The life size nativity set was new in 2009. It is hard work to get these made and boxed up, but it is just amazing to see the nativity displayed in this size. It is totally worth the effort. If you've got the budget and the space (not only display space, but also think about storage space because the box is huge) this is a wonderful display.
The shepherd is the addition for 2014. I've known I was going to be adding another shepherd to my set for several years. After all, the scriptures do say shepherds (plural) were in the field. My plan had been to add an adult shepherd, kneeling in prayer. But then, one of my wonderful customers sent me this photo.
As soon as I saw this picture I knew I needed to add the father and little brother of my first shepherd. I was so excited to add them that I almost did it last year. But I had a lot of people who had been patiently waiting for the wisemen so I really had to get them done first. So, I've had to wait almost two years to complete my Shepherd family. By the time I sat down to work on them this spring, I was just drawing what I'd seen in my head for well over a year.
I love that my shepherds are now a family. I love that this little boy gives us the opportunity to see the miracle of the nativity through a child's eye. I love this earthly display of a fathers love for his child as he kneels to share this moment with him; this moment when our Father gave us all the gift of his Son.
The wisemen were the addition for 2013. I've had a long time to think about the wisemen. By far, I get more requests for them than any other character. But from the beginning I knew that I wanted to add my characters in the order they show up in the Christmas story. So, it's been a long wait. With five years to think about this, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to draw. But, just as happened with the angel, it turns out that my ideas were completely wrong.
Several years ago I decided I wanted it to be clear that the wisemen had just barely arrived. In an attempt to do that, I planned to have one of the wisemen still standing with the camel. He would be hurriedly pulling his gift from the saddlebag, with his back to the manger but so excited to see the baby that he would be glancing over his shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse. His emotion, frustration and excitement of finally being there, so close, but still needing to get his gift and settle his camel before he could go see the child…well, it was all very clear to me. So, that is what I drew. I thought it was perfect. I loved it. Then I started showing it to family and friends and without exception, every single person wanted to know what “that guy was stealing”. It seemed that without the benefit of the back story in my head, he just look like some guy ruffling through the pack on the camel, looking over his shoulder to be sure he wasn't caught. The joke quickly became that Jesus had been meant to receive gold, frankincense, myrrh and silver but "that guy" stole the silver.
Hmm…so, it was time to let go of my preconceived notions and just draw. And again, just as it was with the angel, once I let go of my pre-conceived ideas the design just drew itself. (Well, that's not completely true. I messed with their headdresses for about three weeks.) None of them were what I'd planned on, but they were all what they should have been all along.
What I realized as I drew was that except for the angel, those wisemen were the only ones there who may have truly had a grasp on what was occurring. They knew the signs. They had travelled great distances, probably for years, to be a part of this story. They understood it to be a fulfillment of prophecy; a miracle that would change the world; and I believe, with that understanding came profound humility in the honor of being part of it. I've mentioned here that every time I draw a character for this nativity, the word 'peace' seems central in my mind. But once I let go of my own ideas, and just drew these wisemen, the word that was constantly there was 'humility'.
The shepherd was the addition for 2012. The first thing I needed to do was to learn how to spell shepherd. I sent out a questioner to some of my past customers earlier this year asking them what they would want in a "sheppard". Standing, kneeling, sitting, looking up, looking down, praying, reaching out, etc. A few of them were kind enough to tell me that I was spelling it wrong. After tallying the replies I received, I decided I was going to add two shepherds. One standing, looking down and one kneeling in prayer. This year, I'm adding the standing shepherd and a few extra sheep. (I would guess the kneeling shepherd will be added in 2014. I've got a lot of people waiting for wisemen, so that's just going to have to be next year).
Unlike everything else I've done on this nativity, I will be honest and tell you, he was a real bear. I struggled with him like nothing else I can think of, ever. I worked on him off and on for over 2 months. I couldn't even count how many positions I've had his arms and hands in or how many times I changed how far forward he was leaning or which hand the staff was in or was he standing in profile or straight on. Things just really didn't click until I started to read a little about the history of shepherds. It turns out that in those days, the shepherd was typically young and poor. They were lower working class. Humble. When you think about Christ's life, it makes perfect sense that it would be shepherds that would be invited to the manger that night.
So, I changed my shepherd to a young man, rather than an adult. I took off the head dress that I'd had on him all along and showed his unkempt hair. I took off most of his robes and made the ones he did have, more ragged and worn. And suddenly, my shepherd was a real person to me. A humble, quiet 17 year old, in awe of, but maybe still not quite understanding exactly what he was part of.
I don't know that a shepherd will ever draw the emotion from people that an angel or the Christ child and Mary will, but he was an important part of that night. God gave him the gift of being there. How amazing is that?
I couldn't really tell you where the inspiration came from, but I can tell you that she was absolutely inspired. I've never had a design come so quickly and easily. She was my addition to the set in 2011. When I sat down to draw an angel, I had in mind that I was going to draw a male angel with no wings, blowing a trumpet. I was planning on something like the angel on the top of most Mormon temples. But in less than 2 hours, I had drawn a female angel, with beautiful big wings, leaning slightly forward gesturing to the baby. It is so much softer and peaceful. I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't know she was the angel my nativity needed. But thankfully, my pencil did. She just quite literally, drew herself. It was a wonderful experience and she is the perfect addition to the nativity.
The Christmas Messages were what I felt inspired to do when I was stubbornly determined not to do anything else. They were added in 2010. The previous year I had added the donkey and the life size nativity. Part of me felt like I should add something for the 2010 season, but I was very hung up on "not cluttering" the nativity scene. I just loved the simplicity of it. It was so peaceful and I was worried that adding other characters would hurt that. I wanted my nativity to send a message of peace and joy and not even come close to the commercialism that has unfortunately taken over the season.
(This is a side track but I really struggled that year with the fact that I had turned this holy, wonderful time of the year, into a business. Though I still struggle with that some, it has been my relationship with my customers that has made it all ok. I know that I'm making people happy. This nativity set has brought joy to a lot of people and that makes all this worth it for me. This has become the most wonderful gift I can give at Christmas and I really love doing it.)
Anyway, long story short, I just woke up at about 2:00 one morning and I knew that I was going to add messages. It was unusual. It's not what my customers had been asking for (everyone wanted wisemen). But, it's what felt right to me that year so that's what I did. I do think I'd still like to add other messages, so if there are any other phrases that would mean a lot to you, please let me know. I really like them. Whether they are displayed with your nativity or not, they send the message of the season and I love that.
I added the donkey in 2009. His story is a testiment to how perfectly things work out when they are simply meant to be. In July of 2009, as I was driving to the store one day I started to think about the night Christ was born and what it was probably really like. I started to think about how quiet it must have been there. Earlier that summer we had gone "horse camping" and I remembered laying in the tent, just before falling asleep and the only sound I could hear was the horses roaming around, chewing on the grass. And I realized, that at those quiet moments in the manger they would have still had the noises of the animals. I know some people think the animals would have been aware of the miracle happening near them but I tend to think that they would have simply been living their lives, doing what animals do. And that is so peaceful to me. Peaceful is the word I keep coming back to when I think of the nativity. So at that moment I decided that I needed to add the donkey and he needed to be grazing, out in the field on his own.
So, I started working on a drawing. Just about the time I was done (in fact, I think it was the same day) I got a phone call from David (the guy who manages the people who cut the nativity parts out for me (See, "How we do this")). It was wierd to get a call from him in July. September thru December, I can't go 3 hours without talking to him but January thru August, we typically won't even send one email to each other. "I was thinking about your nativity Carolyn, and you have a little empty space on the sheet we cut the manger from. I think you should add a donkey". Before that moment, I hadn't even thought about fitting my donkey onto the cut sheet. But, he fit. Almost exactly. I think I had to move one of his feet ½" and cut a little of his mane off. But other than that, he almost exactly filled the space I had available.
The only problem was that he only fit on the sheet once so I only got one donkey for every two nativities that were cut out. I was very worried about that because I was sure everyone would want a donkey. But, I decided to sell him separately and just see what happened. And for each of the 3 years he's been available, I've just been amazed that I almost always end up having a donkey ordered with about half the nativities I sell. It doesn't happen evenly. I'll get 8 orders in a row without the donkey, but then I'll get 12 orders with the donkey. By the end of the season, I have always ended up about even. I just love how things work out.
The main inspiration for my Mary & Joseph figures came from the nativity set my mom put out every Christmas since I was a little kid. It sat on the coffee table in the living room (which was where we put our tree). One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season growing up was to turn on Christmas music, turn off all the lights except the ones on the tree and just lie on the couch and watch the tree lights reflect off the gold leaf of my mom's nativity. It was so peaceful. I'd never heard the story of where that nativity came from, but when nativities became such a big part of my life, I asked her and it turns out that she made it herself. I don't remember her doing this but I guess for a while when I was very young, she enjoyed painting plaster figurines. When she saw this nativity in the craft store, she bought it and decided to gold leaf it instead of painting it. Except for my grandfather's hearth clock, I don't think there is anything in my parents' home, higher on my "someday (far, far away) I'd like to inherit that"”" list, than that gold leafed nativity set. It just brings back such wonderful memories for me.
|This is my mom with her nativity set and her grandparents (my great grandparents). I remember straw always being under the nativity, but I guess she didn't do that this year.||This is me and my sister opening gifts by the nativity. Only Joseph is in the picture, but this is the only photo I could find of me with the nativity. I'm the brunette on the right.||This is my niece Sherrie standing in front of the nativity. No, we didn't put the bow there. She sat on it. The baby sleeping on the couch is my nephew Mitchell, who is now 24 years old and was my model for the shepherd.|
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