Regarding “Pipe Theme in Red and Orange”

“She said [in her will] if any of her art work was in disrepair, she would prefer that it be destroyed.”

By Andrew Wichrowski

Staff Writer

“She said [in her will] if any of her art work was in disrepair, she would prefer that it be destroyed.”

There has been much debate recently about the work of late Seton Hill professor Josefa Filkosky, in particular, “Pipe Theme in Red and Orange”. The sculpture, which resides on the Seton Hill University (SHU) campus in front of Lynch Hall, was painted in various shades of blue to match the color scheme of the new Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) a program that recently moved into the nearby building. While many faculty, former students, and colleagues of Filkosky have sounded off in the debate over this alteration of her work, there is one group in particular whose voice has been missing: her family.

To research more information, I had to travel to Westmoreland City, a sleepy coal town a few miles west of Greensburg. Modest one and two story homes sit along the long and winding roads, punctuated by the occasional tree. It’s only the first week of October, but many of the residents have already decorated for Halloween.

While my grandmother, Margaret Wichrowski, is reserved about commenting on record about Filkosky, she insisted on coming along to my interview with her friend and family member, Anna Mae Filkosky. First cousin to my grandfather, Charles Wichrowski Sr., Anna Mae Filkosky is the sister of Josefa Filkosky. Like many members of my family still residing in the town, she lives only a few doors down from my grandmother on an adjacent street.

Anna Mae was waiting for us by the door of her home. Perched near the top of a steep hill, the house overlooks both the local volunteer fire department, as well as my father’s childhood home. She welcomed us into her kitchen, where she had photographs of her sister’s work arranged on the table. She keeps documents about Josefa’s work and locations of her sculptures, proudly reciting the places where her sister’s art can still be seen.

One of the first questions I asked Anna Mae is what Josefa’s work meant to her.
“Everything,” my grandmother cut in, without any hesitation.
“Seton Hill was her life,” Anna Mae added.

The granddaughter of immigrants who came directly from Poland to work in the mines of Western Pennsylvania, Josefa Filkosky entered the then all-women Seton Hill College after graduating from her local North Huntingdon High School. Upon earning her baccalaureate degree, she stayed at Seton Hill to begin teaching art the next academic year. She would go on to earn her BFA and MFA, eventually becoming Chair of the Art Department at Seton Hill, and would teach at the college until her death in 1999.

When asked about the modifications done to “Pipe Theme in Red and Orange”, Josefa’s sister sighed, and stated, “She’s probably spinning in her grave. She would be very upset. She was very particular about her work.”

An article printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on September 9, 2009, titled “Seton Hill draws flak for painting of sculpture” cited JoAnne Boyle as one of the proponents of the change. In the article, Boyle claimed that Filkosky was more interested in the other design elements of her work over color, and that she had involvement in the decision to alter the sculpture. The article also mentioned Boyle’s intention to create a fund to raise money to restore “Pipe Theme in Red and Orange.”

“Well, I know that JoAnne Boyle had mentioned about starting some sort of a fund that would be used to restore any of the other sculptures on campus,” Anna Mae said. “But this was Seton Hill’s mistake. They should pay for this, and the fund should be for future use.”

While I did not know her very well, the work and legacy of Josefa Filkosky has always been of extreme importance to my family. She showed my working-class family that there were opportunities for them outside of coal mines and manufacturing plants.

While much of the recent debate has centered around the intention of Josefa’s work, none of the Seton Hill administration involved in the alteration of the sculpture attempted to contact any of Filkosky’s living relatives or consult her will.

“She said [in her will] if any of her art work was in disrepair, she would prefer that it be destroyed,” Anna Mae Filkosky stated.

From this statement in her will, it is clear that she could not even imagine anyone intentionally altering her work. If she would have rather had her work destroyed than rust from neglect, I would imagine that she would not have looked fondly on anyone repainting her sculpture “Pipe Theme in Red and Orange” in blue. While her sister Anna Mae Filkosky was very emotional during the interview, she offers a practical solution to the situation.

“I think it should be restored to it’s original colors, and if LECOM doesn’t want that particular color in front of their building, well then move it.”

When contacted for this article, JoAnne Boyle gave new details about the development of the controversy surrounding the sculpture.

“I think that those involved in the decision now wish we had done more consulting before taking that step,” she said. “Fortunately, it is not irreversible. We will be repainting the sculpture in its original colors.”

She gave no further details on the time-frame of the restoration. She also noted that the artist modified the sculpture during her lifetime, repainting “Pipe Theme in Red and Orange” in “slightly different hues on at least on occasion.”

Boyle also announced that two donations towards the preservation of Josefa Filkosky’s work have been recently accepted by Seton Hill University.