Corita Kent: 2016 AIGA Medalist

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Early in 2016 five names were chosen to represent the field of graphic design. Their achievements, services and contributions to the field have been beyond exceptional. And for that, they have been honored as AIGA medalists—a tradition that dates back to the 1920s and is considered the most distinguished honor in the field.


Corita Kent

Corita Kent was awarded the AIGA medal for “her rebellious spirit as an artist and educator, and for her inventive use of graphic type and vibrant color in communicating messages of protest and social change.” Although born in Fort Dodge, IA in 1918, Kent grew up in Los Angeles, CA and at age 18 she joined the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as Sister Mary Corita.

For 30 years she worked as a nun and by 1966 she was named one of Los Angeles Times‘ “Women of the Year” and profiled in Harper’s Bazaar as one of the “100 American Women of Accomplishment.”

Looking at her work, it’s easy to see that Kent loved playing with words, letterforms and interesting typography. In 1966, the same year she “transformed” Canada Dry’s slogan, Look magazine wrote, “Long before those young men in New York invented pop art, a small nun in Los Angeles was showing her students at Immaculate Heart College how to discover the novel and beautiful in popular magazines and packages from the supermarket. But Sister Mary Corita is a different kind of pop artist. Whereas the New York boys deal in a certain brittle archness (they are chic), Sister Corita and her students unabashedly affirm and celebrate the here-and-now glories of God’s world—the words of Beatles’ songs, the pictures on cereal boxes, the sheen of stamps, the typography in movie magazines.”

During her life, Kent made “nearly 700 screen prints, undertook public art commissions, worked on ad campaigns, wrote and designed books, produced films, orchestrated happenings, and created a mural for the Vatican Pavilion at the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair.”

Kent used her artistic voice to show her disapproval of the dreadful aspects of the time; from the Vietnam War to the oppression of African Americans. Unlike the “New York boys,” Kent did not march or attend the protests happening around her. Instead she chose to let her vibrantly bold art do the talking for her. Familiar phrases like “Make love not war” and “Why not give a damn about your fellow man” are sprinkled throughout her prints.

Quiet nun turned original pop artists—it’s obvious that Corita Kent was a woman to be reckoned with. Her art continues to live on through incredible agencies, including the Corita Art Center, the Andy Warhol Museum of Pittsburg and the AIGA.

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Corita Kent’s list of rules for the art department of Immaculate Heart College (image courtesy of the Corita Art Center)

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“a log a teacher” (image courtesy of the Corita Art Center)

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“very” (image courtesy of the Corita Art Center)

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“american sampler” (image courtesy of AIGA)

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“for eleanor” (image courtesy of AIGA)

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“enriched bread” (image courtesy of AIGA)

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“Boston Gas Tank” (image courtesy of AIGA)

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“(give the gang) the clue is in the signs” and “(our best) reality proves very little” (images courtesy of AIGA)

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Corita Kent’s Love Stamp design, 1985 (image courtesy of Mohawk Connects)

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