Sistine Chapel in Spray Paint.
You can eat dinner beneath the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Iowa. You can't in Rome.

Sistine Chapel in Spray Paint

Field review by the editors.

Waterloo, Iowa

Question: If you wanted to paint Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" from the Sistine Chapel using store-bought spray paint, what color would you use for God's robe?

From the sidewalk, the spray paint Sistine Chapel is aglow at suppertime.
From the sidewalk, the spray paint Sistine Chapel is aglow at suppertime.

Answer: Watermelon.

This bit of knowledge was one of many learned by 27-year-old Evelin "Paco" Rosic, who in fact did paint the Creation of Adam, as well as the rest of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, using only spray paint.

The original took Michelangelo four years of work in the early 16th century. Paco painted his half-size replica in four months in 2006.

The Spray Paint Sistine Chapel is in downtown Waterloo, a farming community known as the home of the John Deere Tractor Factory. The Rosic family arrived in the late 1990s, part of a wave of immigrant refugees from war-torn Sarajevo. Paco, his siblings, and his parents worked hard, saved their money, and planned to open a gallery of Paco's art in an abandoned storefront. When Paco suggested the Sistine Chapel idea, the gallery concept was ditched in favor of a restaurant, Galleria de Paco. The Rosics reasoned that not even in Rome could you eat fettuccine and chocolate lava cake under Noah, Eve, and Ezekiel.

God creates Adam over the shoulder of David.
God creates Adam over the shoulder of David.

You probably won't meet Paco if you visit the restaurant -- he's often out of town on art commissions -- but you'll almost certainly meet Jacky, Paco's dad, who's the friendly front-of-house host. Jacky slips easily into Serbo-Croatian on the phone or with diners, and gave us a whirlwind tour of Paco's frescoes. Although his accented English was sometimes difficult to understand, there was no mistaking Jacky's enthusiasm and pride. "This is why we came to America; for the kids," he said he told his wife when Paco first proposed painting the ceiling.

According to Jacky, Paco used so many thousands of cans of spray paint that he temporarily exhausted the supply in northeast Iowa, and eventually received a supply of free cans from a curious spray paint company. He spent four days in the real Sistine Chapel sketching the frescoes, then came home and painted the entire 14-foot-high vaulted plaster ceiling of the restaurant freehand, without stencils or taping (He did some practicing in his parents' garage). Although Paco's mom is Catholic and Jacky is Muslim, religious visitors are sometimes disappointed to learn that Paco is not especially religious, and was inspired solely by art.

Buff-looking dude is actually Michelangelo's Erythraean Sybil in spray paint.
Buff-looking dude is actually Michelangelo's Erythraean Sybil in spray paint.

Because Paco used spray paint, the colors in Iowa's Sistine Chapel are more vibrant than those in Italy, although the brush strokes are less precise (because no brush was used). Paco left out tiny details that he knew would be blobby, but he also used multiple cans of the same color because he found that emptier cans would spray finer lines -- another of those on-the-job techniques Paco learned as he covered 2,511 square feet of ceiling with hundreds of biblical figures.

Despite the globalization of travel, we'd guess that Galleria de Paco is the closest that many of its diners will ever get to the real Sistine Chapel. That seems okay with them, and it's clearly okay with Jacky, who during our visit gave everyone in the restaurant a shot of plum brandy and a hug. "This," he said, sweeping his hand across the ceiling, "is why America is a great country."

Also see: Precious Moments Chapel | Sistine Chapel of Rhode Island

Sistine Chapel in Spray Paint

Galleria De Paco

Address:
622 Commercial St., Waterloo, IA
Directions:
Galleria De Paco. US 218 exits 181 or 181A onto W. 1st St. Make a quick right onto Commercial St. Drive five blocks. On the right.
Hours:
T-Sa 4:30 pm -10 pm (Call to verify)
Phone:
319-833-7226
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

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In the region:
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