PHOTO: Mic Carlson & his model for St. Francis (JoJo from Germany)
After visiting Assisi, Italy, the hometown of St. Francis of Assisi in 1999, I knew I had to learn all I could about this man of God. My first mission was to find a model that would portray the joy and spiritualism that exudes from the stories I heard of Francis.
One day at my then gallery in Saugatuck, Michigan, a man named JoJo visiting the states from Germany walked in and we began to talk as if we had known one another our whole lives. After a lot of laughter and feelings of peace, he left. I quickly realized that we forgot to exchange phone numbers and addresses! As I was ready to run out the door to look for him, he reappeared with a paper listing both phone and address. Whew!! What a blessing!
A while later, JoJo visited Michigan and Susan (my darling) and I invited JoJo to stay with us. It was during that stay where we were sitting on our front porch and I looked over at JoJo who had tears running down his face as we talked about the beauty of life. After really only knowing him a grand total of maybe 25 minutes at this point, I said…”you are the man I’ve been looking for. Would you honor me in being my model for St. Francis of Assisi? You see, you have that joy and loving spirit that is needed to make my paintings real.” And that my friends is how my journey with Francis was set in stone. As a footnote: JoJo, his wife Heike and their beautiful twins Francis and Elias (Susan and I are their godparents) are now family. We see each other every year and Skype and phone call at least once a week.
JoJo and I met in Assisi, Italy, when Susan and I went on another of our annual visits. There I placed a tattered monk robe on him and he walked the streets barefoot as I took photos of him being Francis. People were amazed and also took photos of this sweet faced joyous man as he laughed with the children and talked to many of the visitors that day. Seeing the joy in everyone’s hearts was so refreshing.
At first I painted stories on the life of Francis and even had an exhibition the following year in Assisi showcasing these paintings. I was invited back to Italy by delegates from Perugia to exhibit in their town. I also had another showing in Assisi. I decided to begin teaching myself the art of bronze..from the sculpting to the actual pouring it was a journey of love. I had a few bronze ready for that exhibition. At the exhibit in Assisi, my bronze statues caught the eye of the monks from Assisi. I was invited by Padre Vincenzo Coli, top man of the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, to have a month long exhibit of my bronze statues at the Basilica during the month of October which just happens to be the most revered time in Assisi…the feast day of Francis. Needless to say, when I got back home, with the help of my friend Bruce, it was crunch time. We managed to get 16 bronze statues ready for shipment to Rome in time for the exhibition in October, 2004.
Susan Evangelista, Author