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An Important Conversation - 30 year in the Making

An Important Conversation

Me (Neil Allen Webmaster FOTC) : Hey, some day I want to do a blog on our Friends of the Creche page about your nativity collection. I think you traveled for some of it. People would like to see pics and hear some of your stories.

Ann Upedgraff Spleth: Ok. Sounds fun.

(Ann is a longtime friend and collector of all things nativity. She also served in two roles that impacted my own life – President of Division of Homeland Ministries (Disciples of Christ) – the church I serve, and CEO – Kawanis International Children’s Fund – An organization I held membership in).

I’ll look at it over the weekend.

Me: Awesome. I’ve been dying to see and hear about your impressive collection

Ann: How many pieces, do you think, would be appropriate for a podcast?

Me: am thinking it depends on the verbiage you apply to each. If you show pictures only 10 seems to work well. If you talk at length about each set, then 1-5. When you see some of the blogs Fr Johann Roten posted, you’ll see why we only posted one at a time

you block sets from a visit you made to the Congo for example, you could post 5-8. Again, it’s the volume of the content that would keep an average reader interested.

Ann: Helpful. Thx.

(Time FF – One week)

Me: Sure hope you will write a blog post.

Ann: Neil, here are few of my concerns: 1. What started my collection was not even a nativity. It was the Boehm porcelain Madonna that my father sent to my mother in early 50’s when he was in NYC for an National Council of Churches meeting. There’s still a note from him to her inside the sculpture.



2. My next most special one is the wine cork nativity that my daughter made for me when she was ten. She said “It’s 2 things Mommy likes: wine and Jesus!”


3. Many of our pieces were bought overseas but are not indigenous creations. Like the little ring box nativity from the cathedral in Chartes. Commercial, but cool. Seems to me your readers would be looking for pieces that are more globally locally produced, even better if you can name the artist. I have some of those but they’re not usually the first ones I’d talk about. So: what do you suggest?

Me: Simple. Let’s print this? All of us came to this innocently, perhaps through what some would call the back door. My own collection has so many broken fingers on my kings they can’t even count to ten.

Also, you don’t have to talk about all of them. Tell us about one. The set you bought in Israel is unique. I’m sure the decision to purchase was huge.

You can tell about serving in a National organization and seeing first hand the impact of decisions we make.

Ann: Ok. I’ll add a few items that are also personally meaningful but global - the Israel set, the one from the Irvine collection etc

Love it.


Ann: Teodora Blaco rough clay nativity, from the collection of Xenia Miller of Columbus, Indiana. Most of her collection is with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Teodora Blanco was a famous Oaxaca, Mexico artist.

Me: (Edited Response at the Request of Ann) I loved Xenia Miller’s Collection. I got to see it in 1989 when they brought it to Christian Theological Seminary. Blew me away. It’s probably one of the reasons I started collecting! Although I thought it was strange to have a person standing guard over a nativity collection at a seminary (but now that I own a collection – I totally understand.



Me: You are a rockstar. I might do a draft so you can approve it before I print. I was thinking about a dialogue format. I think it might encourage others to do the same.

Ann: Ok, that’s cool. Thanks Neil.

Me: Get some rest. You did well.

Ann: Thank you kind sir.


One More - Neil, this is a detail from a nativity just like mine. All the pieces in my nativity have this kind of detail. c 1952. Some of ours are slightly damaged due to being improperly stored. I found an art expert to advise us and she said “Buy a ticket to Oaxaca. Carry the pieces carefully wrapped on your lap. Find Teodora’s daughter and take them to her. Never let anyone else touch them.”


Ann is currently serving as Adjunct Professor Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

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