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Gallery exhibition and lecture series celebrates Adé Bethune’s centennial birthday

“Ephiphany” watercolor and pencil on paper, 1951. Sketch for a mosaic on the tower exterior, Church of St. Joseph, Occidental Negros, the Philippines.
“Ephiphany” watercolor and pencil on paper, 1951. Sketch for a mosaic on the tower exterior, Church of St. Joseph, Occidental Negros, the Philippines.
St. Catherine University Adé Bethune Collection.

St. Catherine University’s Catherine G. Murphy Gallery opens the fall season with Adé Bethune: The Power of One Person, which runs September 8–December 19. From her early association with the Catholic Worker, activist, writer and artist Adé Bethune was not only a pioneer in liturgical art but also a catalyst for social and community change. 

Curated by University Archivist and Head of Special Collections Deborah Kloiber, the exhibit is a visual representation of the depth and breadth of Bethune’s work — from stain glass window designs and liturgical murals, to intricate church floor plans reminiscent of an Escher sketch.

Bethune’s entrepreneurial spirit led to the development of her own distribution company, where she turned her artwork into cards, plaques and other three-dimensional pieces that she reproduced and sold. A true renaissance woman, Bethune was also involved in housing and community development, building design and architecture, and even early childhood education.

Beyond the work displayed at the gallery exhibition, St. Kate’s Adé Bethune collection ranges from original drafts of articles she published to rough sketches of her liturgical art, from handwriting how-to booklets for children to fund raising letters and technical drawings for the first solar-powered house built in Newport, R.I. The variety of her work reveals and illustrates a life that exemplified much more than the simple label of “artist” or “Catholic Worker.” Bethune died in 2002.

A public reception will be held at the gallery on September 13, 6–8 p.m. The exhibition will also be a part of the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities’ Fall Art Tour on October 4, 1–5 p.m.

Lecture Series

To commemorate the centennial year of Bethune’s birth, a lecture series will be held in conjunction with the exhibition. "We carefully chose a variety of lecture topics in the effort to capture this women's amazing spirit and creative life work," says Kloiber.

All lectures will be held in the lecture hall at the Gallery and are free and open to the public.

  • “The Work and Works of Mercy: Learning from Catholic Worker Artist Adé Bethune”
    Julia A. Upton, R.S.M., Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Theology, St. John's University, N.Y.
    September 18, 6:30 p.m.
  • "Liturgical Design, Art, and Community: Adé Bethune’s Evolving Mission to Transform Church Space"
    Rebecca M. Berru-Davis, PhD, St. John's University, Minn.
    "Work and Worship: Adé Bethune and the American Liturgical Movement"
    Katharine E. Harmon, Ph.D., Lecturer in Theology, Marian University, Indianapolis
    October 9, 6:30 p.m.
  • "Adé Bethune, Renaissance Woman, Creativity and Aging"
    Judith Church Tydings, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor in Gerontology in the Continuing Education Program, Frederick Community College, Frederick, MD.
    November 18, 6:30 p.m.

The lecture series is co-sponsored by the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity; Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province; St. Catherine University's Alumnae Council Lifelong Learning Committee; and Friends of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery.

Home to the Adé Bethune Collection

The Smithsonian wanted Adé Bethune’s collected works. Georgetown University also expressed interest, but Bethune herself opted to donate the largest collection of her work to St. Catherine University in 1984.

Bethune's relationship with St. Catherine University began in 1939 when she spoke at the third meeting of the Catholic Art Association held on campus that year. While only 25, she had already made a name for herself as a published artist and writer.

While at St. Catherine, Bethune also spoke at the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and painted a large Saint Joseph with the novices. This began a life-long friendship with Sr. Cyril Clare Casey, Mistress of Postulants. Later she developed friendships with art faculty member Judith Stoughton, CSJ, and library director Elizabeth Delmore, CSJ. These women were instrumental in convincing Bethune to donate her personal papers, books, and artworks to St. Catherine University.

Georgetown, Marquette University and the University of Notre Dame do have pieces of Bethune’s work — often contained within larger art or Catholic Worker collections. “But we got all the good stuff,” says Kloiber.

Holdings of the Collection cover Adé Bethune's entire career from art school at the National Academy of Design and Cooper Union in New York City in the 1930s to her final projects in the early years of the 21st century.

Also in the Gallery:
Examining the sacred feminine in “The Great Mother of Islam”

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Sep. 8, 2014 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Arts, Catholic Identity, Social Justice