Chestnut Hill College’s Sister Cathie Meighan poses with her award-winning painting, “Uncharted Waters.” (Photo courtesy of Meighan)

by Kevin Dicciani

Some artists live in obscurity without ever being recognized for their talents: Sister Cathie Meighan is not one of those artists.

Meighan, instructor and adjunct coordinator for the art studio at Chestnut Hill College, recently garnered her first award as a painter when her abstract work won first prize in “Absolutely Abstract,” an art exhibition juried by the Philadelphia Sketch Club, America’s oldest club for professional artists. Her painting “Uncharted Waters” was among 87 other paintings featured in the exhibition, held at the club’s main gallery in downtown Philadelphia. For her prize, she received a medal and $300.

It wasn’t until an hour before the show’s reception began that Meighan learned she had won first prize. After receiving the news, she said she felt as though she had walked into a surprise party.

“My insides were shaking like crazy,” Meighan said. “I was totally surprised and blown away. It was something I wasn’t expecting, for sure.”

Even though she doesn’t paint to win awards, she said the prize nevertheless validates her decades spent studying and honing her skills. “It affirms what I’ve been working on for years, as if to say, ‘Yes, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” said Meighan, whose paintings have been featured in art exhibitions in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware.

The Philadelphia Sketch Club was founded in 1860. The nonprofit, according to its website, is “dedicated to providing a community for visual artists, appreciation of the visual arts and visual arts education.” Some of its prominent past members include Thomas Anshutz, Thomas Eakins and N.C. Wyeth, illustrator of such books as “Treasure Island” and “Robinson Crusoe” and father of Andrew Wyeth, one of the most renowned 20th-century American artists. The club first permitted women to join as members in 1990.

Meighan spent close to a year working on “Uncharted Waters.” This was an unusual amount of time for her to spend on one painting, but this was a different and more cerebral piece of artwork. It was one she fought with constantly, approaching it without any preconceived ideas or even the vaguest notion of its ultimate form and function.

“With abstract paintings, the approach is very meditative and intuitive,” she said. “It’s about spending time with the work and responding to what surfaces and needs to be expressed. So I may put down the paint and just sit quietly, waiting for the unconscious to guide me in my artistic process. Then, when I feel moved, the painting begins from the inside out.”

“Uncharted Waters” is part of Meighan’s larger body of abstract work, “Evolving.” The collection of approximately 50 paintings focuses on her encounters with paint and color along with the evolutionary process behind the art. She describes her work as predominately non-representational, yet at times, figurative.

“It’s always an engagement between me and the painting, this dance, this unconscious relationship,” Meighan said. “Abstract art invites the viewer to encounter and respond to a painting as it taps into the unconscious and evokes a personal experience.”

Meighan started painting when she was a student at Chestnut Hill College, where she graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in art. Following graduation, determined to learn more about the fundamentals of the art form, she took more than 80 credits worth of classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 2012, she earned her Master of Fine Arts from Johnson State University in conjunction with Vermont Studio Center, the largest international residency program in the country for international artists.

In the interval between her degrees, Meighan worked as an art teacher for 30 years, 25 of which she spent at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. She returned to CHC five years ago and began working intermittently in a number of adjunct positions at the art studio. In 2017, she was officially named its adjunct coordinator.

Over the years, the academic approach to painting has entrenched itself into Meighan’s philosophy of the art, informing both how she paints and how she teaches.

“It’s all about form and contrast,” she said. “If you can understand those two things, you’re going to be able to create wonderful paintings.”

This doesn’t mean, however, that Meighan’s classes are devoid of artistic exploration. “I always tell the students, ‘You can break the rules after you know them,’” she said.

As for her future aspirations, Meighan wants to continue developing as an artist. She is now at a point in her life as a painter where she wants to branch out and break boundaries and evolve. For her, the creative process, more so than any prize, has always been the greatest reward.

“Art is always about experimenting,” she said. “The creative process is always changing, and I can’t do the same thing over and over again. I need to find new ways to say something and touch people.”

This article was excerpted, with permission, from the Chestnut Hill College website. Visit CHC.edu for more information.

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