Isabel Helen Piczek, a world-renowned ecclesiastical and sacred artist, passed away peacefully in her home in Echo Park, California on September 29, 2016 at the age of 88. She was born in Hatvan, Hungary on November 14, 1927 to Zoltan and Elona Piczek. Her father Zoltan was a noted artist and art professor. Isabel graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and in addition to being a world class artist also became an internationally known Physicist, recognized for her study of the Shroud of Turin. Isabel shared her formative years as an artist with her sister Edith who also nurtured and developed her own artistic style. Their...
Isabel Helen Piczek, a world-renowned ecclesiastical and sacred artist, passed away peacefully in her home in Echo Park, California on September 29, 2016 at the age of 88. She was born in Hatvan, Hungary on November 14, 1927 to Zoltan and Elona Piczek. Her father Zoltan was a noted artist and art professor. Isabel graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and in addition to being a world class artist also became an internationally known Physicist, recognized for her study of the Shroud of Turin. Isabel shared her formative years as an artist with her sister Edith who also nurtured and developed her own artistic style. Their partnership blossomed and matured through the years. Edith was a frequent collaborator and Isabel's lifetime companion until her death in 2012.
Isabel was still a young student when she began to visualize the possibilities of a new sacred art form - a new liturgical vision. She realized early on that there would be no opportunity to create that vision in Hungary as it was then part of the suppressed world behind the Iron Curtain under Communist rule. Just after the end of World War II, Isabel and her sister fled the Communist regime in Hungary and escaped across the border into Austria. It was a difficult and often dangerous journey but they soon found their way to freedom. After a brief stay in Vienna, they literally "painted" their way across Europe, traveling from one monastery to another, enduring struggles and challenges along the journey. At one point they wandered in the snow of the Alps for three days until finally finding their way across the Italian border. They continued on to Rome which would become their home for the next three years.
In Rome, Isabel won the International Grand Award for her painting at the Galleria di Roma. As a result, though still only a teenager, she won the competition to paint a new mural. Isabel, already a prodigy, was only 14 years old but was commissioned to paint a 400 sq. ft. true fresco mural at the world famous Pontifical Biblical Institute owned by the Vatican.
When she arrived to receive the award, officials doubted that such a young girl could have created the submitted art that had won the competition. To prove her ability they demanded that she complete the first third of the mural for free and that a panel of experts would judge her work. The judges were astonished at the quality and maturity and approved the completion of the commission. From that humble start, during their three-year stay in Rome, Isabel and her sister would go on to be hired and to complete 42 additional mural paintings.
Declining a scholarship to move to in Paris, Isabel and her sister briefly lived in Canada before making the decision to come to America in 1956. They soon established their Studio, the Construction Art Center, in Echo Park close to downtown Los Angeles. It is here that Isabel has continued to live and create art for over 50 years.
Her body of work is nothing short of astonishing and includes colossal size murals, mosaics, paintings, stained glass windows and tile works for over 400 buildings, churches and cathedrals in seven countries and on three continents.
Winning an International Competition, Isabel created the 300 sq. ft. figurative stained glass entrance for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Considering the hundreds of art works she has created, Isabel frequently references the following as among her favorite. The large Resurrection mural at Holy Cross Mausoleum in Culver City; the art works of the Sacred Heart Chapel in Santa Ana: the mosaics of St John Neumann Church in Irvine; St. Anne of the Sunset in San Francisco; San Fernando Mission Mausoleum in Mission Hills; St. Mary Magdalene's in Camarillo; the mural paintings, mosaic and stained glass at the Guardian Angel Cathedral in Las Vegas, Nevada; Holy Family Church in Deming, New Mexico; St. John Fisher in Palos Verdes Peninsula; and the murals, stations and stained glass windows at St. Anthony Church in San Gabriel.
In 1992, Isabel along with her sister Edith was honored by Pope John Paul II in recognition of her prolific artistic achievements, examples of which can be found in multiple cathedrals, churches and other buildings across the world.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, conferred on Piczek admission into the Pontifical Order of Saint Gregory and the title Dame of Saint Gregory, making her one of only 70 Knights and Dames throughout the world who hold this honor.
The following narrative is excerpted from a talk that Isabel presented at St. Anthony Church in San Gabriel, California on June 28, 2016. The event celebrated the restoration and rededication of the first murals that she painted after coming to the United States. It says so much about her life.
One afternoon I was painting a mural at the Cathedral in Las Vegas when suddenly a young man appeared at the foot of my scaffold, asking; "How can I learn to paint large murals like this?"
"I am sorry but you can not learn it", I answered. "You must be born with this power. It comes with you. Of course, you must learn the technique and the chemistry of the paints, however, in itself, that will not help you create great compositions – great works of art".
"In other words", said the young man, "it is a gift". "Yes", I said, "but remember, it is a gift that comes with a very high price. Once you are born with this gift your life and your choices are all set".
And yet, what a life is waiting for you! A fabulous life that never leaves you in doubt as to what your task is at any moment. Your work takes you to new walls, new cities and new situations. It is never dull!
For that, you have to give up certain human comforts. You will not walk much on the floor but from scaffold to scaffold somewhere in mid-air. But from there you see so much more! You learn to love silence and the company of giants that you yourself put around you. You also learn to love the typical noises that big buildings make – churches, cathedrals, big halls – and the sound of the chimes or bells in most of these buildings as they break the grand silence every hour, reminding us of the "passing of time", leaving behind its grandeur and sometimes irreversible sadness.
Isabel's art and research has touched the lives of millions of people around the world. Her legacy lives on through her extraordinary work.
Funeral Mass and celebration of life will be held on Thursday October 13, 2016 at 10:30 a.m.
Mission San Fernando Rey de España
15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd,
Mission Hills, CA 91345