Folk Artist: Good News in Art Ministry

Several things light up my life in community at this time. I have been a folk artist and recently put out a new website –  I am happy to have a large exhibit of my original art work shown at the Cathedral of St. John in downtown Milwaukee.  When I step back to see the installation of colorful canvases of multi-cultured women figures, the printed paper cuts of Peaceable Kingdoms, and read the artist statements I wrote for the exhibit, I am filled with gratitude to the Sisters of the Divine Savior who have encouraged me to share the Gospel with my talents.  Other art is at and allows a large audience to know our diverse gifts.

For some years I have worked among other Church denominations to present Scripture verses in paint and calligraphy. Sometimes people will remark, “Where did you get those beautiful sayings, Sister?”  Then I tell them it is in scripture.  Using various translations for words and praying with them as I paint also helps me to reflect more deeply and bring that to others in a beautiful way.  I love that children respond in fresh ways to folk art.  An 8 year old boy was excited recently when a large painting of the Peaceable Kingdom was hung in a Presbyterian Youth Center.  He put his finger on the framed glass and cried, “Look!  It’s a really big snake!”  I told him that not all snakes frightened people.  The snake too was part of the peaceable kingdom.

I chose to do folk art because it is understandable to most people and has a lot of variety for painting. Many times this art was “made by the folks” and is found in homes.  People just had to live with beauty!  I also was impressed in studying how our Sisters came to Milwaukee to do nursing right in the homes of people.  They lived with a family when the mother had given birth to an infant, or someone had influenza and remained at home because they could not afford the hospital – if there was a hospital at all.  It was unusual to have a Sister in your home then and would be unusual today for sure!  Think of it – she was with you to cook and eat meals, to sleep in your house, to do laundry and whatever had to be done besides nursing the sick person!  There are some small books in the Sister’s archives and the pages show the family name, the Sister-nurse’s name, what the illness was and how long the Sister stayed with the family.  Sometimes it recorded how much the Sister earned for the community.  I am always in awe that our Sisters served in such an intimate way early in our history.

After I knew that, I wanted to make the kind of art that would be treasured by people in their homes. That is what folk art is able to do when it becomes a gift for a special occasion, or the names of those they love are scripted on the art work.  It is a little like the first Sisters going into homes!  Today, many people tell me the art means a lot to their family. It is the “good news” in my ministry of art.

by Sr. Karlyn Cauley, SDS

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