If you visit Mission Hospital’s St. Joseph Campus circle this holiday season, you’ll see a little bit of history in the form of a life-size Nativity display.
Each year, the Nativity goes on display after Thanksgiving until the first week of January. Though the Nativity is beautiful, it’s more than 25 years old and has lots of pieces. Putting the Nativity together is a big project that takes five people from the Grounds team two days to assemble.
Mike Sitton, a landscaper at Mission Health for over 20 years, has helped put the Nativity scene together for years, and he thinks it’s one of the hospital’s artistic treasures.
2014 “was the first time in six years that the whole Nativity scene has been up,” said Sitton. “We searched and found some of the old pieces that have not been used in years. We cleaned them up a good bit, found new ways to bolt them together and got everything together this year.”
The Nativity was commissioned by the St. Joseph’s Hospital Guild in 1988 as a gift to the hospital. It was created by Tucker Cooke, chairman of UNCA’s Art Department at the time, with the help of 22 art students and faculty members. It took more than six months to complete and used live models, recruited for their classical faces. A model for one of the three kings was found working at a local fast food restaurant. The baby Jesus is based on a local girl, and an art major at UNCA posed for Mary.
A great deal of skill was put into creating each piece. Each figure took more than 200 hours to paint. Cooke and his students dressed the models in heavy satins, silks and brocades, and photographed them. Other props used to help the artists visualize the scene included a fishing basket used as part of a shepherd’s garb and an upturned pot secured with a belt serving as a crown for one of the kings.
Restoration work remains to be done to return the Nativity to its original glory. Over the years, restoration has been done by local artists, but it’s going slow because of the lack of funding. “We’ve done four or five of the main pieces — Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a couple of the animals,” said Sitton. “The angels and the backdrop haven’t been done yet.”
“It truly is a work of art that hopefully can be enjoyed by the patients, staff and other members of our community for many more years to come,” added Sitton.
Special thanks to the Grounds team for their work on the Nativity.