–by Chelsea Lauren
If you’ve spent at least a week in Sylvania you’ve most likely noticed the beautiful ceramic art pieces scattered throughout the city, from Lourdes University to Main street – and even throughout Ohio and Kentucky! The credit for these unique pieces belongs to Sister Jane Mary Sorosiak, a Catholic Sister of the Franciscan Sisters of Sylvania and town local for over 30 years, and an artist her entire life. “My very first mural was for my elementary school, Saint Hedwigs,’ when I was in the second grade,” said Sr. Jane Mary. “Sisters teaching at the school recognized my art as a God-given talent and they asked if I would be interested in painting a mural for the school. I used coloring books for inspiration.”
Sister Jane Mary was drawn to the Sisters of Sylvania after meeting them and recognizing the close bond among them while she continued school. “Sisters of Saint Francis visited my elementary school and they were always good to each other and had a good atmosphere about them.” Before joining the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Sylvania, Sr. Jane Mary finished high school and college. Soon after, she was teaching art history courses at Lourdes College and joined the ceramic mural team when the sisters commissioned the mural of the enlarged figure of Christ above the Franciscan Center on the Lourdes University campus. “The Saint Francis community always favored and encouraged the arts,” said Sr. Jane Mary.
When asked about the ceramic mural-making process, Sr. Jane Mary said “Anything can happen along the way during the process–pieces might break during firing in the kiln, a face may need to be painted four times to reach the proper color, and we tend to work on two or three projects at once.”
Some of the works Sister Jane Mary has since been commissioned for include the piece of Saint Claire at Madonna Manor in Kentucky, and a piece at Saint Elijah’s church on Huron street – among many others.
“My most memorable piece would be the figure of Christ above the Franciscan Center. That was our first ceramic mural project and it was memorable for how tense it was because we didn’t know what we were doing then. We [the Franciscan Sisters of Sylvania] were constructing the mural as the men were applying it to the building and handling the construction of the building so we had to work quickly because we didn’t want to keep them waiting for us. We also did not have much technical knowledge for a ceramic piece this size. One of the sisters had a degree in ceramics and she was our technician for that,” she recalled. The mural is a staple on the Lourdes University campus and the ceramic Jesus stands between 40 and 50 feet tall.
Despite the many difficulties associated with constructing ceramic murals, Sister Jane Mary is never discouraged. “Each [project] is memorable and has its own problems but it all works out in the end.”
Asked which piece was her favorite, Sister Jane Mary thought of the work she had led on Saint Elijah’s church. “We were asked to replicate a mural that had already been painted onto the church because the paint was peeling. We needed to replace icons and I love icons.”
For fellow artists, Sister Jane Mary advises them to follow what inspires them and their desire to make art – even if it’s not for a job. “It’s hard to get a full-time job in art but art enhances our culture. And thankfully, art is adaptable; dentists are artists by molding and reconstructing teeth. Intensify your observation, and you have to express your personality.” Sister Jane Mary also strongly advises that artists take an art history course or two – she can attest that it’s worth the investment!