A “Stage Set” Created To Inspire..And Built To Withstand The New England Weather


One of the first figures to be completed: Amos The Shepherd. Meticulous attention to detail produced this superb rendition of biblical figures.

The Community of Jesus is an ecumenical Christian community in the Benedictine monastic tradition.  Part of its mission is to inspire both residents and visitors, and that is often accomplished through the creative arts.

Monasteries have always been hosts to the making of art. The life of the monastery cultivates a climate of rich creativity, giving color and form to the faith of the members and nurturing all manner of sacred art.

But there are some practical, down-to-earth considerations when creating art.  Take, for example, the nativity scene created at the Community of Jesus.  The figures and animals needed to be both realistic and inspirational … but they also had to be even more durable than an outdoor stage set.  Here’s what Br. Philip MacNeil, CJ, said about this remarkable project:

“Our new nativity scene figures need to be able to withstand a couple months of heavy winter weather here on Cape Cod, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean.

So that we could both build a strong figure AND be able to move it relatively easily, we decided to create the figures out of Styrofoam, using a steel frame as an armature.”

“Once the Styrofoam was attached to the steel and then carved into human shapes, we needed to coat it with Rosco Foamcoat to create a strong, durable surface over which we could add the clothing (draped in fabric hardener) and attach the head, hands, and feet, also made of a weather-durable material.”

Br. Philip MacNeil applied Rosco’s Foamcoat to the human figures to “create a strong durable surface.”

“To further protect the figures from weather damage, we coated everything with Spar Varnish (marine grade). This not only repels water, but adds a UV protection from the sun for the years we plan to exhibit these figures.

We also used the Foamcoat to add texture to our flock of Styrofoam sheep. By adding ‘crumbles’ of Styrofoam to the Foamcoat, we get a hard, durable ‘woolen’ look to our sheep.”

Every crèche should probably include sheep. In this case, as in many stage sets,the animal received the same Foamcoat treatment for durability as the human figures.

“Foamcoat is a great product and has been a huge asset to our ongoing creation of these figures that will eventually be a 25-figure, life-size nativity scene for the inspiration of the hundreds of visitors who come during Advent and Christmas to visit our monastery.”

The Community of Jesus life size nativity scene, while not completed yet, can be seen at  The Community of Jesus, 5 Bay View Drive, Orleans, MA.

The Brothers’ creche even got a write up in last weekend’s Cape Cod Times , where they have more photos of the individual nativity scene figurines in their photo gallery.


Jenny Knott

About Jenny Knott

Scenic Paint & Coating Product Manager: A graduate from the University of Missouri, Kansas City with an MFA in Design and Technology, Jenny has been a freelance scenic artist for over 30 years – working for regional theatres including Missouri Rep (now KC Rep), Arena Stage, the Guthrie and Goodspeed Opera House as well as union scene shops. Jenny is a member of United Scenic Artists 829 as well as a past member of USITT’s Board of Directors. Jenny continues to paint, which keeps her current with emerging scenic artists and helps her discover new ways of approaching paint challenges. “Bring on the goop and let’s get creative.”