Monday December 5, 2016

New Nativity Mingles Art, Faith, Science, Symbolism

By Maureen Schlangen

In a new Nativity scene inside the main entrance of the 1700 South Patterson Building on the University of Dayton’s River Campus, a Dayton-area teacher and a UD Research Institute IT systems administrator blend faith, art, science and symbolism.

The “Tensegrity Nativity,” which the artists say was inspired by the Holy Spirit, features at its center the Holy Family, sculpted of cement around a constructed frame by Huber Heights elementary school teacher Andrew Brownfield ’96. Around it is an assembly of five 12-foot struts, all supported without touching in a network of knotted cords using a concept known as “tensegrity,” popularized in the 1950s by artist Kenneth Snelson and architect-inventor Buckminster Fuller.

Dan Hart of Centerville, who has worked at UDRI since 2014, designed the tensegrity component to represent the five pillars of the Marianist charism — faith, Mary, community, inclusivity and mission — all mutually supportive of one another just like the components of the structure.

The Nativity, Hart said, was a way to give thanks for a workplace where people are free to express their faith.

“My first day at UDRI was Dec. 1, 2014,” he said. “I walked in the front door, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s pretty neat. They have a Nativity scene.’ Then I walked into the next office, and there was another one, even more beautiful than the first.”

The Nativity scenes he saw that day were part of the Marian Library’s annual At the Manger exhibit, which features different selections each year from its collection of more than 3,500 crèches. Hart and Marian Library curatorial assistant Michele Devitt, who helps coordinate At the Manger, started sharing ideas, and soon Hart brought Brownfield, a longtime friend, into the project.

“Andrew's beautiful sculpture of the Holy Family can stand alone,” Hart said. “The pillars are actually cardboard tubes used for shipping carpet like you see on those big rolls at Home Depot. … They were the longest thing I could find that were light enough.”

The parachute cord connecting the tubes provides the tension and compression necessary for the structure to stand, he said.

Visitors can view “Tensegrity Nativity” through Dec. 29 during the 1700 South Patterson Building’s public hours, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (excluding Dec. 8 and Dec. 23-26).

At the Manger is open at University of Dayton's Roesch Library 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Jan. 8 (closed Dec. 8, Dec. 23-26, Dec. 30-31, and Jan. 1-2). For information, see go.udayton.edu/manger.

—Maureen Schlangen, e-scholarship and communications manager

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