Meet the directors of the St. Thomas Aquinas chapel renovation

Meet the directors of the St. Thomas Aquinas chapel renovation

Yesterday's Bulletin Today described the upcoming Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas renovation. Here is a closer look at the co-directors of the project.

The chapel renovation marks the second time local artist Alexander Tylevich and liturgical designer Father James Notebaart will team up on a project for the University of St. Thomas. Their first St. Thomas collaboration was the development and design of the St. Thomas More Chapel in the School of Law building on the Minneapolis campus.

The pair won four national awards for their work on this chapel, including Faith and Form Magazine's 2006 Religious Architecture Award for liturgical interior design and its 2006 Religious Art Award for the artistic design of a set of internal bronze doors.

The designers will present the renovation plan at an informational session at 12:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. Students, faculty and staff are invited to attend.

Father James Notebaart
The son of a furniture maker, Father James Notebaart was "always conscious of the fabrication of things." It isn't surprising, then, that he designed and remodeled his first chapel at the Minnesota Training School in Red Wing, Minn., and the construction of the Church of St. Joseph in Red Wing, at 17, years before he had a college degree.

Father James Notebaart
Priest and liturgical designer

In the four decades since, Notebaart has become an ardent advocate of building and remodeling churches. He earned a master's degree in sacramental theology, studied design at the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota, and studied fine arts at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

As a liturgical designer, Notebaart tries to create a forum in which parishioners can worship authentically, a role that he takes seriously. In his work, he says "there is an attempt to go beyond the obvious to a metaphor that's a little deeper, so, as people experience it, they can get more out of it."

Notebaart has served as a consultant on numerous Catholic church building projects and renovations in the last 30 years. A third St. Thomas project for Notebaart in recent years was the Chapel of the Redeemer in Koch Commons.

A priest for 37 years, Notebaart has assumed many roles for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He served for 12 years as its director of worship. In the 1970s, as a consultant to the Bishop's Committee on the Liturgy, he co-developed the guidelines for many aspects of Communion that are still in use today. He also developed and co-edited "Environment and Art in Catholic Worship," a document that chronicles art and architecture in Catholic worship.

In addition to assisting in the building and renovation of archdiocesan churches, Notebaart is the director of Indian Ministry for the archdiocese. He has become fluent in Ojibway in the 17 years he has held the position.

Alexander Tylevich
Like Notebaart, Alexander Tylevich, a native of Belarus, began his vocation as an artist at an early age. He has worked as a sculptor and architect since his youth.

At 10, he began studying sculpture with the famous Russian sculptor Zair Azgur. After seventh grade, Tylevich's career jumped on the fast track when he enrolled in the Minsk Architectural College. At 17, Tylevich had a bachelor's degree in architecture. Deemed an outstanding student by the Soviet government, he was allowed to study architecture further at the Byelorussian Polytechnic Institute in Minsk, where he earned his master's. Minskprojekt, a state-run design collective of architects, engineers and artists, hired him immediately after graduation.

Alexander Tylevich
Artist and sculptor

Artists and architects working for Minskprojekt were given a lot of creative freedom, Tylevich said. He credits the "amazing" collaborative experience he received from this collective for helping him to cultivate his talent.

This architectural background helped him to cooperatively work alongside architects, designing sculptural objects to create spaces that are aesthetically unified. As an architect in Minsk, he designed many public structures, from government buildings to subway stations; moreover, it was not uncommon for Tylevich to create sculptures for buildings of his own design.

Much of Tylevich's education and work involved studying religious architecture. He recalls spending many years traveling through Russia and western Byelorussia researching old churches, which he enjoyed greatly; however, Tylevich had never worked on a sacred art project before immigrating to St. Paul in 1989. Much of his work was, and still is, public art that is "very architectural in nature," he notes. Creating sculptures for faith-based institutions, however, was not a huge leap because he sees public art and religious art in the same way. He describes his philosophy by way of a question: "What can be more public than religious art?"

Since his arrival in the United States, Tylevich has created architectural sculptures for scores of local and national churches using bronze, steel, glass, granite and other materials. His first sacred art project was a statue of St. Thomas Becket for the Catholic Community of St. Thomas Becket in Eagan, Minn., in 1994. This was also the first of a handful of collaborations with Notebaart, which include the St. Stephen's Church in Anoka and the University of Minnesota Medical Center chapel. Among his other sacred-art clients are St. Mary's College, the University of Minnesota and DePaul University.

Tylevich was the 2007 winner of the prestigious Henry Hering Memorial Medal presented by the
National Sculpture Society.

His work has been featured in the journals Architecture Minnesota, Sculpture and Public Art Review.