Nativity Scenes

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:

Nativity 12-9 #66

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:

Nativity 12-9 #22

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.

Nativity 12-9 #1010

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.


About Claudia McGill

A person who does art and writes poetry. That's me!

9 responses to “Nativity Scenes

  1. What a wonderful exhibition. It is great to see the variations on a familiar theme. I am sure you had a great day out there. Your post also reminds me that I still have not been to Glencairn Museum.

    • Thank you. I really enjoy this exhibit and we spent a lot of time there, because there are so many details. It may be related to my love of dollhouses and miniature worlds, as well, as to why I like seeing these so much.

  2. nannus

    Season’s greetings 🙂

  3. Diane

    Believe It or Not Claudia, I have never been to this Museum though I have known about the cathedral for years. It was one of those places I would always say “oh I’ll get to it.” Well look where procrastination got me! Esther loves nativities as well so maybe this will be a trip we take over the next holidays.

  4. Yep, I’ve been there! Only once, which is surprising because I live only 10 minutes away and I am married to a Bryn Athyn person!! They do have lots of lovely exhibits and I really enjoyed it with my homeschooling kids….must go back another Christmas, thanks for reminding me, Claudia!

  5. Pingback: Animals I Saw (Fairly) Recently | Sometimes You Get So Confused

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