the art of
Sr. Marie Pierre Semler, M.M.
lost in the beauty of her God
1901 – 1993
Sr. Marie Pierre was born Bertha Josephine Semler, March 23, 1901 to Lena Baum and Anthony Semler from Chili, NY. She was baptized on April 7, 1901 at St. Mary’s of the Assumption Church in Scottsville, NY. She attended district # 3 school in Chili, NY K-8. She lived on Brook Road in Chili, New York.
Sr. Marie Pierre moved in with a family on Wooden Street in Rochester, NY, and cared for two sisters during their illness with the flue during the epidemic. At that time (1917-1920), she attended classes at Mechanics Institute, presently Rochester Institute of Technology. The night classes that she attended were in composition and technique. This was her only “formal” training.
Sr. Pierre entered the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic in Ossining, New York in 1925 at the age of 24 and took the name, Sr. Marie Pierre Semler. Upon entering the Maryknoll Sisters her desire was to travel to China to care for the Chinese babies. A routine physical determined that she had a heart murmur, and it was decided she could not endure the rigors of mission life. Mother Mary Joseph, the foundress of the Maryknoll Sisters, being aware of Sr. Pierre’s early artistic efforts, placed her in charge of the art department at the convent, working on illustrations for the Field Afar magazine, presently the Maryknoll Magazine.
Sr. Marie Pierre began her oil paintings and pencil drawings early in the 1930’s and continued through that decade. In 1941, a broken wrist prohibited her from painting, so she attended a summer class at Maryknoll given by a Russian Artist and his wife to learn sculpting clay. She realized she could accomplish this with her left hand and molded her first piece which was named Lord of Life. She then made a mold of the piece and cast it in stone. The stone was a formula that she developed and used throughout the next several years. Thus began the decades of stone sculpture. During this same period of time she began wood carvings. The woods used were a variety of wood found on the Maryknoll grounds, and also exotic wood sent to her from the mission countries by her Maryknoll Sisters
Walking the grounds of Maryknoll brought Sr. Pierre to her next phase of artistry. While walking the grounds, she became even more aware of the gifts of Gods creations. She could see the wonder in the trees and wood in their natural settings and thus began the “woodland sculpture” phase of her work. Accompanied often by a Maryknoll Sister, Sr. Pierre would walk the property and bring into her studio special pieces of wood that touched her heart. Most often she would only clean them and find a message in the wood. These would be the most “contemporary” of her art pieces. During all the phases of her work, Sr. Marie Pierre continually wrote descriptions, meditations, and poetry to accompany her pieces. As time passed, and she grew less able to create art work, she spent a lot of her time perfecting the writings and poetry.
These 68 years spent as a Maryknoll Sister were the culmination of a lifetime of creative abilities. She was a very humble person, and did not want her name mentioned, only “A Maryknoll Sister.” She created 1,197 pieces of artwork, and is still touching people with her message. She died on October 18, 1993, at the age of 92.
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