Nativity Crèche Display

By Brother Joel Sweet and Brother Phillip MacNeill
The Community of Jesus, Orleans

Brother Joel Sweet and Brother Phillip MacNeill came up with the idea for the crèche, for their community.

Rare display

Life-cast crèches are rare, and the entire project was a learning process for everyone involved. It quickly became clear that they would need more help, so the brothers and other volunteers from the religious community all joined in. There was a niche for everyone, both the artistic and non-artistic, be it welding, sculpting, painting or draping fabric. There was also some help from beyond the church.

“We had a hand from above help us in acquiring the materials,” Sweet said.

More than $2,000 of alginate, a seaweed-based molding compound, was donated to the church. The most interesting donor was a store called Dapper Cadaver, a Los Angeles prop company that gave the community glass eyeballs.

The 10 figures created so far each took 150 hours to make and were made in a workshop in Brewster owned by the church. They started out as a steel stick figure. Then, sculptors placed Styrofoam over the armatures and carved it to resemble the human form, which was then covered with a layer of a hard, resinous material.

The feet, hands and face were all life-cast — three-dimensional replicas made in a precise process.

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Kate Shannon, publicist for the church, said, “We used the mold of their face shape as a starting point and added characteristics to it.”

“We could have never sculpted expressions like this,” Sweet said.

Once assembled, the figures were airbrushed with three layers of paint, then were given the eyeballs and dressed in clothes made out of burlap, dipped in resin and shaped . The finished results are realistic lifesize figures, so accurate that the contours of muscles beneath the skin, wrinkles and veins are visible.

“Shepherds were the easiest thing for us to learn how to cast and get our ‘sea-legs,’ so to speak; next year we hope to have baby Jesus cast, along with the Magi, and eventually more animals,” Sweet said.

“Once it was set up, people were really impressed and happy seeing the end result of all their hard work,” he said. “There’s so much more we can do. The sky is the limit.”

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