Sister Maresa Lilley is one of our Notre Dame artists. Her oil paintings can be found on the walls of our ND Center, on the internet (more about that later), and even in Guido’s Italian Restaurant in nearby Chesterland, OH. Four of her paintings also hang (drum roll, please!) in the 2021 movie Spider-Man: No Way Home. (Yes, she saw the movie and spotted her 16″ X 20″ painting on the wall in one of the scenes. But she must see the movie again to try to spot the other three.) I recently stopped into Sister’s studio here to see what she’s been up to lately. As soon as I walked in, I was in awe of the paintings I saw—including three horses, a portrait of a young woman in black, Jesus, two young women collecting shells on a beach, and a vase of yellow tulips.
For two hours, Sister Maresa answered my many questions. Here are some of the things she shared with me. Even as a little girl, Sister was interested in art. When she was quite young, her mother bought her a paint-by-number of three ballerinas. That was the beginning of her art career. By age 12 she was taking a course at the Cleveland Art Museum and falling in love with Degas’ images of ballerinas. Back in those days, Sister worked mostly in chalk, but in 1980 (she was now a nun), someone gave her a set of oil paints. For a long time Sister was afraid to open them because, “I knew how expensive they were.” But, fortunately for the world, she eventually did uncap them and began to paint. She has worked primarily in oils ever since. “Oils are so forgiving,” she explains. In 1990 she took an oil painting course at the Cleveland Institute of Art and “soaked in everything they could teach me.” She also credits her subscription to The Artist’s Magazine for continual inspiration in the areas of images and techniques.
For years, Sister had to squeeze her art into her life as a full-time elementary teacher, a principal and administrator, and later as a novice director in the Philippines. But since her return back to the states in 2012, she has been painting full time.
I asked if she had favorite themes or subjects. She says she enjoys considerable freedom when it comes to what she paints. As expected, though, she leans toward religious art, describing her work as “traditional themes with a modern twist.” Many of her paintings are also commissioned pieces. People ask her to paint portraits of their loved ones, their pets, or something else they love—like barn swallows. Her works also include landscapes, flowers, children, couples, still life, Jesus, Mary and other saints.
Sister Maresa started a blog, “Grace to Paint” in 2012, the same time I started mine! (Sister Susan Wolf was instrumental in encouraging both of us to do this!) Her blog features not only many of her paintings, but also her commentary on some of them. Sister is also on Etsy, and her shop is called “Paintgrace.” The past several years she’s sold over 400 paintings on Etsy alone. I checked 130 reviews on her shop. All were 5 star ratings! Amazing!
For her blog, just google: Grace to Paint blog
For her shop, just google: Etsy paintgrace
You can also access her shop on her blog. Go to the top of the page and click on “Art Store.”
You can enjoy her many paintings on her blog and even subscribe to it is you wish. On Etsy you’ll find all the information you need to purchase an original painting of hers. Many sell for only $65. She also sells prints of her works as notecards, 5 for only $10. All sales include free shipping. (You can’t beat that!)
Why does Sister Maresa paint? I think I found the answer on her blog. She writes: “The gifts all around us, whether it’s a lowly lemon or the candid eyes of a child, hold an inner grace… I try to translate into oil paint the joy and beauty of being in this world.”
Enough words. Let me conclude this reflection with a few more paintings by Sister Maresa:
And I couldn’t resist…
Did anything touch your heart in this reflection?
Do any of Sister’s paintings speak to you? If so, which one(s) and why?
Take a few minutes with one of the paintings you are drawn to… feast on it… how does it make you feel… what does it say to you?
PS: Sister Maresa has told me I can post her email address and phone number, if you would like to ask her questions about ordering her paintings: [email protected] / 440-226-9446
Sister Maresa said that in her art she leans toward “traditional themes with a modern twist.” She also said in her paintings, she tries to capture some of “the joy and beauty of being in this world.” In a way, her words can apply to today’s video. It is a traditional hymn “How Great Thou Art.” But here it is sung not by a large choir in a huge cathedral with organ accompaniment. Rather it is sung by a country a cappella group of five men, (called “Home Free”) outside amid God’s majestic mountains. I think the hymn certainly captures some of “the joy and beauty of being in this world.” (There’s a brief clip at the end of the video where the group tells a little about their music.)
Once again, I’m posting this reflection on Sunday, July 17th so my subscribers might receive it earlier in the week… And, as always, you are invited to write a comment below. Your comments enrich my blog!