Summer Travels and Unexpected Surprises!
Summer vacation this year meant a road trip to Montana, for the Ecclesiastical Sewing family. The drive is long, and there is often not much to see from Minnesota, across North Dakota and through Eastern Montana. The further west we traveled, the more the surprises started to pop up. In over 25 years of traveling between these states, I had yet to ever see Eastern Montana in any state except various shades of browns and golds, or white with snow.
This year was a shocking surprise. Eastern Montana was Beautiful! It was lush and incredibly, unbelievably GREEN, in every shade imaginable. The wheat fields were in bloom with golds and yellows, and there were fields of purple blooms. The drive throughMountains was the loveliest I have ever seen the eastern part of the state. What a surprise!
But, that was not the only surprise of the trip. One afternoon, we took a quick little trip to visit the Ursuline Center in Great Falls, MT. This building, which is still lovely, dates back to 1912. It was a boarding school at one time.
During the 1940’s and 1950’s, the school had a Sister who had a great deal of artistic talent. She had even been the art teacher for one of our family members years ago when he was in high school. As family was telling us about the facility, they recommended that if we visit, we should request to be see the art studio of the Sister that is located in the tower.
Off we went, not knowing what to expect. When we arrived, we checked in at the office, and they said we could wander around, look into the rooms, and to come back if we would like to see either the museum or the studio in the tower. So wander we did. As is typical of the era, there were some beautiful murals painted in the main hallway and in the chapel. If you will indulge me, I will share a few of the mural paintings at the end of the post. They are really quite nice, and appear to be in the style of the Beuronese Art Form that I have seen at other Monasteries.
After doing the self guided tour, we requested to visit the artist tower. It is locate in the center at the very top in the photo above, and is accessed by a very steep flight of stairs. It is the perfect spot for a studio, with windows on every side. There were various paintings of the Sister and her students all around the room. The subject matter ranged from religious works to landscapes to portraits.
There were some pieces used as studio works to teach positioning of a model for portrait painting.
There were even some examples of sculpture work. The piece below was quite striking.
As I glanced around the room, taking in everything on display, something caught my attention. It was off in the corner under the stairs that lead up to the roof. Could it be, up here in an artist studio? At first me eyes did not want to believe that something related to textiles would be up here. But, yes! It was something made of fabric! It appeared to be two Ecclesiastical Banners. I had to politely wait and turn my attention back to the lady who had brought us up to see the studio. She was explaining details relating to some of the work was the done by the Sister, and other pieces which were the works of her students. Once there was a break in the conversation, I was off to the corner to check out what was there.
Seeing the banners from across the length of the room, the first thought was that the Center had someone at some point in time who was capable of embroidering banners. Then, walking across the room to take a closer look, one soon realizes that the banners are hand painted Ecclesiastical Banners to provide the detail of the image and the shading. How interesting and how striking: Painted banners! The Sisters had the painting talent, but perhaps lacked the ability, skills and knowledge Ecclesiastical Embroidery to be able to hand embroider a banner. Did the Sisters paint these banners, or did they come from somewhere else?
This second banner show signs of serious age and wear. The silk fabric is shredding, the paint is peeling off the fabric, the design is worn and faded. At one time, it must have been stunning, and yet for all of the visible wear and aging, the faded beauty of the piece still shines through. The details, shading, and movement seen in the lines of the garments is quite stunning, even as the piece is literally falling apart. The colors are softened with age, but must have been originally much brighter.
One additional element on this banner is worth noting. That is the liberal use of the gold bullion fringe. This fringe is made of a metallic wire, and is very similar to some of the gold metallic threads. It is worked in a lovely scallop design, edged by a metallic gold bullion trim. If you were to touch it, it is heavy, unlike modern fringes. If you look closely at the photo above, there are also matching cords and tassels hanging on either side of the banner, which was also a finishing touch for all banners at one period in time. It is difficult to know the age of the pieces. The person allowing us to view the art collection in the tower had no information on the piece. We did speak with the one Sister who was still at the Center and working in the Archives, but she did not have any further information either. So, the questions remain: did someone at the Ursaline Center paint the banners, were they purchased from a vestment company for the Center? How old are the pieces? Given the state of decay on the full length figure banner and the type of fringe used with the scallops, one would wonder if perhaps this were the older piece, dating perhaps from the days the center opened. The banner with St. Ursuline was made with different fringe and was perhaps from a different era based on the style of the painting. I guess we may never know. It was still thrilling to see something related to Ecclesiastical Sewing, especially the beautiful use of the bullion fringe as the scalloped edge on the banner.
Our chance paid off on this visit. But wait! There is more to the story and more surprises. There were some other wonderful surprises that happened that afternoon that make one think more about that Bullion fringe and the galloon trim. As it is too late for another story this evening, the tale will have to continue at a later date. I’ll end by sharing photos of some of murals painted in the Main Hall and the Chapel. Thanks for reading along.
Center panel of Christ from the main hall, Ursuline Center, Great Falls, MT. The striking features are the intent gaze of the eyes. This is often seen in Beuonese works of art. The garments have rich detail painted in the folds, along with the elaborate edging detail at the hem of the garment.
Side panel of mural from main hall, Ursuline Center, Great Falls, MT. The use of bold and vivid colors is striking, and often seen in the Beuonese Art Style.
Center mural of Chapel, Ursuline Center, Great Falls, MT.
All three panels of Chapel Mural, Ursuline Center, Great Falls, MT.
Solo Dei Gloria
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