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PHILADELPHIA — When Kennett Square artist Neilson Carlin received a phone call from Bishop John MacIntyre of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia asking him to create a painting of the Holy Family for the 2015 World Meeting of Families, he had to think back to the television show “Lost.”
Carlin allowed five seconds of fear.
“Anytime I get a call about a commission, I’m happy because something is in the works, but I had no idea when he initially called me what it was going to be for,” Carlin said. “I just figured I’d be doing something for one of the local parishes. I had no idea it would be for something as large as the World Meeting of Families.
“Because of the scope of this, I had another five-second scare as he was explaining this to me. All I kept hearing was ‘world.’ World was in that title.”
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Carlin being tasked with creating this oil painting for the World Meeting was astounding, especially since Carlin became Catholic only 15 years ago.
The artist met with the bishop and found out the details of what they were looking for, which was a painting of the Holy Family with five subjects, including a toddler Jesus Christ.
“January is when I met with him and it took a while to hammer out contracts and all that and then I started to get sketching in February or March,” Carlin said. “I started the real meat of the painting from mid-May through June and July and the full month of August was nothing but painting nonstop.”
Once the painting was done, it was unveiled in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, where Pope Francis will celebrate a non-public Mass for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Once the World Meeting of Families is over, the painting will remain in the cathedral.
In the painting, Carlin used some Greek influence.
“When I do my work, I look a lot at Greek iconography,” he said. “I love icon work. There are slightly downturned eyes. I only threw this in as a little detail.”
The painting, called “The Holy Family,” has been made into prints, which made its way over to Vatican City and was presented to Pope Francis by a delegation.
Carlin probably won’t have a chance to meet the pope while he spends his two days in Philadelphia, he’d just be happy to see him stand next to the painting in the cathedral, which Carlin and his family will be attending.
That only would make it all beyond worthwhile.
“It’s one thing to see a piece in the studio, especially this type of work, but it’s intended to go in a very particular place,” Carlin said. “Everything ultimately, when you’re doing work for a church, is designed for that space. I only feel good when I’m in front of it and that’s when I feel it’s being seen the way it was created to be seen. For me, from my beginnings of not being Catholic and becoming a Catholic and turning my career over to the church, it is a proud moment.”