Aug 17, 2013 / 01:04 pm (CNA).- There was an unusual meeting at the Vatican this summer when thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts rumbled into Rome for Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebrations in Europe.
Four days of reveling in and around the Eternal City kicked off June 12 when brass from the Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer had a chance to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican. Among members of the select group was Golden, Colo., artist David Uhl.
Uhl, well-known for his talent in capturing motorcycle culture with a timeless Norman-Rockwell-style of painting, was asked to make an exclusive piece to present to Pope Francis.
This image was then used for a special Vatican postcard.
“I was humbled by the opportunity,” he told the Denver Catholic Register during a conversation at his Golden studio July 30.
Uhl, 51, part of the Harley-Davidson organization since becoming their first licensed oil painter in 1998, received the request just a month before the event.
“The Vatican wants to commission a piece of art with us … so come up with something,” he said, relaying the gist of the phone call.
Putting other projects on the back burner, he began work on it immediately.
“I wanted to use a motorcycle that’s historic so you can’t really place the piece,” said Uhl, who has access to the Motor Company’s entire photo archive for inspiration. “It could be 50s, late 40s, 70s; who knows, it’s timeless.”
He settled on a 1948 Harley-Davidson FL panhead, and then came up with the concept of a group of clergy coming upon the bike while walking through a wide open St. Peter’s Square.
“(One of them) broke off from the gang to look at the bike,” he said.
The story was simple; the canvas was complicated.
“You’ve got a cobblestone road, a (bike) with a really complex grouping of chrome, and then you’ve got St. Peter’s Basilica with a thousand sculptures,” he said. “How do I get all this in the same piece and keep it so your focal point doesn’t get lost?”
Not only did he successfully manage the busyness, he did it in about a week, following more than two weeks of back and forth with Vatican officials.
Three weeks later, Uhl, with his wife and their two children, headed to Italy.
Following his regular weekly Wednesday audience June 12, Pope Francis took a short trip in the popemobile from St. Peter’s Square to a neighboring courtyard where Uhl and the rest of the Harley contingency waited. Others presented the pontiff with a leather Freedom jacket and two classic motorcycles, then Uhl was up.
What does one say when giving the Pope a piece of art?
“‘I’m humbled by this opportunity,’ ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here,’ ‘thank you so much,’” Uhl vaguely recalled his own words and mentioned that the pope, while smiling, was quiet.
“We were told he wouldn’t speak, that he understands English, but doesn’t speak it very well.”
Though he didn’t say a word, it was clear to Uhl and rest of the group that Pope Francis was pleased with the painting as evidenced by his double-take before leaving. …
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