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  • Writer's pictureNeil Allen

Working With Artist

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

One of my all time favorite things to do is find artists that have never created nativities and see if they are willing to make one. If you've never tried it, you are missing out big time.

After admiring their art one of the first thing I do is take out my photo of my full display to indicate I am serious . Often time people take my offered phone and expand the picture to see details. Normally handing your phone to a stranger might freak most people out, but it is all part of my desire to establish trust.

Fact: Artists are usually careful about how they want their art to be shown.

After the initial conversation of what I am asking them to consider, the dialogue will take one of two turns. If the artist says or even hints "I'm not interested" I generally drop the subject if it feels like a hard "No". This can happen for any number of reasons. If that is the turn, I generally say, "Well, thank you for your consideration. I think your art is amazing and I would love to have a piece you created in our collection, but I certainly understand." If they are inclined to consider making a piece of art and the conversation opens past the "Why are you asking me?" I usually give them a rough version of what I value in their art. That style of response usually opens the door wider.

What I value in art is creativity. I'm not interested in "cookie-cutter" style at all. I'm interested in how the artist sees the world, what portion of their art draws me in, and how they use light and darkness. I love the various ways artist use perspective. I love all types of media, but I am definitely drawn to wood. While I don't have a ton of abstract art, I can value it as a nativity if it points to the meaning of the event. I'm interested in art that draws me in.

If you are reading this and considering following my example you should probably talk to others about what you love about art for practice. Frankly, I don't think we talk about art nearly enough in our isolated lives. Art should open a conversation, even if it's only internal and helps us detail what is pulling us in or pushing us away.

Interestingly, many artists in the Pacific Northwest where I live have never considered creating religious art work - let alone a specific form such as a nativity, so I assure them I am willing to give them complete artistic interpretation. That has often turned the key in a closed door for considering my request. If I get the response, "Let me think about it" I feel I have been successful. I quickly hand them my Nativity Business Card and affirm the serious nature of my request.

One artist said, "I'm not even religious." I smiled and said, "That's a secondary issue to the art. The art speaks for itself." I followed up with a reminder of why I value their creative form.

If I get to this point in the conversation the dialogue can go in a million directions, but I try to always end in the same place. First we agree on a price. After the price is set I convince them to have complete artistic interpretation.

Here is where things can get tricky. Most artists who are willing to take the conversation this far often try to get me to commit to giving them some direction. Resisting that urge, I've found it best to remind them of my total trust in them as an artist and my conviction that I will love what ever they create. To date, I've NEVER been let down by this process, although I must admit I've had some anxious thoughts about giving an artist complete artistic freedom along with a deposit.

I'm reminded of Caravaggio's "Death of the Virgin" which was commissioned in the early 1600's for a church in Rome. It caused quite a stir to see a bloated, aging Mary laying dead on a table. The term "rejected as unfit" is probably an understatement the interaction. One can only assume it got a bit heated since it was assumed Caravaggio used a model that had a shoddy history as she was rumored to be Caravaggio's lover - so it was a rejection of the artist's lifestyle as much as it was a rejection of depicting Mary whom many still adored as holy and sacred. Yes, if you are asking, I do have concerns when I grant an artist total interpretation, but I trust my eye and my instincts. I've not been disappointed to date.

Here are a few examples:

Cristine Martell - This artist created amazing needle art. She actually lives and displays her art not far from our home in Beaverton, Oregon. I remember her asking my interpretation of her work several times. I had to reassure her that her idea of what to make was totally up to her. Purchased in 2018.

When Inez Tocassa walked up to me in the Otovollo Market in central Ecuador, carrying a backpack full of her art and tried pushing me to buy one for $20 - my jaw hit the floor. Of course I was going to buy her art. I simply wanted to know if she had ever made a nativity (nacimento). My friend (a local) helped me in the interpretation. I bought several pieces of her art (we featured it in the Creche Herald a few years ago). Pictured above is Nora Allen and Inez at our hotel near the market.

An up close view of Inez's hand crafted - first time ever nativity depicting a rural scene inspiried by her Romillio Rios family estate where several members of her family create beautiful paintings for sale in the market place. Nora and I will return there in June, 2023. I expect to be approached by Inez - as I bumped into her 3 separate times - even hours removed from the market!!

The Craft Village at Totora Wasi in Ibarra, Ecuador is known for their large mats made of reeds but they also make other projects such as animals. After a long and complicated request with the instructors (This is a teaching institution), They created this amazing set. It is a one of a kind and took me about 1 1/2 years to receive and had several artists helping with the creation with my one deviation in my typical interaction with artists - Could they bend a few knees to indicate humility? As you can see, they pulled that off quite nicely - but Mary tends to tip over easily.

My good friend Judy Klein offered this picture of a unique creation. She said, "I saw something on my friend's coffee table that her daughter had made out of odds an ends from the kitchen." Judy asked her friend if her daughter could make a nativity. The friend said, "I don't know. I'll ask her." Judy said, "She finished this in a few short days!" Creative juices cook best when hot off the stove!

Send us pictures of your examples of commissioned art - We will run part #2 when we have enough to blog. Thank you in advance.

Send no more than three or 4 pictures at a time to

Neil Allen - Webmaster Friends of the Creche

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