JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Growing up, Todd Stiffler was a âbored altar boyâ at SS. Roman Catholic Church Casimir and Emerich.
Recently, however, he returned to the building, now known as the Casimir Cultural Center, to add a touch of his works to the historic structure, located in the Cambria City neighborhood of Johnstown.
Stiffler painted a work called “Passage of Time” on the pewter ceiling of the hall. The work was commissioned by Chad Pysher and Steven Biter, who own the building through their company, Stella.
“Never in my life would I have thought, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m going to paint these ceilings someday,'” said Stiffler, who attended West End Catholic Elementary School.
“If you spoke to me when I was a kid, I would think you were crazy.” But these guys trusted me and it’s great to work with them. Great back and forth. I never inject my artistic vision too hard into anything, just because I know it’s going to be released in public.
The work depicts a transition of the sky from morning to evening, with birds that live in Cambria City, a rainbow, the sun and a comet.
âIt’s almost like looking out the window at what you would see here,â Pysher said.
Pysher described the painting as having “deeply spiritual significance, but it is not at all overtly religious”.
âIn Europe a lot of churches have this,â Pysher said.
âEven in their ceiling, there can be works of art, and it’s not always super religious. There are things that are more cosmic and more related to the environment you find yourself in, not necessarily the connection with church patronage or something like that.
Other local works
Stiffler did other artwork for Stella, including Celtic designs at the Brigid’s Cross religious store and a mural at Cambria City Flowers in which large, colorful flowers appear against a black background.
He created a small garden for a statue of the Virgin Mary that was once on display at the Immaculate Conception Church and then was in storage before being acquired by Stella.
All these works are in public view near Casimir.
âYou kind of have to take into account the general consensus on what people would like to see every day of their lives,â Stiffler said. âIt’s pretty cool too. “
He also painted a mural of Saint Anthony of Padua in a way that resembles a stained glass window.
âThey made me panic over something,â Stiffler said. âWhen I finished St. Anthony, they asked me, ‘What’s it going to be like to think people are going to pray for your painting? I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ It never occurred to me. Itâs weird.
‘What can I do?’
Stiffler’s designs in Cambria City are part of his artistic journey that began as a child.
âI’ve always drawn, just like cartoon stuff, like a kid would,â Stiffler said. âBut then after high school I started working shitty jobs. I was like, ‘I have to find something else to do. What do I like?’
“At that point, it seemed like the only thing I loved, all my life, the only thing I clung to was the drawing.”
He studied art at the University of Edinboro in Pennsylvania, worked in graphic design, and moved to several different locations before returning to Johnstown, where he now uses his artistic skills to contribute to his hometown.
His other work includes the design of the mural which was painted on the city’s public works building.
âI love the community,â Stiffler said. âI have nothing to offer. I’m not going to join the city council. I’m not going to fix the planning issues or anything. What can I do?
“I’ve found the only thing I can do to help, and I’ll do it as much as possible.”