Meinrad Craighead papers, 1901-2010s

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Craighead, Meinrad
Meinrad Craighead (1936–2019) was an award-winning artist and writer whose works focused on humankind's relationship with God. She had lived and worked around the world, but eventually settled in New Mexico in the 1980s. The collection includes letters; photographs; exhibition catalogs and publicity; public response to her poems and books; research and notes on mythologies, art, and nature; and other personal materials from her life. The materials largely date from the 1960s through the 2000s, covering her scholarship in Europe, her time in England as a nun in Stanbrook Abbey, and the years following her return to New Mexico. Includes Craighead's prayer books and psalters, some dating from the early 1900s, as well as some copies of her own publications and artwork. Acquired as part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture.
6 Linear Feet
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The Meinrad Craighead Papers includes a variety of materials, largely dating from Craighead's adult life from the 1960s to the 2000s. The collection is divided into the following series: Personal Papers, Writings, Research, Artwork, Photographs, and Printed Materials.

Craighead's Personal Papers Series is a mixture of items, ranging from personal correspondence to official correspondence relating to her U.S. passport. Several folders have information on Craighead's recent activities, including presentation notes, her travel for speaking or workshop engagements, and materials from her retreats and public programming in the 1990s-2000s. This series also includes several versions of Craighead's resume, documenting her activities prior to the mid-1980s.

The Writings Series consists largely of feedback, book reveiws, and correspondence following the publishing of three of Craighead's books: The Sign of the Tree (1979), The Mother's Songs (1986), and the Litany of the Great River (1991). Drafts from the latter reveal that the book was initially referred to as the "Litany of the Rio Grande." The Writings Series also includes loose drafts, poems, and other undated materials.

The Research Series includes Craighead's handwritten notes and drafts from her research into the mythology and mysticism of different world cultures, including ancient Egypt, Rome, and Native Americans. Another interest of Craighead was the role of nature, including different animals, in the symbolism and spirituality of various religions and groups. These files are loosely sorted by subject.

Samples of Craighead's prints and paintings can be found in the Artwork Series, which also includes exhibition catalogs, printings and publications of her work (including several copies of Catholic Worker newspapers, which used her illustrations in the 1970s), as well as a small amount of artwork and poetry by others that Craighead collected. The prints in this series are not original works of art, but instead are photocopies or photographs of her work. They include copies of her inkprints, paintings, and glass etchings.

The Photographs Series includes the majority of the collection's photographs, which are both color and black-and-white prints, as well as negatives. Craighead appears to have taken several rolls of film of altars, outdoor landscapes, foliage, rock formations, and animals that she then used in creating her artwork. Other photographs from this series are portraits of Craighead, by both friends and professional photographers, as well as a small amount of photographs of Stanbrook Abbey in England. A final photograph worth mentioning is one of Craighead and three nuns at Pope Pius VI's coronation in Rome in 1963.

The final series, the Printed Materials Series, includes Craighead's personal books, copies of her published books, and books that include her artwork as illustrations. Craighead's personal books consist of prayer books, early editions of Christian texts, and a book about the Stanbrook Abbey Press. Craighead's illustrations can be found in three editions of Catholic missals from 1975 and 1982. Finally, this series includes autographed copies of Craighead's own publications, The Mother's Birds, The Sign of the Tree, and "Christian Symbols," a compilation of loose prints.

Biographical / historical:

Meinrad Craighead was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, as Charlene Craighead on February 12, 1936. She was raised in Chicago, where she attended Catholic schools throughout her childhood. Craighead graduated with a M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1960, after which she moved to New Mexico to teach and paint. She also began exhibiting her work, which was heavily influenced by nature and Native American imagery.

In 1962, Craighead moved to Florence, Italy; she remained in Europe for the next 21 years. She taught at several schools in Florence before winning a Fulbright in 1965. She spent her Fulbright year in Spain, where she studied medieval Catalan art. While staying at Montserrat, a monastery in Barcelona, Craighead felt called to monastic life. She entered Stanbrook Abbey, a nunnery in England, in 1966, and took the name of Meinrad. She remained a nun until 1980.

During her time in the abbey, Craighead continued to create, paint, and write. Her first book, The Sign of the Tree, was published in 1979. After leaving the abbey, she received support from the Arts Council of Great Britain to continue her art and writing. In 1983, Craighead returned to the United States, and she settled in Albuquerque on the Rio Grande. She remained active in the Catholic church, and continued her research and writings about mythology and Native American spirituality. Craighead conducted workshops on the Feminine Divine and embarked on a number of pilgrimages, including international trips to Egypt, Mexico, Turkey, Spain, France, Greece, the Rhine Valley, Switzerland and, domestically, to the source of the Arkansas River.

Craighead's publications include The Sign of the Tree (1979), The Mother's Songs (1986), The Litany of the Great River (1991), Sacred Marriage: The Wisdom of the Song of Songs (co-authored with Nicholas Ayo, 1997), and Crow Mother and the Dog God: A Retrospective (2003).

Craighead died on April 8, 2019, at the age of 83.

Acquisition information:
The Meinrad Craighead Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 2010 and 2020.
Processing information:

Processed by Meghan Lyon, February 2010

Encoded by Meghan Lyon, February 2010

Updated by Vladimir Lukin, February 2023

Materials may not have been ordered and described beyond their original condition.

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

Women in the Catholic Church
Spiritual Life -- Art
Art and mythology
Idols and images
Art and religion -- 20th century
Catholic Church
Stanbrook Abbey
Craighead, Meinrad
Albuquerque (N.M.) -- Women artists
Women artists -- England


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Access note. Collection contains fragile audiovisual formats that may need to be reformatted before use. Contact Research Services for access.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Meinrad Craighead Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University