by Kimberly Childs, transcribed from Jemez Thunder, November 15, 1996

Sister Giotto Moots is always robed in green; a new-leaf, chartreuse shawl for her recent talk for the Friends of the Jemez Springs Community Library, and a deep teal Mexican gown when she presided over a Friday evening Sabbath meal for me and my eight Jewish friends (more about that later).

True, the green enhances her luminous, resolute eyes and her white skin and hair. Perhaps it also expresses the vitality of her life-long commitment to her spiritual life and the nourishment she draws from it.

Sister Giotto, who currently lives in San Ysidro, joined the Dominican order in Sinsinawa, WI, at age 21 following her graduation from the Art Institute of Chicago. From then on, her life has been devoted to religion and art, and these passions have taken her around the world.

Photo by Robert Borden/Jemez Thunder
Photo by Robert Borden/Jemez Thunder

She went to Florence, Italy, to continue her art studies. She became Dean at Villa Schifanois, a graduate school of fine arts and one of Europe’s centers for art and music, for eight years. She also had an exhibit of her oil paintings at the Pitti Palace in Florence. She would go on to accumulate enough credits for a Ph.D in Art History.

Sister Giotto’s energy and enthusiasm found their focal point in the Sagrada Art Studios, a school she built literally from the ground up to prepare artists to produce works of sacred art. With the help of five nuns from her community in Wisconsin, she made 8,000 adobe bricks for the building. Serendipity (she might call it grace) had several other contiguous, aging buildings fall into her hands. With the help of friends, she peeled away decades of neglect to renovate these structures which became a part of the complex

Ultimately the complex included living quarters for the students, studios, a restaurant called Joseph’s Table, a chapel and a grotto. For the chapel, Sister Giotto created a stained glass window celebrating the Feasts of the Virgin and the Phases of the Moon, and also helped carve the wooden door panels. During its 16 years of existence the school hosted 400 artists from around the country. While running the school, she also held faculty positions at the University of Albuquerque and University of New Mexico.

One of the traditions Sister Giotto began at Sagrada was to host and direct Jewish Sabbath meals on Friday nights. A Jewish student introduced her to the ritual meal and she found its symbolism deeply satisfying to her feminine spirituality. She has continued the tradition to this day; hence the Sabbath meal she hosted for me and my Jewish friends from Chicago in October.

When her Dominican Community asked her to close the school, she obeyed, reluctantly, and still carries a sense of wistfulness about the decision. She has the kind of energy that, as Mary Daniels of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “could turn a 3rd grader into a future President of the world.‘ After the school closed, she continued to lecture at the Graduate Theological Union, Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at Berkeley, CA, and across the country.

More recently, Sister Giotto refurbished the Catholic Church in San Ysidro and painted panels inside. Currently, she is building a Retreat House for lay people across the street from the church. She feels that the popular culture has turned away from the interior, symbolic life, and the Retreat House would be a place of meditation and renewal. She teaches confirmation classes to high school students in her home, where she uses her extensive art and visual aid library to maintain their interest. She is also active in the Renew Program.