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Melvin Shortess Family

Art for Art's Sake

"It was the Holy Spirit that inspired me." With these words, Melvin Shortess of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, explains how he was drawn to memorialize his aunt, Sister Basil Taylor, through the establishment of a fund that would enable art educators to open up the world of art.

The process looked like this. At the death of Sister Basil in 2006, Melvin and Jack Shortess, Sister Basil's nephews, focused their interest in maintaining art education that Sister Basil had dedicated herself to during her 71 years as a Presentation sister. The Shortess family dream was communicated to the Presentation community, and the "Sister Mary Basil Taylor Art Fund" was born. Melvin invited other family members to make donations for the purpose of "keeping Sister Basil's legacy alive and well." Sister Basil is remembered as an art teacher for students in kindergarten through high school. In her retirement she had the opportunity to design greeting cards, paint ceramic Christmas ornaments and Easter eggs and continue her self-expression through watercolor.

Melvin relates from his own childhood, "We had no art classes in the Catholic schools that I attended in Iowa and Louisiana. We had lots of love but some educational materials were in short supply." With an almost wistful tone he said, "I, myself, might have been an artist." Deep respect for Sister Basil and the realization that art education is an important part of a well-rounded person, brought Shortess family members to decisions about their roles as benefactors to the Presentation sisters.

In 2009, Presentations sisters teaching in elementary and high schools were informed that the Shortess family had established a fund that could be accessed for art materials and education efforts. Requests were submitted and a total of $2,900 was distributed. As part of the granting process, art teachers were asked to forward samples of the students' creations so that the Shortess family could enjoy their creativity. On viewing the students' artwork, Melvin remarked, "We were so touched by the look of pride in the kids' faces. Their pride was a great return for our investment."

Art teacher, Kathy Greve of St. Mary School in Manchester, Iowa, expressed her gratitude, "I cannot thank you enough for your kindness. The kids were so excited to use the materials. I will share Sister Basil's story with them. Thank you from the hearts of 160 students in kindergarten through sixth grade."

In December 2010, Melvin's daughter, Amey Shortess Crousillac and her daughter, Anna, of Monroe, Louisiana, created an online collection of student art that was produced as a result of the grant and forwarded it to family members and friends. This "art gallery" was accompanied by a second opportunity to make donations. A total of $1,700 was distributed in March 2011.

This is a story of inspiration and of generosity. The Presentation sisters along with hundreds of art students and their teachers express their sincere gratitude to the Shortess family as faithful benefactors to the Sister Mary Basil Taylor Art Fund. Their gift actualizes these words of E. M. Forster, "Works of art, in my opinion, are the only objects in the material universe to possess internal order, and that is why, though I don't believe that only art matters, I do believe in art for art's sake."

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