HOME AT LAST: Local painter restores pieta
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
March 13, 2008
Just as the new Catholic radio station in Sioux City took years to come to
fruition, so too, goes the story of the recently restored pieta that is now at
home in the downtown office of KFHC-88.1 FM.
The pieta - an image of the dying Jesus with his head on the lap of his
mother Mary - that was newly restored by Rob Seiler of Sioux City had been
housed in Dr. Ken Roach's barn for about 14 years. The statue, which was owned
by the late Father Harold Cooper and Dr. Paul Wolpert, is believed to have come
from the Old St. Joseph Hospital in Sioux City.
Dr. Roach, who is secretary/treasurer of St. Gabriel Communications, said
with the approval of Dr. Wolpert, St. Gabriel Communications commissioned the
local artist to restore and repaint the statue and give it a new home at the
"I was amazed to be considered an artist enough to be able to do the
job," said Seiler, who described himself as "just a
A residential housepainter by trade, the 1981 graduate of Bishop Heelan High
School acquired "more artistic" painting skills when he was called in
to work at the Orpheum Theater in 2001.
"When I worked at the Orpheum, they recognized my ability so the artists
who came in were willing to teach me what they were doing because they thought
it was important for me to learn," said Seiler.
Since that time, the restoration company out of New York has subcontracted
him for other jobs such as the cathedral in Omaha. Seiler also did work locally
at St. Boniface Church, which included work on the ceiling mural. His pastor,
Father Merlin Schrad, was aware of Seiler's artistic talents and referred him to
Dr. Roach for the restoration of the pieta.
"If you step out of your comfort zone and push yourself a little
further, you learn more and more," Seiler said.
The pieta was hauled to the Benson Building in early January from Roach's
farm. Much of the work was done in an artist studio located on the third floor
of the office building.
The statue was chipped, cracked and faded. Other portions of the molding were
broken and in need of repair. It contained a copy write from Daprato Statuary
Co. of Chicago, marked 1908.
Prior to stripping and sanding it down, Seiler took paint chips off the
statue and used them as a guide for his color pattern. During this process, he
was surprised to learn that the 100-year-old pieta was made of fiberglass rather
than plaster. Parts of it, though, such as the pillars on the altar base were
made of plaster.
With the new paint job much of the color pattern follows the original;
however, he made a few adjustments. Color was added to the altar, which
previously was all white. He made the artistic decision to color Mary's shoe
brown, as opposed to keeping it white. He also lightened Jesus' wrap to
distinguish it from Mary's.
"For the altar, I thought the white was too plain. I didn't think adding
color would take anything away from the statue. Adding color gave it more
depth," said Seiler, who would often pray before starting the painting.
His 6-year-old daughter, Anna Claire, even offered a little guidance.
"She believed that the crown of thorns should have red spots for the
blood," said Seiler. "And she said there should be blood on the
The pieta was moved into the radio station in mid-February, in time for the
official blessing by Bishop R. Walker Nickless. Getting it there was no easy
task however as the altar would not fit through the door. Seiler literally had
to cut a hole in the wall to an adjoining vacant office space in order to get
the base into the radio station. He did that the night before the blessing.
"It was a big hole and by the very next day, you couldn't even tell
where it was," said Dr. Roach. "He's a miracle worker and he's such a
pleasant man to deal with."
While it's in place, Seiler noted that the work is not quite done. He will
add clear finishes in various tones - from flat on the clothes to glossy on the
eyes - to help preserve the piece.
"It was magnificent work," described Dr. Roach. "He took great
pains with it. When he saw the statue for the first time, I could tell that he
was so overwhelmed and touched by it. It is reflected in the work he did."
Seiler called it an honor to work on a religious piece of art because he is
aware that it will touch the hearts and lives of others.
"Father Cooper was particularly fond of this piece because he had a
devotion to Mary," Dr. Roach said. "I'm sure he is happy it's