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Rufinia, Sister Mary Old Carpenter, 1940


Sister Mary Rufinia was born in Germany. She began her nursing career at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1906. She injured herself too badly to continue nursing, so she began a new career as an artist in 1920.

She studied at the Academy of Art in Berlin, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Duchesne College, a Catholic college for women at the University of Queensland, in Australia. She studied under Wayman Adams in the Adirondacks in 1936 and earned a master of fine arts degree from Syracuse University in 1937. Her work included portraits, still lifes, landscape paintings, lithographs, and sculpture. In the 1930s, she opened an art studio at St. Francis High School near the hospital in Lafayette. Here she taught watercolor painting, pottery, and sculpture, giving scholarships to deserving students each year.

In her “Epilogue—Reveries of an Artist,” she wrote, “For me, an artist, one of the greatest happinesses this world can offer is to behold the beauty of creation. In each tree, sunrise, sunset, ocean, mountain, landscape and garden, my soul overflows with gratitude to the Supreme Maker.”

  • Old Carpenter, 1940
  • 51″ x 39 1/4″
  • Art Museum of Greater Lafayette
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: indoors, men, carpenters, tools, eyeglasses, hats, windows

This painting was very formally executed. Great care was given to documenting the interior space and the activities of the carpenter. The light coming through the window highlights the carpenter and gives importance to him in the painting, as well as the objects of his trade.

Some Points to Consider

  • Help students analyze the formal and technical properties of this painting. Ask them what they think this artist considered important in painting a portrait. What do they think her philosophy of painting might be: imitationalism, formalism, or emotionalism? (Art 4.4.1)
  • Ask students what the artist had to do to the paint to get the effect of light coming through the window? Is there meaning in this strong use of light? (Art 4.3.2)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • The artist has taken great care to include details about the surroundings of the carpenter in order to give us information about his work. Ask students to think about a workspace in their homes, such as a sewing room, woodworking shop, or computer desk. Have them draw a picture of this space and the people who use this space.
  • Have students choose other types of craftspeople to draw or paint. Remind them to show that person’s trade tools.