The Catholic Commentator 

The joy-filled, heartwarming eyes of the Christ child and serene, tender gaze of the Blessed Mother beckon you to accept the gift of the scapular and Mary’s maternal protection they offer in the painting “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel” by Blair Gordy Piras, say those who have viewed the divine portrait. The painting was unveiled Dec. 17 at Piras’ home church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in St. Francisville, which has played an important part in the artist’s life. 

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Father Cary Bani blesses the “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” painting by Blair Gordy Piras, as Piras prayerfully looks on, following the unveiling of the painting. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

Piras included familiar images to the parishioners at OLOMC. The chair in which the Christ child sits in the Blessed Virgin’s lap is based on the church’s celebrant’s chair. The painting also includes the diamond motif taken from OLOMC’s stained glass windows. 

Piras also included references to the Carmelite Order, to whom Mary gave the scapular and through whom devotion to the scapular grew. She referred to the historical origin of the scapular by including the shield of the Carmelite order. 

“It is in the background that these two elements, the history and the local parish, come together,” Piras said. 

Additionally, Piras incorporated the iris and the fleur de lis, which are symbols of Mary. 

“These three elements tell a little bit of the origin of the scapular and our church’s perpetuation of devotion to the scapular,” said Piras. 

Her journey as an artist and faith-filled person began when she was a child. Born and raised in St. Francisville, Piras said she “grew up deeply rooted in nature and gained a love and appreciation for natural beauty at an early age.”

She said she always hungered to understand deep truths about reality, was fascinated by colorful illustrations of storybooks and to the fantastic realism genre in general. 

She attended St. Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio and immersed herself in studying the humanities and Catholic culture. 

“I think with my college experience at Steubenville, which is a strong Catholic school, as my faith grew, so did my desire to use my artistic skills for God grew,” said Piras. “I wanted to grow in my skill level so I could glorify him on a greater level.” 

A professor at Steubenville told Piras about the Sacred Art School Firenze in Florence, Italy, whose mission is inspired by Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. 

“I thought about it for two years. I didn’t know if it was going to work out, but I was drawn to the school,” said Piras. “I was also drawn to Florence, a city which has a well spring of beautiful sacred art. A lot of great artists lived and worked there. My own tastes grew as I was able to experience the art all around the city, in the churches and museums and in being out and about. 

“The school definitely challenged me to grow as an artist and it took a lot of devotion and hard work. I worked seven to eight-and-a-half hours (daily), drawing or painting in natural light.” 

Piras added, “Really, training as an artist is training your eye to see better, and learning the techniques to portray well what you see.” 

While developing her technical skills, Piras was taking courses in theology and philosophy to help her understand the liturgical role of sacred arts, its place in the church and its purpose in general. 

“I think I grew in my formation as a person and a sacred artist while I was there,” said Piras. 

While in Florence, Father Cary Bani, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, met with Piras and her husband, and discussed the possibility of her doing a painting for her home parish when she returned to the United States. 

“I started thinking about what I wanted to portray and how I would portray it,” said Piras. 

After further discussions, it was decided that Piras would do a painting of the Blessed Mother under the title Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the child Jesus presenting a scapular to any of the faithful of the devotion. 

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The “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” painting by Blair Gordy Piras invites the viewer to accept the scapular and the Blessed Mother’s maternal protection. Photo provided by Blair Gordy Piras

 

For the design elements, Piras started looking at different images of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and the Mt. Carmel church itself. 

“I know the parish well and I wanted to do something that would be useful in prayer,” said Piras. “I was thinking of the space where it was going to go. I thought about the size of the painting and the content. I also thought it would be nice to go in a place of prayer. I know this corner well (where the church’s votive offering candles are located), where people can light a candle and offer their prayers.” 

She is currently an artist in residency at Steubenville, where she teaches and keeps an active art studio. 

Wanting to keep the focus on the message of the painting, which has her signature on the back, rather than herself, Piras humbly said she is happy to give a gift to the parish that has been such a gift to her.  

“I hope that, especially having grown up here as a child and benefitting from the sacred art here, it’s another aid to prayer and for people to grow in devotion to the Blessed Mother and the scapular,” said Piras. “I hope it sparks a desire for people to learn about this devotion, perhaps starting it in their life. I hope it can be a good place to come and ask for Our Lady’s intercession.” 

The members of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel expressed their delight with the painting. 

“It’s great for a young American artist to paint like an old master,” said David Norwood. 

He noted, “The eyes of the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary are straight on you, which is a nice touch.” 

There is a reverence and “completeness” in which the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary are presented, according to Norwood. He said to him, the Blessed Mother looks like “someone from the other side of the world” or what Mary most likely looked like and the Christ child looks like “someone you would know” and “everyone’s child.” 

“He (the Christ Child) looks like ‘I’m happy to sit on my momma’s lap and I’m happy to be here,’ ” said Norwood. 

He concluded, “It’s a good modern version of a 2,000-year-old subject.” 

Willia Parkerson said, “I was so eager to see the unveiling of Blair’s painting. A few months ago I came across her work on social media and was absolutely struck with awe. I truly think Blair is working through the eyes of God. It gives me goosebumps to see a young girl who was raised on Catholic Hill in St. Francisville share her talents and beauty with others throughout the world. 

“Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is fortunate to own one of her masterpieces and it’s an honor and privilege to add this to our quaint, but beautiful church. It is breathtaking, but to say I know the artist makes the piece priceless to me and our parishioners.”