Yes, I know it’s a little late for Christmas, this post. Let’s think of it as early for next year, how about it?
All right. Now I’ll explain. About fifteen minutes from home (and very near the Pennypack Trail, to orient you) is a museum called Glencairn.
The building and the museum’s mission are described in this paragraph from their website:
Glencairn, built between 1928 and 1939 in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, was once the home of Raymond and Mildred (Glenn) Pitcairn and their children. The building now serves as a museum of religious art and history. Glencairn Museum invites a diverse audience to engage with religious beliefs and practices, past and present, by exploring art, artifacts, and other cultural expressions of faith. By appealing to our common human endeavor to find meaning and purpose in our lives, we hope to foster empathy and build understanding among people of all beliefs, leading to positive social change through tolerance, compassion, and kindness.
The Pitcairns who lived here (yes, I repeat, this was their home) were wealthy (Pittsburgh Plate Glass aka PPG) and devoted to the Swedenborgian faith. They were instrumental in the construction of the Bryn Athyn cathedral, right next door. Look here for a post I’ve done on the cathedral, or search this blog under the term Bryn Athyn for more posts/info.
So it is fitting that their home is now a museum of this kind. And why am I telling you all of this information? Because they have an annual exhibit that I greatly enjoy and that I visited on December 9 with my husband – Nativity scenes. Many of them!
As background, I do not go to church now, but the Christmas holiday was important to me in my childhood for all sorts of reasons – family togetherness, the beauty of the tree, holiday lights, carol singing with friends, the excitement of getting gifts, and, as I got older, seeing the satisfaction of those I gave gifts to.
So for me, this exhibit is not about the religious aspects of the holiday but the revisiting of good memories in a childhood that was not always easy – and also, to reflect on and participate in the themes the museum’s mission statement mentions: tolerance, compassion, and kindness.
As an artist, I also marvel at the patience, faith, and craftsmanship of the people who make these nativity scenes.
All right, let’s get to the visit. We entered the castle (as I think of it):
As you can see, the scenes are arranged around the rooms, which are dimly lighted to protect the works (and flash photos forbidden, so please forgive my photography). The Nativities come from all around the world and reflect local customs. I photographed only a few, but I could show you scene after scene.
You can see that some of them were huge, with many figures:
I especially liked the guy with the Mozart hair.
Some were small, only a few figures:
I really enjoyed the glimpses of everyday life in how the figures were depicted and dressed, what other elements were included, and how the Biblical scene was reinterpreted in light of the social customs of the area the maker came from. This set is from Nigeria:
This scene is from South America:
This wise man is from Poland. The whole set of figures had the same jolly plump look. And to me, it looked like this figure was bringing a casserole. Which I thought was a very practical idea and immediately useful to a family with a new baby.
This is the second time I’ve gone to this exhibit, and much of it was new to me. The museum has a large collection and rotates the offerings. I will make it a point to visit next year. I’m grateful for the time we spent here.