Aubrey Fontenot, Jr., of Mamou (right) holds a camel that is part of the Nativity scene that he donated to Oak Lane Wellness and Rehabilitation Center in Eunice. The camel along with the other figurine pieces are handmade out of ceramics, and the wooden barn is also handmade. Fontenot is pictured here inside the center with its administrator Rhett Wimberly (left). (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)

Ceramics for the Carpenter

Aubrey Fontenot, Jr., of Mamou donates a handmade Nativity scene

Christmas lights of red and green are strung around businesses and homes this time of year to decorate for the season. Other popular decorations are figurines of Santa Claus, snowmen, and reindeer. Christians add to their decorations a Nativity scene in their homes or on their yards that represent the birth of the carpenter’s son in Nazareth. One Mamou native built such a scene that was entirely made by hand including the ceramic figurines.
Aubrey Fontenot, Jr., built such a Nativity scene by hand in 1981. He said, “that was made by little bits whenever I had the time. It took me quite a while.”
He explained how the idea to make the scene came about. “I liked making the little figurines more than anything, so I started off with them,” Fontenot said. “I decided I can’t make just that and that I needed a building for it, so I built the little barn too.”
“Everything is handmade,” he continued. “The little statues themselves are carved out of ceramics. I carved them out of hard clay, and I had them baked. Then it turned into hard pieces, and from there I painted them.”
According to Fontenot, the most difficult pieces to make were the people. As he explained, it was “because of the faces.” He added, “The camels are big, but not really hard to make. You can’t mess up a camel, but you can mess up a person’s face.”
Fontenot went on to say about the Nativity scene, “I enjoyed making it, and I don’t know what it means to me. I just enjoyed making it. I’m not religious that much. I was more interested in the art of making it.”
“He says he’s not religious, but the whole meaning was for the birth of Christ,” said Fontenot’s sister Maxie Smith. “He and his wife were raised Catholic, and he still is.”
“The artistic part of it is always what means the most to us,” she continued. “He did all that by himself with no pictures or anything. It’s always in his head.”
The hands of time are now taking their toll on the 75-year-old Fontenot as he resides in the Oak Lane Wellness and Rehabilitation Center in Eunice. After moving to the center earlier this year, he had his Nativity scene donated so that “other residents could enjoy the handcrafted Christmas scene throughout the holiday season and many more to come.”
According to his brother-in-law Tim Smith, “We’re just real proud of him, and are glad we had a chance to display the Nativity scene.” He added, “The nursing home is going to store it, and they’ll bring it back out when the holidays come around. It’s a piece of art that was in our attic. We wanted to bring it out to show people.”
Fontenot’s creative ability has been in his head from a young age. “As a kid, I started making little plastic models, and it grew from there,” he said. “I started making Clipper Ships, and I liked to rig them and just put the little pulleys and the strings. Then I made little Cajun houses. It’s just a hobby. I don’t make them to sell.”
Tim said that a couple of Fontenot’s works are on display. “He has one of the ships on display at Feucht’s Constrution in Eunice, and he has a big Cajun house that our state representative here, Phillip Devillier, has talked to the lieutenant governor about putting it in the state museum,” Tim said. “We’re working on that. Representative Devillier hasn’t heard anything from the lieutenant governor yet, but I’m hoping he can do it.”
Inspiration for Fontenot’s work can come from the unlikeliest of places. Maxie said, “He’ll pick up anything on the side of the road and come back home and make it into something beautiful.”
Fontenot added, “I’ll pick up stuff if I see something on the side of the road, but there’s not much anymore. I have a hard time picking up things on the side of the road because they don’t let me drive anymore.”
He also explained that making the Nativity scene and his other woodwork is special to him, but there is a catch. “I can’t make anything anymore,” Fontenot said. “When I get out of here, I’m going to get me a saw and start making some more.”
“I hope so,” concluded Fontenot’s sister Maxie.

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