artistic passions by painting on ceramic. It was the first female-owned manufacturing company in the United States. Seven of the pieces in this case were given by artist Sallie Toohey to the Sisters during Christmas of 1890. These early Rookwood pieces are peach glaze with a floral pattern, a generous gift.
To see these items and many more on display, guests can schedule a tour through the Sisters of Charity Archivist, Veronica Buchanan, by calling her at 513-347-5348 or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.