Sordoni holds artist lecture for ‘Sacred Sisters’


‘Hildegard’s Box’ sits in the middle of the newest ‘Sacred Sisters’ exhibition .

Maddie Davis, Co-News Editor

On Jan. 30 the Sordoni Art Gallery hosted Holly Trostle Brigham, the artist of the ‘Sacred Sisters’ exhibition, which is currently being showcased in the gallery.

Brigham came to the gallery to talk more in-depth about all of her works on display. She also touched on what piqued her interest to do the series, and the overall process of putting it together.

Sordoni Art Gallery Director Heather Sincavage and many of her volunteers welcomed the crowd into the middle of the gallery to hear Brigham’s talk. The talk took place in the second exhibition ‘Peasant War’ by Käthe Kollwitz.

Sincavage also mentioned her and Brigham’s personal history as artists and as friends.

“Holly and I actually go way back,” said Brigham. “Our paths have taken us a lot of different places. I am excited that our paths have crossed again.

“I am thrilled to be featuring here,” she added.

Jess Moraudi, a sophomore Wilkes student who is also a volunteer in the gallery talked about her thoughts on the opportunity for the artist to give lectures about the exhibitions.

“I love it because it gets everyone really involved because a lot of people tend to not be involved,” said Moraudi.

“I really like it, I think it is super unique,” added Moraudi about the ‘Sacred Sisters’ exhibition.

Brigham is a figurative painter of contemporary and historical subjects from Philadelphia, Pa whose artwork has been shown in New York, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.

She has taught painting and drawing at the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester State College, Lebanon Valley College, Lafayette College and Pasadena City College. Brigham earned her MFA in painting from George Washington University.

She began by talking about her inspiration behind the ‘Sacred Sisters’ series. She accredited her fascination with Catholic nuns because of a trip she took to Rome, Italy during her junior and senior years of high school. Brigham recalled that all she had remaining of those trips were pictures of the Catholic nuns walking around the streets.

She explained that because of gender roles in the middle ages and during the Renaissance, the nuns were not seen as artistic and would keep artwork under wraps.

These women were thought to be confined and conservative, but their paintings allowed them to be much more than that.

Brigham enjoyed researching these women and admired their secret creative lifestyles behind the convents they were in.

“In early history, women were actually able to be writers and artists and musicians and if they had been on the outside [of the convent]… it wouldn’t have happened,” added Brigham.

She explained that the series began as ‘Seven Sisters,’ where she painted herself, as the model into different nuns. ‘Seven Sisters’ in mythology refers to the Pleiades constellation.

“I thought what should I do next,” said Brigham recalling her thoughts once she finished ‘Seven Sisters.’

The first painting that Brigham talked about was her portrait of Sister Plautilla Nelli.

“Plautilla Nelli deserves to have people know about her,” said Brigham.

Sister Plautilla Nelli was a nun that was in charge of her specific convent. Ten years ago a few women in Florence, Italy decided to unearth paintings by Plautilla Nelli, have them cleaned and have them exhibited.

In her own painting, Brigham painted Plautilla Neli while she was painting her own painting, ‘Lamentation with Saints,’ to add a layer of depth to the sister.

The next painting she explained was of Santa Caterina titled ‘Santa Caterina’s Trinity.’ She painted her playing a violetta in front of a golden foliage stamped background.

“When you go to art school and you paint people, you are supposed to paint the model,” added Brigham, “How could I paint a historical subject if she is no longer here?”

Brigham’s solution was to use herself for most of the models she resembles. For those, she did not resemble like her paintings of Renegetsu and Hilaria Batista de Almeida she found models who more resembled their ethnicities.

She went in-depth about how her series became a collaborative piece with the award-winning poet, Marilyn Nelson.

Nelson visited Brigham’s daughter’s school for poetry workshops and they both began talking about Brigham’s nun series.

Nelson began to give Brigham advice of who to paint even suggesting a Dominican and a Japanese nun, something she didn’t think to focus on as she stuck to mainly Catholic nuns.

Over that same dinner where they discussed these newer ideas, Nelson also suggested that she would write poetry to almost give a voice to these nuns as Brigham provided them with a portrait. Her poetry mimics the prayers and is written as if the nuns are talking directly to you.

Henriette DeLille was another nun suggested by Nelson who was a Creole woman from Louisiana. Brigham painted her sewing fabric onto a black baby Jesus doll.

In these days, because nuns were not allowed to have kids they would wash, dress and care for a baby Jesus doll as their own child.

She talked about the process to finish her first non-Catholic nun: Otagaki Renegetsu, a Buddhist nun.

Her other paintings that Brigham discussed in the lecture were her paintings of Sor Juana de la Cruz, Hilaria Batista de Almeida and Andrea Maria de la Encarnacion.

Next to each of the seven paintings in the Sordoni, Brigham also paired them with a faux relic that symbolizes the nun in some way. A poem was hung on the way next to each painting .

She ended with talking about her physical piece which sits in the middle of the gallery called ‘Hildegard’s Box.’

This physical piece is a box painted on all sides with images of her in different parts of her life.

Inside the box are a symbolic representation of Hildegard’s tongue and heart hanging in a crochet metal jewel bag. The box also plays music because Hildegard composed her own music.

The ‘Sacred Sisters’ and the ‘Peasant War’ exhibitions will be open until March 1.

On Feb. 20, the Sordoni Art Gallery and the Manuscript Society will hold a visible poetry project and poetry reading at 5 p.m. in the gallery.

The next exhibition ‘Ukiyo-E to Shin Hanga’ will open on Apr. 2 through May 18.