Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here
Interpreting Christmas around the world
No matter what your religious beliefs, you will be impressed by the Nativity scenes in “Follow the Star” at the Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn.
And, you will be inspired by the faith of the creche builders.
The setting alone is breathtaking. Nativity scenes from around the world are arrayed under the vaulted ceilings and arches in the 90-room, castle-like home that was built for Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn in the 1920s.
The Pitcairns commissioned a large, three-part Nativity made by craftsmen from Raymond Pitcairn’s Bryn Athyn Studios and it was displayed annually in their home. The museum has continued the tradition and the Pitcairn Nativity is always part of its annual exhibition.
Today, the museum has a vast collection of Nativities dating from medieval times through the 20th century, which it displays each year at Christmas. The exhibition changes every year.
This year the display includes 16 sets on loan from Mepkin Abbey in Monks Corner, S.C., a community of Roman Catholic Trappist monks. Forty sets belonging to Glencairn are part of Mepkin’s annual Creche Festival in exchange for the abby’s Nativities at Glencairn.
Glencairn curator Ed Gyllenhaal and his wife, Kirsten, curated the exhibition. “We started out with the idea that there shouldn’t be any settings for the Nativities, that we should let the sets speak for themselves,” Kirsten Gyllenhaal said. “It quickly became clear that the figures were dwarfed by the monumental architecture and artworks in Glencairn.”
Bryn Athyn artisan Kathleen Glenn Pitcairn created the artistic settings for the Nativities.
“The Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem is an awe-inspiring event for Christians,” Ed Gyllenhaal said. “But, of course, the birth of every baby is a miraculous event that has meaning in all countries and all religions. I think a Nativity scene is something everyone can get excited about.”
Nativity sets in “Follow the Star” come from 15 countries including Bethlehem in the West Bank, Ecuador, France, Germany, Haiti, India, Russia, Singapore and the United States.
One of the Mepkin Nativities is a hammered copper scene by Mary Eldridge of Vermont. “I’ve tried to create an experience of joy and wonder and awe at the birth of God as man, the dawn of our salvation, in the gestures of the various figures of the creche,” she said.Some of the Nativities are sleek or grand; some are built imaginatively of materials at hand – native materials like birch bark, woven grass and recycled newspaper. A set from Laos places the Nativity in a replica Hmong home with the baby in a straw basket suspended from rafters.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is an elaborate scene of an Italian village, a presepio made by Karen Loccisano and R. Michael Palan of Hartsdale, N.Y. They found their inspiration at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, with its Angel Tree and the Neopolitan figures around its base. The husband-wife artists wanted to do a large-scale project together. Loccisano made the figures to go into Palan’s structure.
“Presepio means crib in Italian. It connects God with the common man by including the Holy Family and an entire 18th century village of everyday people,” Palan said. “The more we learned, the more excited we became about creating our own version. We have been working on the project for two years.”
Bryn Athyn, he said, “has always been a place we would go for walks to enjoy its beauty. We picked up one of Glencairn’s World Nativities brochures a few years ago at Christmas. When Karen and I started thinking of where we might display our Nativity, Glencairn was the first place that came to mind.”
The fifth annual “Follow the Star: World Nativities” exhibition runs through Jan. 5 at Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn.
The exhibition is open to the public noon to 4:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 24 and 25, at the museum, 1001 Cathedral Road. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
“Christmas in the Castle” Guided Tours take place Monday through Friday 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. through Jan. 5, 2014, except Dec. 24 and 25. The 45-minute tours explore works of art in the Glencairn Museum collection.
Reservations are strongly recommended and admission is charged; call 267-502-2993.
The museum’s Epiphany Celebration is noon to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 5. It is the date traditionally celebrated as the day the Wise Men visited the Holy Family. The celebration includes the “Christmas in the Castle” tour, live holiday music, family activity, refreshments and trips to Glencairn’s tower. Admission to the first floor is free. There is a charge for guided tours.
Information about the museum is available at the Glencairn Museum web site.
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