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Catherine Wilkinson: An Artist's Touch

 

Catherine Wilkinson

Catherine Wilkinson’s touch is found everywhere in Mercy Center, from sprays of dogwood and dahlias arranged in the lobby bouquet to a small framed icon of the Virgin Mary in a bedroom. Catherine is a ten-ideas-a-minute person, brimming with energy and conversation, but her capable hands have created serenity in the Center’s spaces.

 

When Suzanne Buckley became director in 2006, she persuaded Mercy Center’s founder and first director, Sister Suzanne Toolan, to freshen up the corridors and bedrooms. “Ask Catherine to help,” Suzanne suggested.

 

A partnership was born.

Catherine already had a love of Mercy Center. Her attachment to the campus is deep as a Mercy High alumna who went on to get a B.A. in art history at Fordham. A Mercy Associate, she organizes the Shared Scripture program which meets on Thursdays at the Center, presenting a variety of speakers with in depth knowledge of the Bible.

Catherine is the quintessential crafty person. She reupholsters chairs and remakes picture frames tossed aside as junk. She began the Mercy High alumnae boutique which is now the very successful Christmas at Kohl. “I made everything we sold at the time,” she says. She created Christmas wreaths and charming jewelry out of buttons, paper and glitter.

More important to Mercy Center, she eyes any space for its potential serenity and charm. With a laugh, Catherine modestly downplays her role, paying homage to Sister Suzanne’s sense of design. “She has perfect vision, like perfect pitch,” Catherine said in the basement workroom they share, the old laundry for the professed sisters dubbed St Martha’s. “I am the hammer and nails. She tells me where to put things. We completely agree on what is to be done.” Sister Suzanne also knows where neglected art and forgotten furniture is hidden away in the Motherhouse.

Catherine has a sense of how to arrange a small room so that it exudes harmony. Recently she and Sister Suzanne renewed a second floor office. They drew on color advice from Catherine’s sister-in-law, professional interior designer Melinda Miller Collins, who several years ago volunteered to design a color palette for the Center—a harmony of gold, green, terracotta, cool blues. One wall of the office they painted a deep fern green. They reunited three green leather chairs gathered from nooks around the convent into a conversational grouping. Catherine added a 1930s desk which she had scrubbed clean, and placed a dark wood primitive Christ on the simple bookshelf. The result is a calm, airy space perfect for quiet conversation or solitary work.

 

Redecorated Office

“We have a decorating angel,” says Catherine. “We find perfect things for the spaces.” She could be thinking of the calendar pages of Marc Chagall’s Windows of the Twelve Sons, which Sister Suzanne found in her stash of art. Catherine matted and framed them, had the wall painted a stunning blue green. She and Sister Suzanne carefully hung the pieces. They added overhead lighting. Voilá! A stunning gallery-level display.

Her work is noticed. “You and Sister Suzanne have made Mercy Center into a treasure house of religious art,” wrote one visitor. “Both of you are extremely talented artists. The paint on the walls match the paint in the pictures which you have chosen with such care. I love the dark green, and the browns and tans. When one rounds a corner you never know what beautiful art is awaiting your eyes.” Generous with her time, all volunteered, Catherine has repaired and painted the 350 frames necessary for the bedroom art work. She’s painted walls and scrubbed the tiny glass pieces in “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” with a toothbrush. The valuable icon rests in a raspberry-hued niche outside the Maple Dining room.

It’s obvious that the “decorating angel” has hands—Catherine’s.