by Lou Mancinelli
The recent paintings by long-time Chestnut Hill College (CHC) art professor Therese McGuire, SSJ, Ph. D. are an inspiration. Two years ago around Thanksgiving, Sister McGuire, 83, suffered a stroke that left the right side of her body, the side she used to paint and make jewelry and other silver, paralyzed.
But the incident did anything but immobilize her will to create. With her yearning for art still churning within, Sister McGuire began to learn to paint with her non-dominant left hand, a skill today she still works to develop.
Three Sister McGuire paintings are featured at the annual international juried exhibition and sale of art and fine crafts, “All About Art,” at the Moss Rehabilitation Center, 60 E. Township Line Rd. in Elkins Park, now through July 1. The show is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The exhibition showcases works by 86 artists and fine craft artisans, 26 of whom are new this year. In addition to local artists, featured works include exhibitors from around the U.S., Canada and India. Mediums include oil and watercolor painting, photography, sculpture, needlepoint and jewelry. Prices range from $24 to $3,000, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Voices of MossRehab Aphasia Center.
In 1944, at the age of 17, Sister McGuire left her family’s northern New Jersey home to come to Philadelphia to join the convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Decades later, she remains true to her Jesuit discipline while struggling to relearn the use of the now-paralyzed right side of her body. She is optimistic about her chances to walk and paint with her right hand again. With help, she walks with a cane.
Her “Patriotic Poppies,” “The Road Less Taken,” and “The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God” featured at the show (two of which have been sold, but will remain until the exhibit concludes) were painted over the past two years using watercolors on paper. Before her stroke, Sister McGuire painted with oil colors on large canvases.
It was only a few months after the stroke before Sister McGuire started to paint again. The art historian’s approach was simple enough, “I said I can’t do it with my right hand, so I’ll try it with my left,” said Sister McGuire during a recent interview.
After graduating from CHC with a degree in English in 1972, Sister McGuire earned her MFA in art from Catholic University. To earn the degree, she took summer classes for nine years while teaching during the school year at institutions like the Main Line’s Academy of Notre Dame. In 1981, she received her Ph.D. in art from New York University, where her doctoral dissertation was an intensive comparison between female religious artists from two centuries, the 12th and the 20th.
Since starting as a professor at CHC in 1982, Sister McGuire has presented papers and talks around the world — from the Sorbonne in Paris to England’s Oxford University to the University of Kalamazoo in Michigan — with a focus on medieval subjects.
“I think the medievalists had a deeper knowledge of the art of their own century,” said Sister McGuire. “They seemed to delve more into it because they had more time.”
Sisters today spend more time doing missionary work and providing other community services, she added. “The 20th-century art doesn’t have the same intensity.”
Deborah Krupp, “All About Art” chair and co-curator, was originally inspired by the permanent collection on a visit to MossRehab for her daughter’s wheelchair evaluation. “I then attended the first show and was so uplifted, I knew I had to get involved.
“Art is an embodiment of aesthetics and life experience. You look at the works in ‘All About Art,’ and they stand on their own merit for quality. They are provocative, creative, beautiful. Then, you factor in the challenges faced by the artists, considering that many of them had to innovate new ways to work after their disability, and you are moved and motivated by the sheer power these artists have.”
Recognized as a national leader in comprehensive medical rehabilitation programs, MossRehab offers a wide range of specialized services, including comprehensive programs for brain and spinal cord injury, stroke, amputation and orthopedic conditions. It is part of the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network.
While, at least for now, Sister can no longer make handmade chalices with hammered and wax-painted silver, the young girl who left her northern New Jersey home at the age of 17 because she fell in love with God and the way the nuns lived, can still express that love and experience through art.
MossRehab at Einstein, 60 E. Township Line Rd. in Elkins Park, is the site of “All About Art.” The show is running through July 1 and is free and open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information or to schedule a group tour, call 215-663-6100.