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Corita Kent (1918–1986), born Frances Elizabeth Kent and also known as Sister Mary Corita Kent, was an artist with an innovative approach to design and education. At age 18 she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary, eventually teaching and then heading the art department at Immaculate Heart College.

By the 1960s, her vibrant serigraphs were drawing international acclaim. Corita’s work reflected her concerns about poverty, addressing key themes of racism and war. During her career, her artwork evolved from using figurative and religious imagery to incorporating advertising images and slogans, popular song lyrics, biblical verses, and literature.

Throughout the ’60s, her work became increasingly political, urging viewers to consider poverty, racism, and social injustice.

Photography of Sister Corita Kent stands in front of her work, including for Eleanor, at Immaculate Heart College in 1964.
Sister Corita Kent stands in front of her work, including for Eleanor, at Immaculate Heart College in 1964.
Artwork named Kent’s for Eleanor (1964) plays off General Mills’ slogan
Kent’s for Eleanor (1964) plays off General Mills’ slogan. ⓒ Arthur Evans/Tang Teaching Museum

Corita Kent’s art stood as a testament to her activism, weaving together vibrant visuals and spiritually-rooted social commentary to passionately advocate for love and tolerance.

Her primary medium was screen printing, also known as Serigraphy. She was a self-taught artist and her innovative methods pushed back the limitations of two-dimensional media of the times. Corita’s emphasis on printing was partially due to her wish for democratic outreach, as she wished for affordable art for the masses. Her artwork, with its messages of love and peace, was particularly popular during the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.

Photograph of Sister Corita and her students with serigraphy machine, continues working and teaching at IHC, her reputation as an artist and teacher growing.
1952–1959 — Corita continues working and teaching at IHC, her reputation as an artist and teacher growing.
Artwork of Corita, In That They May Have Life (1964). Corita Kent turned images from a Wonder Bread wrapper into a meditation on poverty and hunger that includes quotes from a Hazard, Ky., miner’s wife, and Mohandas Gandhi
In That They May Have Life (1964). Corita Kent turned images from a Wonder Bread wrapper into a meditation on poverty and hunger that includes quotes from a Hazard, Ky., miner’s wife, and Mohandas Gandhi.

In 1968, she left the order and moved to Boston. Following a cancer diagnosis in the early 1970s, Corita Kent entered a profoundly prolific phase in her career. During this time, Corita achieved remarkable work.

She designed the Rainbow Swash for the LNG tank in Boston in 1971, what is said to be the largest copyrighted design in the world — a painting on the side of the Boston Gas Co.’s huge natural gas tank. The enormous rainbow — six simple strokes of color arching across the 150-foot-high gas tank — has been a Boston landmark ever since.

Photography of Corita and her famous canvas, the Boston Gas Tank.
Corita and her famous canvas, the Boston Gas Tank.
Photograph of the Boston natural gas tank, which Corita designed the Rainbow Swash.
The Rainbow Swash is the common name for an untitled work by Corita Kent in Boston, Massachusetts., that was painted in 1971, and copyrighted in 1972.

In 1985, former nun-turned-designer Corita Kent created the special Love stamp for the United States Postal Service, an ink-and-watercolor collage showing the colors of the rainbow, imagining it being unveiled at the United Nations.

But the premiere was held on the set of the television series The Love Boat. Kent boycotted the official ceremony celebrating the issuance of her 22-cent stamp in April 1985 and didn’t attend because the government chose to hold the event on the set of a television show that didn’t match the message of her artwork.

She said at the time that she did not approve of the show because “the TV definition of love is nothing very deep, and everything gets resolved in an hour. I think it’s dangerous to educate people that way — that love happens that fast, that troubles are resolved that easily.

Picture of stamps, Love stamp for the United States Postal Service, 1985.
Love stamp for the United States Postal Service, 1985.

And the equally simple “LOVE” design — composed of six bright slashes of color — became an immediate best-seller as a stamp, with more than 700 million issued at last count. On New Year’s Eve in 1984, when a 20-foot replica of the design was lowered from the Old Post Office in Washington, a crowd of 65,000 cheered and applauded. Although hers was the fourth in a series of five U.S. Postal Service stamps using love as a theme, the Kent design is generally considered the best-known and most popular.

After 1970, her work evolved into a sparser, introspective style, influenced by living in a new environment, a secular life, and her battles with cancer. She remained active in social causes until she died in 1986. At the time of her death, she had created almost 800 serigraph editions, thousands of watercolors, and innumerable public and private commissions.

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