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Friday, December 28, 2012

Nativity Sets and St. Francis

When I was in grade school, my parents used to drive me past the Fist Baptist Church on Xmas Even to view the Live Nativity, which intrigued me. My grandma and mom favored elaborate home sets, with statutes made in Italy and Japan. My Uncle George gave me some of his, and it was a start of a very large collection within a collection, creche figures, Holiday figures, angels, and over 40 Nativity sets. Mine come from Africa, of banana leaf, India, England, of cornhusk, Poland, of clay, Germany and Italy, 18th C. creche dolls, wood and clay, some gesso, Mexico, China, Japan, contemporary, handmade, Hong Kong, mechanical, bisque, jewelry figures, wax, Peru, Germany, etc.
The Nativity story was featured on NPR last week, and St. Francis of Assisi is credited with making the live tableau famous, though the announcer stated that sets date to the 4th c, and here I have a question, BC? If the Nativities celebrate Christs's birth, how could they be BC, or Before Christ? Oh well, I know what he meant. Precipio figures became popular by the 16th c, and contemorary doll making techniques were often used, witness the cage dolls and mannikins of the era which sometimes appear as angels. Churches and weatlhy private citizens alike competed for the most elaborate displays, and my Hispanic students tell me the trend continues in Spanish speaking countries today. Helen Young, Mary Hillier, and Janet Pager Johl show photos of religious dolls and creche dolls in their books, as do Laura Starr and Max von Boehn. They are easy to collexct this time of year, especially at Xmas sales. My favorites are still my core set, those my mom picked out for me at Woolworth's. I recently had the privilege of touring the former home of one of the Woolworth family, and I couldn't help but look for the Creche set, also called Putz, Precipio, and Santon figures in other countries. An artist friend of mine created a penguin nativity, for which she took lots of flack, but I have a baby pig from a pig nativity as well, so it's not a novel idea or that controversial, really. The most controversial artwork associated with the Nativity seems to be the painting of the Madonna and child covered with elephant dung, which caused a ruckus at a Brooklyn museum over tweny years ago, but I have a paper Santa from africa made of paper created from elephant dung, so who am I to judge? I respect my figures for many reasons, and cherish them. Here are some photos of nativity sets to enjoy, and go to the Metropolitan Museum site to see their magnificent Baroque angels. Happy 2013; May we have peace.

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