Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Manifestation

In 1976, the year of our nation's bicentennial, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a convent of Roman Catholic nuns lent some retired habits to a group of men performing their version of "The Sound of Music." Three years later on Easter Sunday of 1979, those habit showed up on the streets of San Francisco in a form of artistic expression never imagined by the original owners. One sister wore a beard, another carried a toy machine gun and the third wore a face of white clown paint. Over the years the sisterhood grew and the white face paint became a sacred tradition of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The sisters entertain, educate and raise money for local charities.
The Orlando Sisters Abby of St. Gertrude De Nivelles is one of the newer orders of this organization and I found out they were going to perform a sort of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" rendition of "The Sound of Music," and I had to see it for myself. I fist saw the sisters at work when I sketched the mural being added to the wall of the Center on Mills Avenue. The sisters stood in the street catching every drivers attention to bring some focus to this cause. I had met Logan Donahoo, (A.K.A. Novice Sister Ambrosia) before. I contacted him and asked if I could sit in as the sisters put on their make up. Thankfully he agreed. Katie Windish had told me about the "Sound of Music" so she came along as well. She asked questions as I sketched allowing me to learn about the order while never turning away form sketching.
Logan explained that he liked to refer to the process of putting on the make up as "Manifesting". This implies a much more solemn and devotional process. The first step involved disguising the eyebrows by pasting them flat and them the entire face is painted white. Bright color accents are added to symbolize the good work that the group does for the community. Every Sister develops her own unique look. The whole process took about two hours of non stop work. This was the perfect amount of time for me to get a decent sketch. The sisters are not meant to mock nuns, rather they teach inspire and educate through humor.
I went to the "Sound of Music" which was playing at the Universal Cineplex with Mike Maples and Katie Windish. We were all issued paper bags with items we would need during the performance. Each bag had items such as "Edelweiss", the white flower which the von Trapps sing so lovingly about, glow sticks which the crowd would wave when Julie Andrews sang, Ray, a drop of golden sun, and poppers for the glorious moment when captain Von Trapp and and Julie Andrews finally kiss. There was also a bag of rice for the wedding ceremony and noodles to throw. A whistle was in the bag to blow when Rolph tries to stop the family from escaping to the mountains. To say the least it was a wild and fun show. Everyone in the audience sang along to every song while the Sisters acted out many of the scenes live.
When the moment of the kiss drew close, I grabbed my popper and held it like a champagne bottle. It had a string hanging from it which when pulled would cause the contents to explode. Fumbling with it, it exploded rather hotly in my hand. Katie's popper wouldn't work so I grabbed it to help out. Well no one explained which way to aim the darn thing and when I pulled the string, it blasted its contents right at my crotch. I yelled and everyone around me had quite a laugh.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


beanmhor said...

Great story! Some of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in my area of northern CA run a hilarious bingo game once a month to raise money for local charities - it is so popular that the lines for tickets run waaaay down the block.

Katie said...

The crotch popper was the best! I haven't laughed that hard in a long time! It's not so bad being your entourage.