Library Display: ’Any free human work produces Beauty’ – a celebration of Ade Bethune


In honor of Women’s History Month, Salve Regina University Archives and Special Collections has installed a new display on the first floor, entitled “’Any free human work produces Beauty’” – a celebration of Ade Bethune.” Longtime Newporter Ade Bethune (1914-2002) was a liturgical illustrator, community activist, and business owner. Throughout the twentieth century, Bethune completed art commissions for stained glass and murals in Catholic churches all over the world. Bethune’s influence on Catholic art is evident from looking at any modern missal or liturgical illustration.

Born Marie Adélaïde de Bethune to a noble family in Belgium, Bethune immigrated to the United States after World War I and studied art at the National Academy of Design and Cooper Union in New York City in the 1930s. During this time, she became involved with the Catholic Worker movement. From its earliest days she was affiliated with the Catholic Worker, designing and later redesigning its masthead. She was closely tied to the Catholic Art Association, and illustrated covers for the Catholic Art Quarterly (later called Good Work).

Bethune moved to Newport in 1938 and lived in The Point for many years, where she was active in the Point Association. As a homeowner she was dedicated to quality of life in her community, joining the Church Community Housing Corporation in 1969. She designed over 30 houses for the CCHC, including the first solar house in Newport, dedicated in 1977. Seeing a need for housing for elderly people, she was instrumental in converting an estate into the elderly living community Harbor House, which still stands in The Point today.

From the 1960s, she was the art director of the Terra Sancta Guild, which produced liturgical art and objects. She ran the St. Leo Shop on Thames Street, selling prints and other religious items, until the 1980s.

A large collection of Bethune’s papers, including illustrations and writings, is held at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minnesota. You can view a guide to their collection, which includes an excellent biography, at Salve Regina is fortunate to hold some original art, objects, and publications from generous gifts by Tim Casey and Susan Jorgensen, whose mother worked for Bethune, and Professor John Quinn.

“Any free human work produces Beauty” is a quote from Bethune’s essay “Work,” published by Ward Printing Company and John Stevens Shop in Newport in 1940. The dignity of work and its reflection of the divine – Bethune used the phrase “Supreme Artist” – were themes in her art and writing.

-content written by Genna Duplisea, archivist and special collections librarian

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