Ellen Powell Tiberino
Philadelphia Museum of Art Members Magazine Spring 1992
Ellen Powell Tiberino's portrait drawing Sister Jennieva conveys the powerful personality of Sister Jennieva Lassiter, the artist's cousin who served as a missionary to Tanzania for eighteen years and helped to establish a school for Tanzanian girls. The nun stares directly at the viewer as she holds her rosary beads and crucifix in prayer. Tiberino animated the long outlines that define the nun's clothing and used short pencil strokes to model her face and hands. Tones created by smudging and erasing pencil lines add greater depth to the figure and her voluminous robes. The exaggeration of Sister Jennieva's features reveals Tiberino's interest in captuing an impression of the nun's inner spirit, her vitality, and her wisdom.
Tiberino once commented that her subjects were not always beautiful because she tried to paint life as directly as she saw it. Some of her most poignant and personal works date from her last fourteen years, when her art became a record of her life with cancer. The macabre details that Tiberino drew in The Operation reflect her sharp wit in response to the inhumanity of some doctors. More positively, Tiberino's portrait of Sister Jennieva may relate not only to the nun's personality but also to the artist's own Catholic faith, which helped to sustain her throughout her long illness.