By Phillip Garding
Nativity sets are works of art in a long tradition of using art to worship Jesus Christ. Whether a painting, sculpture, stained glass, or in another medium, the vision of the artist is the foundation of a great work. German artist Lotte Sievers-Hahn has a warm spot in my heart because a nativity set from her workshop was the first one in our collection. We bought the Holy Family and a few other pieces in a store in Seattle's Pioneer Square and then added a few pieces at a time over the following years. This set was a favorite of our children, who used to rearrange the people and animals throughout the Christmas season (usually with the animals clustered around Jesus).
Lotte Sievers-Hahn grew up in the state of Lower Saxonia in Northern Germany. She was trained traditionally as a toy maker in Erzgebirge, a region with idyllic landscapes, charming villages and a legacy of artisanship. The School of Gruenhainichen, in Erzgebirge, was famous for its carving style which set its figures apart from the roundness of more typical lathe-turned figures. It was there that Lotte Sievers-Hahn developed her characteristic carving style and chose to make the nativity her personal signature.
Although her figures have their roots in Erzgebirge, the designs are quite unique within the German folk art tradition. The extensive collection of people and animals depict her native farming environment with barns typical of the region. Each figure created is an original, carved and painted entirely by hand. All are crafted of limewood, a superior medium for carving. Often used by Renaissance sculptors, this wood’s fine, dense grain provides heft to the figures and takes up oil paint exceptionally well. The Lotte Sievers-Hahn Workshop, still family-run in the town of Brockel, celebrated its 90th year in 2019.
The Workshop follows a process when creating their figures. These are the steps to create a red king:
1. Plane the limewood to the proper thickness. 2. Trace the outlines of the king on the wood using a stencil. 3. Cut out the blank with a scroll saw.
4. Shape the blank with precise cuts with a carving knife.
5. Paint the king with non-toxic oil paints and let dry for 3 days.