Vonna Rae Plescia said she is in a muddle, a kind of difficult place to be. She has a daunting task ahead: To continue to grieve her late husband, Ralphael, and figure out what to do with his life’s largely unmoveable work.
“It’s different being on your own,” Vonna Rae said Tuesday.
On Aug. 14, her husband, Ralphael Plescia — a quirky and vibrant artist and sculptor — died, after months of gastrointestinal illness, at age 84. She and her late husband had been together since 1956.
In Ralphael’s last months, as he struggled with stomach and bowel problems, Vonna Rae said, “he didn’t do a whole lot, just didn’t have the energy of the help that he needed to give things that he wanted to do.”
That’s why, she said, her husband didn’t have a plan put together before he died on how to handle his Christian School, the two-story art installation at 1324 S. State St., Salt Lake City. It is, for all intents and purposes, a holy shrine, filled with biblical and religious sculptures Ralphael created over 50 years. Some of the art is joined to the structure of the building, such as the pit he dug in the basement all the way to the water table.
Vonna Rae Plescia said Ralphael’s father set up his will so that his son had use of the building until his death. After that, she said, it would go to Shriners Children’s Hospital.
Vonna Rae said the family has received a letter from the hospital, asking them to vacate the building of personal items — which means Ralphael’s art and tools — by Dec. 1. Other than that, she said, she has not spoken to anyone from the hospital.
“I have no idea what they have planned,” Vonna Rae said. “It’s going to be real interesting, trying to get everything out and figure out what to do with it.”
In a statement sent Wednesday afternoon, a representative for Shriners Childrens Hospital said it “was unaware of the extensive artwork in the building and had no intention of causing any stress for Mrs. Plescia. We understand the importance of the Christian School building to her and her family, and we will certainly do what we can to ensure that Mrs. Plescia is able to safely relocate her late husband’s work.”
In August, Kirk Huffaker, the former director of Preservation Utah and now a consultant to preservation projects, noted that the significance of Ralphael’s artwork is in part because of how it is connected to the structure of the building.
“Even if [the building] gets donated to someone like a nonprofit, giving guidelines are such that they need to monetize that donation with real property, stock or whatever comes in as quickly as possible,” Huffaker said.
Vonna Rae and her family don’t have much of a plan when it comes to the movable art items, she said, but they are thinking of renting a storage place because there aren’t any other options. It’s frustrating, she said, because she doesn’t really know what to do with everything.
“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “It was very difficult for [Ralphael] not to be able to do all the things that he liked to do. He was very creative, a very busy person, but he just didn’t have what it took to do anything further those last few months.”
As of Tuesday, there are no GoFundMe or other efforts ongoing to preserve the Christian School installation intact.