Setting the Scene

It’s a familiar scene — Mary, Joseph and the three wise men gathered beneath a rickety roof to adore the newborn Jesus.

Popularized by St. Francis of Assisi in the 14th century, nativities have taken on countless variations as artists throughout the world have offered interpretations of this iconic depiction of the Christmas story.

Through Dec. 28, Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens will feature more than 40 nativities, borrowed from the Marian Library at the University of Dayton, in its exhibitThe Art of the Nativity.

“There is a very social aspect to these nativities,” says the Rev. Johann Roten, curator of the more than 1,500 nativities at the University of Dayton. Here’s a look at a few.
The Mighty Hand
by A.L. Quinones
Medium: Painted wood
What it says: The Mighty Hand depicts the crucified hand of Jesus with figures of Mary’s parents, Mary, Joseph and a young Jesus at each fingertip. “While the nativity is unlike most you see,” says Roten, “Mighty Hand-style works are common in Latin American areas.” The hand also functions as a genealogical tree, beginning with Mary’s parents and ending with Jesus. 
Of Single Mind
by Don Smith
Medium: Raku, a Japanese pottery
What it says: The faceless figures and dark colors in this piece create a somber tone. The figures leaning in to look at baby Jesus wear intricately embellished capes, each with a unique design, bringing the piece to life. “The artist is trying to say that it is up to us to put a face on the figures, to bring our personalities to the piece,” says Roten.
Diverse But One
by Fred F. Evangel
Medium: Polymer
What it says: With both a polar bear and a seal, this Native American-inspired piece has an unusual nativity menagerie, and one figure is dressed in clothing that is worn while performing sacred dances. “Every culture brings great variety but can have a similar message,” says Roten. This piece “represents the uniting of Native American and Christian beliefs.”
Sun, Peppers and Snow
by Jil Gurule
Medium: Painted clay
What it says: This colorful nativity depicts a bustling village with chili peppers and snow covering adobe homes. The Holy Family is in a carriage below, preparing for its flight into Egypt. “The piece combines both Christian and non-Christian cultures,” says Roten. The sun, peppers and snow represent life, spice and hardship: ordinary ingredients of the human condition.

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