Tuesday, March 15, 2016

An Artist in the Family Tree

Seal of Viterbo University,
designed by Hildegarde "Imogene" Thiele
I recently reconnected with a 2nd cousin once removed, who shared some information that rekindled my interest in doing more research on her branch of the family tree. Her grandmother died at the age of 34 due to a brain tumor, leaving behind a husband and 3 young children.

My cousin's grandfather raised his children, and then remarried about 25 years later. I remember the couple's visits well; they were wonderful people. But I didn't know that this second wife had an art background.

Hildegarde Thiele Stern was a nun for decades before leaving that life behind and eventually marrying. A newspaper search helped me learn that she was known as Sr. Imogene, and then my cousin's information, a look at census records, and a simple Google search helped me create a timeline of her life:

1917 - Hildegarde Emma Thiele was born on January 13, 1917, in Mount Carmel, Carroll County, Iowa. Her parents were Frank & Anna Schulte Thiele.

1920 - Hildegarde and her family resided in Kniest Township, Carroll, Iowa. Her father was a farmer.

1930 - The family, consisting of three sons and five daughters, was living in Gilman Township, Osceola, Iowa. Her father Frank was still a farmer.

1940 - Hildegarde, now known as Sister Imogene was living with her Superior and two other Sisters in Lyndon Station, Juneau County, Wisconsin. At age 23, she was the youngest and worked as a teacher in a parochial school. The census indicates she was at the same place in 1935 as well.

1950s - In 1952, Sister Imogene graduated from Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin, with a B.A. in art. In 1958, she received a Master's degree in art from The University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The commencement program indicates that she was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, which is a Roman Catholic order.

1960s - A newspaper article from 1961 mentioned that her work was part of an art exhibit shown at La Crosse Vocational School. It also said she conducted "an art lecture and review of the works" at the event. Sr. Imogene was in the art department of Viterbo University and even today is credited with the design of the school seal: "The original seal, which has twice been slightly modified, was created in the early 1960s by Imogene Thiele, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) and member of the art department."

Her mother's 1969 obituary in the Carroll Daily Times Herald (Carroll, Iowa) indicated that "Hilda" was now living in Pittsburgh.

1970s - By the mid-70s, Hildegarde was married. My mom says that my siblings and I attended the wedding, but I don't remember it. I was 7 or 8 at the time.

2000 - Hildegarde Thiele Stern passed away in 2000 at the age of 83, two months after her husband Albert died.

I think the only other artist in my family is my younger brother who graduated from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Do you have any artists in your family tree?

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