Marian University unveils sculpted brick nativity scene
On March 25, 2015 Marian University unveiled the final touch to its Alumni Hall: a 16-foot nativity scene made completely from brick and installed by F.A. Wilhelm Construction.
The impressive display adorns the outside of the building and was sculpted by artist Jay Tschetter, president of Images in Brick in Denton, Nebraska. He was commissioned by the university to create this piece after he created the St. Francis and the Leper mural for the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences. Since Wilhelm Construction constructed Alumni Hall, the University sought Wilhelm’s masons out for installation of the artwork.
Wilhelm provided two masons and a hod carrier to help install the display. Mike Berrisford, Wilhelm Construction’s masonry general superintendent, said the process was tedious.
“We really didn’t know what we were getting into,” said Berrisford, “But it was very impressive. Tschetter was here while we installed it and worked right along with us.”
Tschetter originally stacked brick sizes pieces of clay then carved the sculpture in its entirety, drilling holes in each piece so they were as much like brick as possible. He then sent the bricks to Yankee Hill, a brick manufacturer, to have them fired. Once the pieces were sent back to him, Tschetter reconstructed the display to make sure colors were right and everything fit. He etched each piece with a number and a letter corresponding to how they fit together (such as 1A, 1B, etc.), packaged the pieces in sequential and numbered crates, and shipped the bricks to Marian University. Tschetter then departed to help Wilhelm’s masons install the artwork.
“We unloaded the brick, built the scaffold and prepared for him,” Berrisford said. “We had already installed a cast stone frame, so when Jay arrived, he worked right along with us, laying the brick, piece by piece. It’s something those guys will remember forever.”
Each piece had to be quickly and precisely laid, both to account for the quickly drying mortar and the contour levels of the scene’s surface. The Nativity includes 768 bricks, all different and fitting together like a giant puzzle.
Mike Shaw, Wilhelm Construction’s superintendent for Alumni Hall, remembers first hearing about the project when he looked at a rendering of the display.
“It’s really amazing.” Shaw said. “It looks exactly like the rendering. It was quite a process.”
Shaw recognized how special it is that a construction company had the chance to use their skills to construct such a beautiful display.
“The University is overwhelmed by how it turned out,” Shaw said. “They couldn’t believe it was a masonry product. It’s one of a kind. These opportunities don’t come along very often. We as Wilhelm are very proud to be part of it.”