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  • Writer's pictureNeil Allen

A New Hope

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

Hope Wright, Springfield IL

Creche Collector

Although I still have the mini plastic scene received from my second grade Sunday School teacher (I’m now retired, so let’s just say it’s vintage), I didn’t plan to collect nativity scenes.

As a college graduate still paying off loans, when I went to craft fairs in the area, such as at historic sites and Alternative Christmas fairs, I started buying small and inexpensive hand-made nativity sets, which were often less expensive and smaller than other items I saw. Everything fit into my apartment, and I left some of them out all year. I didn’t consider myself a collector, I simply wanted mementos from crafting acquaintances and to support various missionary and self-help efforts.

Late 1990s, my church was hosting a joint service with other churches in town, and wanted something special for decorations. I offered to display my sets for the night. People said “I never knew you collected nativity scenes,” and I replied “I didn’t either, but I guess 60 sets does make me a collector.” They all fit into 3 boxes, many were fist sized.

One person who saw them approached me and said the director of a local homeless shelter for women and children is looking for a Christmas “event” as a thank-you for their donors, with a religious focus. Can I give them your name? Of course, I agreed. We met at least monthly for a year, to learn more about each other. I was impressed they accepted no government monies as they expected their guests to attend Church and Bible study, in the belief that homeless is not the same as houseless, that a life change is needed for the long-term homeless. They were impressed by the variety of styles, materials, and countries in my collection.

Suddenly, I thought I don’t have enough for what they want! I was off and running. After the first event, someone gave me an article about the first FOTC convention, so I soon joined, and attended a few conventions. Caring for relatives eventually limited my ability to travel.

FOTC and Father Roten furthered my knowledge about nativities, and a few lectures in particular caused me to hunt for more sets, enough my postman even commented on the number of packages. I searched not just eBay but also Fair Trade and mission groups, always on the search for different folk art sets. I do have some that are commercially made, but usually there is something unusual about them, they won’t be found in most stores. I also have several OOAK.

I have submitted photos and written a couple of articles for FOTC magazine, including An Alphabet of Unusual Materials. I have put together several PowerPoint Presentations for different groups, such as Around the World in 80 Nativities, Christmas Lessons from Nativity Artists, Textiles in Nativity Sets, What do You Bring to the Manger (Santon stories).

This year the local doll collectors club was approached about setting up a doll display in an empty store front at the large area mall, at no charge for setting up an exhibit. The mall was hoping to fill the store front that is directly across from the food court, where they also have set up a stage for various performances. The doll club declined due to the lateness of the request, so I offered to set up part of my collection. Of course, I hadn’t planned on something like that when I packed, so had to pull sets from different boxes.

The mall is already hinting they might want something again next year, because even as we were setting up, people walking past stopped to read the identifying signs about the sets. With more time I will plan a better display and hopefully involve other area FOTC members. The nice thing about using a store front is the doors are locked, people only view through the windows, so there is no need for anyone to be present for the month that the display will be available for viewing during mall hours.

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