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Everson artist lauded by Vatican for work

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Linda harkcom | For The Independent-Observer
A sketch of Pope Francis done by Everson artist James Kessler.
Linda Harkcom | For The Independent-Observer
James Kessler (right) and his wife, Wanda, with his sketch of Pope Francis and a letter he received from the Vatican thanking him for his artwork.

Everson artist James Robert Kessler has received high praise for his art in recent months.

The Connellsville native not only received a letter from the Vatican, but also received a voice-mail message from Good Morning America news anchor Robin Roberts.

In December, Kessler — who coaches the Southmoreland boys and girls tennis teams — said he sent a sketch he created of Pope Francis along with small prints of the paintings he had previously created of Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

In May, Kessler said he was honored to receive a letter from the Vatican thanking him for the gift of his art.

The letter, which is on letterhead from the Secretariat of State from the Vatican and signed by Monsignor Peter B. Wells, Assessor states:

“His Holiness, Pope Francis, was pleased to receive the kind gifts sent for his acceptance. He appreciates the devoted sentiments which prompted this thoughtful presentation.

The Holy Father gives the assurance of a remembrance in his prayers and sends his blessing.”

This is the fourth letter Kessler has received from the Vatican regarding his artwork. In 1998, he received a letter from Pope John Paul II thanking him for the print of the portrait Kessler painted of him.

In 1999, the Vatican sent a letter inviting him to meet Pope John Paul II during his visit to St. Louis that year, a trip Kessler said he regrets not being able to make.

In 2000, Kessler received his final communique from Pope John Paul, a postcard.

After sending the sketch to Pope Francis, Kessler created a new painting of the pontiff. Kessler said he chose the colors of the flag of the pope's home country, Argentina to use in the painting.

“I really just wanted to convey his peace,” Kessler said.

Kessler said his dream is to present Pope Francis with the portrait when he visits Philadelphia next summer.

He also dreams of someday soon traveling to Rome to present the two other papal portraits to Pope Benedict. He also has set up a GoFundMe page at to raise the money needed for his pilgrimage to Rome, Italy.

If the excitement of the letter from the Vatican wasn't enough on June 2, Kessler checked the voice mail on his cell phone and got a huge surprise.

“I had a new cell phone and the call went straight to voice mail. I had sent her a portrait of her mother and she called to thank me. I was really surprised to get the call,” Kessler said. “I didn't even know she had seen it until I got the call.”

In the voice mail which Kessler saved, a woman identifying herself as Robin Roberts said the portrait was “lovely” and “. . .it really touched me and I want to thank you for your thoughtfulness.”

“I painted a portrait of her mother two years ago. Her mother had passed and she was battling cancer and I did it to encourage her and cheer her up. We were going to take it in to New York, but didn't make it so I sent it a few weeks prior to getting the letter,” Kessler said.

Kessler's wife, Wanda Kessler, said the whole experience has been very exciting.

“I love watching the portraits come to life as he's doing them,” Wanda Kessler said.

The Rev. Mark Van Bibber, pastor of New Life Fellowship in Connellsville, has been a friend of Kessler's for more than 20 years. He said he first met Kessler through his art and has been fascinated by being able to see many of his projects from inspiration to the finished product.

“I have encouraged him many times to expand his interests and applauded his accomplishments. He is so versatile – painting and drawing subjects from nature, current public and sports figures, to the religious/spiritual,” Van Bibber said.

He said Kessler's latest work, including the portrait of Pope Francis is “awesome.”

“Jim continues to improve and amaze as he is able to capture and portray the current pope, Pope Francis. His other pope portraits are inspiring as well, and that is what Jim always tries to communicate, inspiration,” Van Bibber said.

Van Bibber said he has supported and encouraged Kessler's efforts to get his art to the Vatican.

“His portrayals are as good, if not better, than other artwork that is out there. I am hopeful that Jim can get to see the pope next year when he comes to Pennsylvania. I am also in support of Jim's effort to raise money to go to Rome to present the pope portraits of John Paul, Benedict, and Francis,” Van Bibber said.

Many pieces of Kessler's artwork can be viewed at his website at

Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer.

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