Sylvette Chanel works on one of her wax baby Jesus figurines Dec. 17 at the Maison Saint-Gabriel Museum in Montreal. "Every child Jesus needs a good day's work," she said. CNS photo/Francois Gloutnay, Presence

Montreal sculptor keeps ancient craft of making wax figures of infant Jesus

By  Francois Gloutnay, Catholic News Service
  • December 20, 2017

MONTREAL – For sculptor Sylvette Chanel, Advent is the busiest time of the year. She is among the few people left who keeps alive the ancient New France craft of making and repairing wax Jesus figures for Nativity scenes.

This art was brought to Canada by the first female religious congregations more than three centuries ago, Chanel explained Dec. 17 at a conference at Maison Saint-Gabriel, a Montreal museum. The nuns practiced it, preserved it and passed it on to some of their members. But with the decline of these congregations, Chanel, 77, is doing her part to preserve it.

She learned the basics of this tradition from Misericordia Sister Sylvia Rondeau, who died in 2013 at the age of 92. In the mid-1980s, for three years, Chanel regularly went to the Misericordia motherhouse in Montreal to watch Sister Rondeau work.

Chanel said she has created hundreds of baby Jesus figurines over the years.

"Every child Jesus needs a good day's work," she said.

On her desk were a variety of wax baby Jesus figures, just like the ones so many parishes and families own.

"Some parents still ask me today to prepare a wax Jesus for each of their children, using a lock of their (children's) own hair when they were very young." Specialists also order figurines.

Chanel starts by preparing and melting beeswax and pours it into a mold. When it solidifies, she unmolds the figurine, gently removes the excess wax, dresses it, prepares its hair, places his halo, and paints its eyes. Her primary tool is the little knife Sister Rondeau gave her.


Montreal Jesus wax figure sculptorMontreal Jesus wax figure sculptor 03

The artist likes to give a smile to the figurines she molds, to give Jesus a serene look.

"I am convinced that he was not born sad," she said.

Every year, in November and December, people ask her to repair a wax Jesus that fell or was improperly stored.

"Some come to me all broken. I am the 911 of wax Jesuses!" she added. "I work miracles, it seems," especially since some figurines were made many years ago.

"Time and light affect the color," she explained. But after Chanel's touch, they're back in the crib, with a serene smile.

- - - 

Gloutnay is a reporter for Presence info, based in Montreal.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.