It took all of about five minutes for Kathy to return the message I had left her telling her about my series on NPC. She was enthusiastic about helping me out with an interview. I always think phone calls like these will go much worse than they do. For Kathy, I imagine there are advantages and disadvantages to bearing the Rooney name. I always think bothering someone about their famous family members is a bit like asking the great tenor saxophonist Benny Golson about what it was like to be friends with John Coltrane.* Kind of a shot to the jugular. Benny is always so gracious and open talking about Coltrane. Not a hint of frustration there, even though he knows you probably haven’t checked out the onslaught of amazing recordings he has made. Kathy was no different.
She is only one generation removed from The Chief, her uncle, and is close with her cousins Dan and Art Rooney Jr. At 59, she is the youngest of all of the “kids” in her generation. She sounds much younger and very cheerful on the phone. Kathy’s father, Duke, was the younger brother of Art Rooney Sr. In old photos of sports teams that Art owned, you can often see Duke in there somewhere as the ball boy. Her husband and business partner Ray Skolowski, a fine artist himself, did a sculpture of one of these photos and sure enough, Duke Rooney is the ball boy. See photos of the exhibit here.
A member of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators, the second largest society of it’s kind in the U.S., Kathy has been working in the business her whole life. She got her start working in a print shop learning the trade as she went. An artist from the start, her work ranges from small drawings and paintings, to giant murals drawn directly on to a computer.
The mural I speak of is of course the one she did for the new Steelers Headquarters in 2001. A nine month project, the mural was commissioned by Dan Rooney and the Pittsburgh Steelers to adorn the front wall of the new building. It is illuminated at night, so if you look as you drive by, it’s a magnificent sight.
To be expected, Dan Rooney had a large part in the development process. He was “very particular on what he wanted in the mural,” Kathy told me. The idea to include Three Rivers Stadium but have it be “ghosted” was his. After about 9 months of work, the mural was finished and ready to be printed and placed on the wall. The mural includes Three Rivers Stadium in which the Immaculate Reception is taking place, the statue of Art Rooney Sr. that sits just outside Heinz Field, and PNC complete with #21 Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. In order to include so many of Pittsburgh’s famed buildings, Kathy had to take some artistic freedom in how she arranged the architecture to be able to see everything in a row. As an homage to her family, she accented the home where she grew up on the north side overlooking Heinz Field.
At 62′ x 13′, the mural stretches over a very large wall inside of Steelers HQ. Though the mural was finished in 2002, it wasn’t until Ben Roethlishberger joined the Steelers and became an “overnight sensation” that Kathy began to receive calls and emails asking to buy prints of the mural. After some negotiations with the Steelers and a royalties agreement, Kathy’s mural became available for individual purchase. Parts of the mural can now be found on the official Pittsburgh Steelers Christmas Card, and a commemorative plate.
In addition to the mural, Kathy has done work for the Heinz History Museum, and Art Rooney Jr.’s new book. These works feature more of her sports memorabilia. To see more of Kathy’s work, visit her website by clicking here.
*If you don’t know who either of these juggernauts of jazz are, it’s time to do some homework.
Did you know?
Art Rooney Sr. would often receive packages of his favorite cigars from one, Frank Sinatra.