Famous rug exhibit visits campus library

By Ryan Norris
March 27, 2003

Steph Mangold

Dr. Leonard Primiano, a professor of religious studies, founded the Sister Anne Ameen Art Exhibit located on the second floor of the Holy Spirit Library.

The rugs in the library are owned by Primiano. When he would go to visit an elderly woman named Sister Anne Ameen, he would say “Sister Anne, I would like to buy a rug.” He would then buy one or two rugs. Before this exhibit came to Cabrini, it was at another gallery in Troy, N.Y. in The Art Gallery of the Capital Region.

One summer, about eight years ago, he met Sister Ameen. The women in Newfoundland are very well-known for making hooked rugs, or maps.

Primiano went and called her at St. Johns, Newfoundland from Philadelphia, while teaching at Cabrini, and asked if he could visit her for a week. She agreed to that and he lived with her for a week. He was the first person that lived with her in 10 years. He was the first person to have meals with her in 5 years. She essentially had been somewhat abandoned. She lived in a building that she owned, with very few visitors and nobody to take care of her or look after her.

So Primiano interviewed her for four days. Sister Ameen saw herself as a Christian missionary, although she was a Protestant. He also learned about a time in her life where she was sick with cancer. She had a miraculous healing with some supernatural force and she said, “An angel healed me.” He would come back every year and do the same thing. She rented a shop to sell the rugs to make money to set up a home for girls that ran away from home.

She was gradually getting frailer. She was very fiercely independent, and Primiano was afraid she was going to literally burn the house down. She had about 60 rugs upstairs in one room, all wrapped up. He was afraid that the house would burn down and the rugs would be destroyed. So he convinced her, along with the reporters from the Canadian broadcasting company to have a sale in St. John’s of her rugs. A lot of them were sold; she must have sold 30 or 40 of them.

“We plead with her,” Primiano said, “to have an executor of her will who is trustworthy. She picked a lawyer to be the executor. When she died, she died in an old-age home and there were 16 rugs with her, six of which are her masterpieces. The lawyer will not sell her rugs. He has given them to the people who own her old-age home. They are holding the rugs hostage as speak. “I’ve seen them, I know them, but they are not giving them up,” said Primiano. This lawyer is acting in an extremely unusual way.

In her will, it states that her estate should go to the children of Bosnia, especially those children who have had their limbs blown off from land mines. The lawyer has prevented that from happening. Dr. Primiano wants the rugs sold so that people will be able to buy them, especially in museums in North America to build up her reputation in this country. The profit made from these rugs would then go to the children of Bosnia, as she wanted.

Dr. Primiano hopes to spread word about Sister Ann all across North America. Primiano says, “I think she’s probably one of the most remarkable North American Folk artist there ever was; she’s definitely one of the most important folk artists in Canada; No doubt about it.”

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Ryan Norris

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