Local artist Richard Szeitz’s June passing at 92 prompted tender reflection on a life that brought beauty to many through the creative process; most notably, through his “Fountain of Abundance” at West Acres Shopping Center.
Ever since learning he created this piece, I’ve thought of Szeitz while passing by the structure, enjoying the mental refreshment of water cascading down upon copper cranes, florals and wheat stalks on my way to shop for a new clothing item or other pursuit.
But I learned late about that piece having been fashioned by Szeitz. It was another of his works—a rendering of the Madonna and Child at the back of Nativity Church—that caused our paths to merge.
As I sat in a mom’s prayer circle one fall day in 2007, the art coordinator at Nativity asked for a volunteer to pose for photos for an artist. He needed to determine dimensions of a sculpture he’d been commissioned to create for the sanctuary, and suggested a mother and toddler. I was the only one present that day who fit the bill.
Soon, I was in a photo session posing as Mary, with my son in a Batman T-shirt and diapers nearby representing a young Jesus. Such religious renderings typically include an infant Jesus, but Szeitz, or perhaps the parish’s art committee, had a different vision in mind.
Our involvement drew me in more deeply, and I began asking Szeitz questions about his art, ultimately receiving an invitation to visit his home studio to observe the work’s development.
Graciously, he showed me all stages of his artistic process, from the first sketches and miniature structure he created to guide the larger work, to hearing about the hunts he would go on to find the right metals. Later, I had the privilege of seeing the sculpture in its new home near the baptismal fount at the back of my then home parish.
It was also an honor, and quite humbling, too, to have been a model for Mary, someone I’ve long admired because of her beautiful “Yes” to God—though the likeness was not exact—and realize my son was standing in for our Lord.
But it was just as fascinating to hear Szeitz’s life story—about how he fled, by foot, with others from Communists taking over his home country of Hungary, and, against many odds, survived. I ended up writing a feature story about his work and life for the Fargo Diocese newspaper, New Earth, which garnered an award.
Szeitz experienced and suffered much before ever arriving in North Dakota. I feel honored not only to have heard his story, but to have had the chance to offer, with my son—now a high-school senior—a small part of us toward a piece that carries religious significance and permanency.
As we continue to memorialize Szeitz’s life, may we recall that behind each of his works lies the story of a young man’s treacherous journey, and God’s provisions that brought him to us.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Sept. 3, 2022.]