Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio have blessed the Church and mankind with beautiful pieces of art.
These artistic giants made sure to give themselves plenty of room to work and create.
Michelangelo applied his God-given talent to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Rembrandt and Caravaggio painted on wide swatches of canvas.
Omaha artist Robert Faulhaber does not give himself as much room to create. He paints on the small front surface of a Paschal candle. Made of beeswax, the candles he works on range anywhere from three- to four-inches in diameter and 48- to 60-inches in height. The scale he paints to is seven inches by 24 inches. His designs wrap around the back of the candle.
Every Catholic church has a Paschal candle. The candles are usually blessed at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. During the year, it is lit during all baptisms and funeral services, where it is placed next to the casket to symbolize baptism as a death and resurrection in Christ.
Most parishes buy their candles from a church supply store. Any number of churches may have the same candle design. Faulhaber’s candles are one-of-a-kind.
Faulhaber, 50, was born in Davenport, IA, and moved to Rock Island, IL, when he was a child. He was the Illinois amateur boxing champion three times. Faulhaber was already drawing, sketching, and painting long before he stepped on the canvas surface of a boxing ring.
“I started drawing when I was two or three years-old,” Faulhaber said.
Many of his Rock Island friends were Native Americans. It was through those friendships that he developed a passion for Native American culture and music. He began attending pow wows, the Native American people’s cultural event that features group singing and dancing by men, women and children. Before long, he was dancing and singing in pow wows.
When Faulhaber was 16, he used his artistic talent to make his first rawhide drum. He still makes drums, in addition to the outfits and beadwork he wears when he travels throughout the U.S. and Canada performing in pow wows.
Faulhaber was reared in a house where the Catholic faith was expressed and lived. After failing first grade because of a learning disability, some of his classmates made him the target of their jokes. Every day his mother sent him to school with a homemade lunch and the instructions to “take Jesus with you.”
“My mom’s advice changed my life. It no longer mattered what my classmates might say to me because I knew Jesus loved me,” Faulhaber said.
Faulhaber often attended weekday Mass with his mother. His parents frequently talked about vocations. Two of his uncles were priests, and a great aunt was a nun.
After graduating from high school, Faulhaber continued to attend daily Mass with his mother. He also accompanied her to Thursday night prayer meetings at the Basilica of St. John in Des Moines. At one prayer meeting, he met Monsignor Frank Chiodo. Msgr. Chiodo introduced him to monastic life. Msgr. Chiodo was living at the basilica at the time and was the leader of the Society of St. John (which later changed to St. Gabriel Benedictine Priory and is now closed). The society had an affiliation with Mount Michael Benedictine Abbey in Elkhorn.
Faulhaber was 33 years-old with no real life plan. Unlike the rich young man in Matthew’s gospel, he decided to give up his few possessions and walk away from the only life he knew to join the Society of St. John. It was there that he painted his first Paschal candle for the basilica.
Faulhaber, or Brother Bob by now, later moved to Mount Michael Abbey. He painted several candles for the abbey. He eventually departed religious life in 2010 and was dispensed from his vows.
“I owe a lot to religious life,” he said. “The priests and brothers know how to cultivate and hone a person’s skills. They are able to identify and develop your talents. In my case, it was art.”
While in religious life, Faulhaber took up iconography. He attended the prestigious Prosopon School of Iconography in Wisconsin and was taught the Russian method of icon writing. This method uses a paste made of raw materials, egg yolk, vinegar, and wine. Two of his icons are at St. James Parish in Omaha. He also has icons at St. John Parish in Duluth, MN, and Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, IN.
Faulhaber and his wife Jeanna are members of St. Bernard Parish in Omaha. They have been married three years. Faulhaber painted St. Bernard’s Paschal candles in 2014, 2015, and 2016. He also pained Easter candles for St. Stephen the Martyr Church and St. Thomas More Church.
It takes Faulhaber 40-50 hours to paint a Paschal candle. Before he begins painting, he photographs the inside of the church where the candle will be on display, researches the church’s patron saint and studies the history of the church.
When the prep work is finished, Faulhaber carves a design onto the beeswax He then uses acrylic paint to fill in the carving. He describes the process as a “prayerful experience.”
“Sometimes I listen to music while I’m painting.” He also said he watches reruns of the sitcom “King of Queens” when he paints.
Faulhaber paints when he is not working in the maintenance department at St. Stephen the Martyr Parish. He is a multi-dimensional artist. He draws with chalk and pencil. He is also a wood carver, and he plans to take up airbrushing again.
Like Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio, Faulhaber has left the Church and mankind a great gift – the small but powerful images he paints on Paschal candles.