The Art of Sister Augustine

Introduction to The Art of Sister Augustine

As Depicted in

Five Years in Heaven: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions

 

During her more than 40-year career as a self-taught artist, Sister Augustine completed thousands of clayware art pieces, often with her furry calico pal Blitzen nearby. Into her nineties, she worked full-time six days a week in her small ceramics studio and shop, pouring the molds, firing the greenware (which was always accompanied with a sprinkling of Holy Water and prayer to Saint Francis), and then painting or glazing the bisqueware. Following a career in education, Sister opened St. Joseph Ceramics in 1964 on the grounds of the oldest Benedictine convent in the U.S., St. Joseph Monastery (founded in 1852) in St. Marys, PA.

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Sister Augustine was a prolific artist who could easily transition between realism, folk art, primitive, and abstract, depending on what she was creating. A pillar of humility, Sister often downplayed her talent, saying, “This is God’s work. It’s His hand that guides mine.”

Sister had always been known for her Nativity sets, which can be found in every state in the U.S., as well as in Japan, England, and Germany. Likewise, her other pieces were collected in places as far away as Central America, Africa, and even Russia.

Sister Augustine in her studio - Photo by John Schlimm - 4

A newfound notoriety during the final five years of Sister Augustine’s life, as depicted in Five Years in Heaven, presented a dramatic uptick in popularity for both the artist herself and several of her signature pieces. Front page headlines heralded her comeback into the hearts of new fans everywhere: ST. MARYS NUN’S CERAMIC ART KNOWN WORLDWIDE; SISTER CRAFTS HER OWN NICHE; 90-YEAR-OLD NUN CREATES ART FROM CLAY.

Among Sister’s most collectible pieces were her miniature crosses made from leftover clay, which are depicted in Chapter 6: Tiny Crosses. Also, her simple forget-me-not motif, which is the subject of Chapter 4: Forget-Me-Not, can be found on everything from teacups and saucers, crosses, and dinnerware to Easter eggs and statues of the Blessed Mother.

Sister Augustine in her studio - Photo by John Schlimm - 3

However, of the extensive body of work Sister Augustine sent into the world, her most celebrated series was the Gussie’s Special. The abstract bowls and vases bearing this title, which was inspired by her nickname among the other sisters at St. Joseph’s, were created mainly by Sister cleaning her brushes off on white bisqueware while painting other items. Each rippled bowl and vase was an allegory—clay and paint radiating something much greater than art supplies—a vibrant nod to the “treasure in earthen vessels” that the apostle Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:7. During the last five years of her life, Sister Augustine created nearly 500 Gussie’s Specials, making them her magnum opus.

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The following exhibit of Sister Augustine’s work is comprised of selected pieces from my personal collection.

ENJOY…

The Art of Sister Augustine

 

Gussie’s Specials

(Depicted throughout Five Years in Heaven)


Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 2Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 1Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 3Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 6Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 5Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 4Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 7Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 8Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 11Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 10Gussie's Special by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 9

Forget-Me-Nots

(Depicted in Chapter 4: Forget-Me-Not)

Forget-Me-Not (detail from larger piece) by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm
Forget-Me-Not teacup & saucer by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm

Tiny Crosses

(Depicted in Chapter 6: Tiny Crosses)

Tiny Cross by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 2Tiny Cross by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 1

The Blessed Mother

(Depicted throughout Five Years in Heaven, including Chapter 14: Our Lady of Love, which is based on the title Sister Augustine gave to the second statue shown below.)

Mary statue by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm Our Lady of Love statue by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm

Self Portrait

(Depicted in Chapter 15: The Nativity Donkey)

Self Portrait Nun statue by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 1

The Nativity Donkey

(Depicted in Chapter 15: The Nativity Donkey)

The Nativity Donkey by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm

The Peace Dove

(Depicted in Chapter 19: Talk of the Town)

The Peace Dove by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm

Easter Eggs

 

Easter Eggs by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm

The U.S. Flag

 

The U.S. Flag by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm

The Quote Bowl

(Depicted in Chapter 17: Food for Thought)

The Quote Bowl by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 1 The Quote Bowl by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 2 The Quote Bowl by Sister Augustine - From the Collection of John Schlimm - 3

 

 

 

 

 

John Schlimm

John Schlimm is the award-winning author of sixteen books on cooking, history, how-to, and fiction. His latest work is The Ultimate Beer Lover's Happy Hour.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. John I loved the book. I used to go there with my mom when I was a kid, especially around the holidays. We would paint ceramics together. A wonderful childhood memory. My husband is reading the book to his brother, now 46 and almost a quadrapeligic. He loves your book. He use to go to the ceramic shop as a young boy. Sister Bernadine used to Tudor him. We would love to purchase a Gussie special for him for Christmas if any are available for sale. You can reach us at 814-834-7570

  2. Sr Augustine’s artwork are beautiful. The Christmas donkey is so simple and beautiful. I love the story behind it.

    Your book is truly inspiring and very endearing. I have never cried reading any books and your’s was the first. I hope more and more people will pick up this book and see God’s greatness manifested in Sr Augustine’s life.

    May God bless you.

  3. John, I just finished reading your book…it was awesome. I couldn’t wait to check out your website to see Sister’s artwork. It’s really unbelievable. Her “Our Lady of Love” is nothing short of extraordinary. I wish I could buy some of her pieces!!! She could have run with the best of the
    world ‘s renowned artists.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and her beautiful art with us.

  4. john. Just started reading 5 yrs…..and love it.

    Any place u know that wud sell sister Gussies ceramics…..especially if they were actually done by her. ???????

    Tom gallagher
    Cell/text 317-442-4459.

    PS. When did sister augustine pass away????

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