Meet the Artist Behind Area Church Murals

St. Catharine of Siena Cathedral in Allentown, Holy Ghost in Bethlehem, Our Lady of Mercy in Easton, St. Joseph in Jim Thorpe—if you’ve visited one of these churches, you’ve seen the art of Dana Van Horn.

When Bishop McShea sought an artist to adorn the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena with scenes from the life of its patron saint, he reached out to Jack Beale, the acclaimed social realist painter who had just completed a series of murals at the headquarters of the United States Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.

Beale, who wanted a break from mural work, declined, recommending the young apprentice who had helped him with “History of Labor in America,” Dana Van Horn.

Armed with a portfolio of sketches, Van Horn arrived in Allentown from Beale’s studio in Oneonta, New York, and was awarded the commission. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with the Diocese, one that would lead him to set up his own studio in the Lehigh Valley.

“Discipline is the key word,” said Van Horn of his painting ethic. “Once you’re out of art school, no one cares what you do. You have to be self-motivated.”

Van Horn cited American painters Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and George Bellows as influences along with the Italian master, Caravaggio; but these days he is unconcerned about where he fits into the history of painting.

“Not every painter is revolutionary, like a Caravaggio or a Cezanne. Everyone else just does their thing and makes a contribution. That is enough,” he said.

Van Horn has shared his hard-earned insights with generations of students at Muhlenberg College, Moravian University, and the Baum School of Art, where he teaches painting today.

“I always tell people, desire is way more important than talent. I’ve known art students who were more gifted than I was, and then they just ended up quitting because they didn’t have anything to say or they didn’t have enough of a passion for it.”

Image: Artist Dana Van Horn in his Allentown studio.

Van Horn’s own artistic desires have led him to pursue projects in a variety of styles and media, most recently an array of larger-than-life, iridescent insect sculptures and a series of oddly tender watercolor portraits based on police mugshots.

When painting for the Church, Van Horn sees himself as a workman taking part in a greater dialogue.

“I like the idea of the painting changing with other people’s input. I’m the one who makes the change, but it’s something I never would have thought of, and it makes the painting better because of that,” he said.

Van Horn’s most recent diocesan commission consisted of two murals in St. Anne’s Church, Bethlehem, one of Sts. Anne and Joachim and the other of St. Anne and the Blessed Virgin. They were unveiled with the blessing of Bishop Schlert in 2017.

Stephen Buell, a lector at St. Anne’s, served as the model for St. Joachim. His daughter, Gabrielle, lent her image to the Blessed Virgin.

“I loved being part of the process,” recalled Father Anthony Mongiello, Pastor of St. Anne’s. “I would go out to his studio every couple weeks. He was very interested in my comments.” A cat belonging to Fr. Mongiello can be seen peering out from under the table in the mural of Sts. Anne and Joachim beside another feline belonging to a donor.

In contrast to many contemporary artists, Van Horn is reticent about the meaning of his work, preferring to leave the interpretation to the viewer.

“Art is visual communication,” he insisted. “There is nothing hidden; it’s all right there. When you look at Michelangelo’s Pieta, you don’t need someone to tell you what it means. It’s obvious.”

Above: Saint Catharine of Siena before Pope Gregory XI (detail,) Cathedral of Saint Catharine of Siena, Allentown.

Above: St. Anne and the Blessed Virgin Mary (left) and Sts. Anne and Joachim (right,) St. Anne Church, Bethlehem.

Above: Christ at Emmaus, St. Joseph's Church, Jim Thorpe (left;) The Crucifixion, Our Lady of Mercy, Easton (right.)

To view more of the artist’s work, visit or


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