An Artful Life

Sister Marion Honors brings spirituality to art
BY CONNIE BERRY
SUN editor

Sister Marion Honors, CSJ, remembers first enjoying art as a kindergarten student inCover Fayetteville’s public school. Art came before her religious vocation and now the two are one.

Today, Sister Marion said she realizes God is at the core of her art. “Where there is goodness and beauty, there is God,” she said.

A look at her prints, monotypes and woodcuts opens the imagination and in their simplicity there is beauty and a story.

Sister Marion graduated from high school at 16 and went to work at Edwards Department Store in Syracuse. She worked in the advertising department as a production artist. “There are things that I learned at that job that I still find useful today,” Sister Marion said.

She left the department store to join the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet a week before her 18th birthday. Sister Marion received her bachelor’s degree in English at the College of St. Rose. After teaching English for a year, she was invited to go to Notre Dame University where she got her master’s degree in painting. Another invitation came to study in Italy and there she earned her master’s degree in fine arts. The sisters in her religious community supported her work in the field she loves.

“The community has given me more than I would ever have believed,” Sister Marion said.

It was more than 30 years ago that she asked permission to focus her energies full time on her art work. “I am very fortunate,” she said.

These days she lives in the boiler house on the grounds at the provincial house in Latham, N.Y. There is a separate row of rooms where she lives and works, Sister Marion explained. She lives singly but participates in the community at the provincial house every day. Sister Marion is an early riser, getting up around 4:30 a.m. every day.

“The sunrise is my morning prayer,” Sister Marion said.

Along with her artistic abilities, Sister Marion has a passion for all God’s creation. She is an organic gardener and shares her tomatoes with the community every summer. “I have some in the freezer now,” Sister Marion said. “I preserve them and share as much as I can and I make raspberry jam for Christmas gifts.”

Her concern is for the whole earth, she said. Sister Marion uses no pesticides besides those found in nature. “I like the idea of giving your body the best you can. I like growing healthy, good clean food,” she said.

Along with preserving and respecting nature, Sister Marion feels her philosophy ought to extend to God’s creatures too so she is a vegetarian. She does her gardening by hand so she benefits from the exercise. “I enjoy being out there. It’s very good for me,” she said. Sister Marion is one of those gardeners who can’t wait for the latest seed catalog to arrive. She grows her food from heirloom seeds and says, “You wouldn’t believe all the varieties of tomatoes there are. There are hundreds of varieties. There’s one called the mortgage lifter so it must have made someone so much money they paid the mortgage off.”

Her concern for the environment extends to the materials she uses in her craft. She uses water-based printing inks and a hand-cranked etching press laying down the lighter colors first and gradually adding more layers, or just one shot at it with one color. “I can get beautiful transparent colors with the water-based ink,” Sister Marion explained.
Sister Marion usually begins her work around 9 a.m. and then works as long as she possibly can throughout the day. She jots down ideas in an old notebook she carries. Her art may begin with a title that caught her attention or a phrase she heard. That gives her a starting point and from there, she said, there are decisions made every day with a piece of art until it evolves into its final state. Right now she has a pile of prints that didn’t “work out” so she is planning to cut or tear them up and put them back together into a new piece of art. “I don’t like the idea of throwing them away,” she said.

Her work and vocation go hand in hand. However, Sister Marion does not agree with the idea that she has a “gift” in her artistic ability.

“I don’t agree with calling art a ‘gift,’” she said. “Everybody has gifts. If you can bake a good cake or raise a family those are gifts. And sometimes your real gift might be a surprise. It might be something you don’t even know about. Some people are wonderful listeners. Some people are able to get along with people very well. There might be someone who cuts your hair very well so that you feel really good afterward. That’s a gift.”

Sister Marion said some of the reading she has been doing lately makes her realize that Jesus came to transform everyone’s consciousness. Through that experience, transformation of the whole world can take place.

She has an art show coming up in Northern Vermont. A couple of Passionist sisters are opening a monastery there and they offered to host an exhibit from May to June this year so Sister Marion is working on creating something a little more “wild” for that show.

“I look at my work and it betrays the fact that I’m sort of a neat person,” Sister Marion said. “I’m wanting to move into my wild period these days. Something looser, freer.”

She referred to a poem by M.C. Richard, “Imagine inventing yellow.”

“It makes me imagine a printing plate with just yellow and being satisfied that it would be enough,” she said.

For Sister Marion, working with her hands and bringing God’s presence to her art and even her vegetable garden has been enough. She does enjoy visitors to her studio where she has original artworks on the walls. Her work is for sale and she has a web site, www.marionchonors.org, where many of her prints can be found. The sisters host an annual ziti dinner fund raiser every year and people from parishes visit her studio then. She said she would welcome visitors when they may be passing through the provincial house. Give her a call and she may just have a tomato or two to share, (518) 736-3426.

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