Animals I Saw (Fairly) Recently

Please excuse the unseasonality of this post, but I’ve been busy with other things and haven’t had time to show you this outing my husband and I took right after Christmas.

You may remember that last year, we visited Glencairn at this time of year – it is a museum near my house and the former home of the Pitcairn family (PPG or as it was called, Pittsburgh Plate Glass), who were of the Swedenborgian faith and instrumental in the building of the Bryn Athyn Cathedral next door. I’ve written other posts about this site (listed at the bottom of the page), and here’s a couple of photos of the building:

and here is a statement from their website that explains Glencairn:

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.

Anyway, they have a display of Nativity scenes from all over the world each Christmas, and I like to visit it. I am not religious, but I like Nativity scenes, and this exhibit is wonderful for the artistic and faith expressions in each one. Each one has a personality given to it by its maker’s skills and the culture from which the artist comes. Invariably they are meaningful and convey feeling and emotion, no matter what your religious outlook is, I think. I find them so, anyway.

All right. We arrived at the museum and got looking.

The scenes are set up in these main rooms. Remember, this was a family home; pictures of the Pitcairns enjoying Christmas are also on display.

I’ve shown photos of various Nativities in the past posts I’ve done. For some reason, this visit, I was interested in the animals in the scenes. There are the traditional cows, sheep, donkeys, and camels; I also saw llamas, bullocks, and goats. I love how various societies adapt the visual illustration of the Bible story into what is familiar to them.

Here are some animals I noticed. Please excuse the photos’ quality – the light is low in the display rooms.

Here is a fluffy sheep – from Russia, I think.

Glencairn 12-19 (7)

These animals were from the very large elaborate scene in the first photo of the display rooms.

Camels from two different scenes. I love camels. These made me smile.

All the animals in this scene had the little heart-shaped spot on their foreheads.

Glencairn 12-19 (11)

 

Sheep carved from wood with burned details, along with their scene. I loved their little eyelashes.

More sheep…

and a sheep and a donkey. I like the donkey’s expression.

Glencairn 12-19 (15)

I spent a lot of time examining these scenes. In each one, the figures (including the animals) all have expressions and postures that give clues to what they might be thinking or feeling. I imagine the scene as the Bible story tells it, filling in the details of noise and smells and excitement and voices speaking and a baby crying. The animals, meanwhile, take it in their stride, doing the things they usually do, oblivious to the event – just being themselves. I enjoyed thinking about it from their perspective.

And I also marveled at the artists’ ability to capture the essence of the animals, whether the figure was done very realistically or not.

I look forward to seeing the scenes again next year. There are always new ones on display and some old favorites.


Here are other posts I have written on the general topic of Glencairn and its surroundings:

In 2018

Bryn Athyn Cathedral

 

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.

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Categories