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Digital Collections From St Kate's

Gemma Rossini Cullen
Study of a Woman, Gemma Rossini Cullen, 1970


Gemma Rossini Cullen’s work is relatively well-known on the campus of St. Catherine University and the local arts scene. Having been the subject of the 2009 exhibition, “Gemma: Tales of Change,” at the campus gallery and with one piece currently in Durham Hall, her powerful artwork continues to inspire long after her death.

Cullen (1937-2004) was born in Saint Paul, MN. She received a B.A. from the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) in 1960 and a B.F.A. from Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1969. She became a member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet in 1955 and exited in 1967.

According to her son, Enrique, she met Walter Cullen while they were both a part of religious orders; Walter had been a Catholic priest and was looking for a muralist for his parish church when they were introduced. They were “artists and activists with philosophical and poetic leanings,” and became disillusioned with the conservative ideologies spreading through the Catholic church at the time (Cullen, 2015). Each had left the church near the end of the 1960s, and they were married in 1969. They remained married until her death in 2004.

Living out her activist “leanings,” Cullen was a founding member of the Women's Art Registry of Minnesota (WARM) Gallery from 1976 to 1987. She continued to be a leader, and in 1992, founded her own company, Business Graphics Network, where she worked in graph design, sales, and production until 2004.

Cullen regularly explored themes of metamorphosis and the female experience in her art.

Totem, Gemma Rossini Cullen, 1999


Cullen’s domestic exhibitions included local venues such as the College of St. Catherine, North Hennepin Community College, Minneapolis Community College, and the WARM Gallery in Minneapolis. However, her work is part of collections throughout the United States. Cullen also produced a number of drawings for two books, Coulee Deep, with poems by Lois Sindelar, and, displaying her connection to her birthplace, Twin Cities Perceived, with text by Jean Adams Ervin.

Having been a member of the Catholic orders for so long, Cullen’s connection to the church greatly influenced her work. Like many women emerging from Catholic communities in the 1960s, she was questioning the ways in which the church had marginalized the role of women in the past, and was exploring new versions of what it meant to be a woman in the present. In Cullen’s case, this meant creating art for women. She was influenced in her searching by the writings of Carl Jung and his work on “global cultural histories and archetypal realities” (Erickson, 2009). The archetype (and transformation thereof) Cullen was most interested in was that of the Goddess, and she examined this subject in many of her works. It is her “keen observation and sensitive attention to shape-shift in her drawings that leads us to understand the surprise, delight, challenge, and the threat she found in the world” (Gemma: Tales of change, 2009).  As she continued to evolve as an artist, her interest in metamorphosis grew, and she would eventually create a number of successful drawings depicting this concept.

Cullen’s complete oeuvre includes large-format paintings and pen or graphite drawings. She routinely depicts women, nature, architectural elements, and abstract forms, often with an emphasis on repetitive morphing or mutating imagery and negative space. She was “enthralled with the beauty of nature and the process of transformation that is part of the body, the psyche, and the soul” (Gemma: Tales of change, 2009). When one examines her work, this becomes abundantly clear. Emerging from her religious roots, Cullen created the art that resonates with students on campus still today.

See the gallery below to view Cullen's work from the St. Catherine University Fine Arts Collection, and a timeline of her and other Minnesota artists at St. Kate's work.

Sources Cited

Cullen, Enrique. (2015, May 20). Mirrors, wounds & Job [Blog post]. Retrieved from the Related Parts blog website:

Erickson, Elizabeth. (2009). Gemma: Tales of Change. Saint Paul, MN: St. Catherine University

Gemma: Tales of change [Online post]. (2009). Retrieved from the Minnesota Monthly website:

Homlquist, M. (2009, December 11). Alum featured in gallery. The Wheel, 76(6), 6. Retrieved from St. Catherine’s Digital Collections:

Gemma Rossini Cullen