Corita Kent, born Frances Elizabeth Kent, on November 20, 1918, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was an artist, educator, and social activist. She entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary at the age of 18, joining a teaching order and taking the name Sister Mary Corita. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree at Immaculate Heart College and her master’s degree at the University of Southern California, she returned to Immaculate Heart College to teach and began to serve as the head of the art department in 1964.
Kent’s primary medium was screen printing, where one uses a mesh screen to transfer ink onto a surface through blocking stencils. Her work is heavily text-based, incorporating eye-catching typefaces and bold colors. Over the course of her career, her artwork evolved from primarily using religious and figurative imagery to including advertising images and slogans, song lyrics, literature, and bible verses.
Her prints became increasingly political throughout the 1960s, prompting viewers to confront poverty, racism, and social injustice and spotlighting urgent issues like the Vietnam War. With other nuns from her order, Kent took part in feminist and civil rights demonstrations. Tensions rose between the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Los Angeles Archdiocese due to the church leaders’ disapproval of the order’s participation in politics, with one cardinal calling Kent’s art “weird and sinister.”
In 1968, she left the order and returned to secular life, now with the name Corita Kent. She moved to Boston and continued her artistic practice. Kent created several hundred screen prints for posters, book covers, and murals. In 1985, she was commissioned by the United States Postal Service to create a stamp; entitled Love, it sold over 700 million copies. Despite a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 1974, Kent maintained a prolific art career before passing away in 1986 at the age of 76, leaving her personal collection to UCLA’s Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts. In addition to the Hammer Museum at UCLA, her work is included in the collections of numerous museums, notably the Harvard Art Museums, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Tang Teaching Museum’s longstanding connection to Corita Kent includes organizing the first full-scale travelling survey of her work, Corita Kent: Someday Is Now, in 2015, and caring for an archive of more than 450 prints by the artist.
— Piper Ingels ’24