Dominican's art reflects ‘beauty of the world’
Friday, November 03, 2006
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Dominican sister on the East Side [of Columbus] has won an arts
award that puts her in a class with religious and political luminaries.
Sister Thoma Swanson of St. Mary of the Springs has taught high-school
and college students in America for decades and has helped Peruvian
artisans escape poverty. But it was her artwork, including stained-glass
windows, that earned one of this year’s Mother Teresa Awards,
presented by the St. Bernadette Institute of Sacred Art in Albuquerque,
The award bears a quotation from Mother Teresa, who in 2003 was
beatified for her work with the poor in Calcutta, India: "The
world is hungry not only for food, but also for beauty."
The message resonates with Swanson, 78, who said art is intrinsic
in our humanity.
"It’s a rejoicing in the beauty of the world," she
said. "Without it, our lives are very empty and cold and boring."
She and 32 others received statuettes made by the R.S. Owens Co.
of Chicago, which also makes the Oscar figurines. The other winners
include poet Maya Angelou, former South African President Nelson
Mandela and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Some winners get the red-carpet treatment, but Swanson declined
that. Her statuette was mailed to St. Mary’s and will be presented
at a private ceremony on Tuesday.
Swanson works most days at the Milo Arts Center, a former school
on the Northeast Side. An eclectic mix of art lines the walls and
desks in her studio, and classical music from WOSU-FM constantly
Her early works were watercolors, the medium she still uses to indulge
herself, but she has gained acclaim for designing and creating stained-glass
windows. Examples are at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conn.,
where she used to teach; St. Mary of the Springs; and Capilla Alberto
Magno, a convent in Lima, Peru.
In Chimbote, Peru, a seaport about 250 miles north-northwest of
Lima, Swanson organized small groups of women to create and sell
needlework and other handcrafts at fair-trade prices, meaning that
artists are justly compensated for their work.
|In her studio at the Milo Arts Center,
Sister Thoma Swanson displays some of the items made by Peruvian
craftswomen she has helped.
Global Galleries, a local nonprofit, carries some of their items,
including holiday cards and stockings with Peruvian scenes, said
Connie De Jong, president of Global’s board.
Swanson’s influence shows in the depictions of saints and
other holy figures with Peruvian features, rather than the European
ones that typically were used before her arrival.
"One thing I like about Sister Thoma is how she connects with
people in a very natural way," De Jong said. "She is very
humble about all of the work she has done."
Sales help Chimbote’s artists live above the poverty level,
$200 a month in Peru, De Jong said. Some of the items will be sold
at the International Festival this weekend at Veterans Memorial.
Swanson had lived in Columbus in the 1950s, when she attended the
College of St. Mary of the Springs, now Ohio Dominican University,
and when she taught at Watterson High School. Work and further study
took her to many parts of the world before she returned to St. Mary
At the convent, Sister Colleen Gallagher describes her longtime
friend as entertaining, spontaneous and "a very colorful person."
In recent years, Swanson has given up teaching to concentrate on
her artwork. Except for volunteering with the Hispanic community,
she spends most of her time at the convent or her studio.