Wycinanki Holy Family

“Wycinanki” pronounced Vee-chee-non-kee is the Polish word for ‘paper-cut design’. It is not known when or why this art form began to flower in Poland. Some suggest it goes back to the time when few farm houses had glass windows. To keep out the elements, farmers hung sheep skins over the window openings. Then, to let in some light and air, they took their sheep shears and snipped small openings in the skins, and these were soon recognized as decorative as well as functional.

Under the Star of Bethlehem and surrounding stars this simple paper cut depicts Mary and Joseph devoutly kneel on either side of the Baby Jesus. Jesus is lying on a bed of grass and cloth.

Circular WYCINANKI Nativity

“Wycinanki” pronounced Vee-chee-non-kee is the Polish word for ‘paper-cut design’. It is not known when or why this art form began to flower in Poland. Some suggest it goes back to the time when few farm houses had glass windows. To keep out the elements, farmers hung sheep skins over the window openings. Then, to let in some light and air, they took their sheep shears and snipped small openings in the skins, and these were soon recognized as decorative as well as functional.

Surrounded by elegantly cut flowers, Mary is seated holding the Baby Jesus who is wrapped in swaddling cloths. Joseph stands next to them. A sheep rests at Mary’s feet while two angels flank the Holy Family. The Star of Bethlehem shines about the Baby Jesus while brilliant stars surround them.

Lakota Nativity

This wonderful nativity was created by Leonard Yellow Horse who was born in 1971 in Chadron, Nebraska. He is a self taught artist who in 1991 started working with cottonwood root sourced from dry river beds mostly on the Pine Ridge Reservation or in the Badlands.

Leonard has a very distinctive technique he inherited from his family. He hand carves his figures and then uses a torch to create additional detail.

Of his work he says: “My work is calling from the Elders who want to be seen again, but through the roots. It’s not what I put into the root; the root has a voice and a character of its own. No two pieces are the same. Each piece is unique.”

This nativity is a great example of an artist depicting the many figures of the Nativity narrative in their own image. The Magi for instance are presented as Lakota elders. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are Lakota. And the traditional ox and donkey are replaced with buffalo.

Blackware Holy Family

This Holy Family in blackware pottery was created by Lawrence Vargas.

Mr. Vargas is a self-taught artist from New Mexico. He works out of his studio with a view of Petroglyphs National Monument near Albuquerque, NM together with members of his family. His style is distinctive and is inspired by his multi-cultural ancestry. His work represents a unique blend of the different cultures found in the southwest.

A skilled and multi-talented artisan, Mr. Vargas’ artistic expressions comprise different subject matters and different mediums. He is best known for his blackware pottery, harvest maiden series and storyteller figures and paintings. His work is the result of a deep spiritual inspiration interwoven with his life experience.

This nativity is hand painted blackware pottery. The use of both high gloss and matte finish on the jet-black clay creates a great contrast and allows for expressive representations in these otherwise semi-abstract figures. Some of the figures are enhanced with a characteristic piece of turquoise.

Navajo Flight into Egypt

This elegant Flight into Egypt was created by Jack Black.

Jack Black, a member of the Navajo Nation was born in Galveston Texas. He was introduced to Navajo art as he grew up and received his formal education at the Institute of Design in Chicago.

Jack Black’s work is a tribute to the Southwest. His style is modernist Navajo with graceful lines and minimalist design. His sculptures though only partially glazed are smooth to the touch and pleasing to the eye. The colors he used are reminiscent of the beauty of the Southwest with its blue sky, ochre canyons and sand-colored panoramas.

After sketching each piece Jack Black created the original sculpture. From that a production mold was made. Then stoneware figures were cast from the molds. After the figures were cleaned and detailed by hand, they were fired at 1900 degrees. They were then sanded, cleaned again, and fired with multiple coats of glaze. Though created in a mold, each one of Jack Black’s sculptures is unique.

Mr. Black died in 2002. At that time all the molds were destroyed. This insured the value and rarity of the existing pieces.

Olubugo Nativity

The art of making bark cloth known as olubugo is an ancient Ugandan tradition originating with the Baganda people of the Buganda kingdom. Bark cloth is made from the inner bark of the Mutuba tree which mainly grows in central and southern Uganda. This craft is considered among the oldest ways of cloth making, predating weaving.

Artisans of Uganda Artists with Disabilities use traditional Ugandan bark cloth and other natural materials such as dried grasses as well as some wire to craft each miniature piece. This set includes nine individual figures and a small hut. They are packaged in a lovely bark cloth pouch.

Mapuches Nativity

This nativity was created by Argentine artist Mario Mendoza. Mario was born in 1950 in San Salvador de Jujuy, the capital of the Jujuy province in the northwest of Argentina. At a very young age he started to create pottery, tutored by his older brother Oscar. He opened his own studio in 1978.

Mario specializes in very realistic miniature sculptures. His models are the indigenous people (Coyas, Onas, Tehuelches, Yamanas, Mapuches) of Northwestern Argentina. They are dressed in their typical garb. In this case the figures of the nativity are modeled after the Mapuche people wearing their traditional ponchos with their strong geometrical patterns. Both men and women wear a typical head band, though Mary’s headband is more decorative that that of Jesus, Joseph and the Magi.

Mario designed and molded each figure of this nativity. He collected the clay from the local mountains (Quebrada de Humahuca). He created 32 clay tones which he uses selectively for each figure.

The gifts the Magi brought the Christ Child are not the typical gold, myrrh and frankincense as mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. Rather, the Magi in this nativity are presenting the baby Jesus with gifts that are important in Mapuche society: Mais (corn) which is an important staple of their diet, as well as a typical Mapuche poncho and a blanket. Traditionally these items were used for trade and as a status symbol.

This is another wonderful example of inculturation of the mystery of the incarnation.

Vertep Nativity

The tradition of Christmas Puppet Theater, known as Vertep has been popular in Ukraine since around the year 1700. The word Vertep is rooted in the old Slavonik word for “cave.” Which is of course a reference to the place of Jesus’ birth.

The box which is used for the Vertep is known as a Shopka from the Polish word for box. This box is taken from home to home in the village or town for a series of performances of the Vertep. There are usually two segments to the Vertep: first, the enactment of the Christmas story accompanied by carols; second, a secular often comedic story based on local history or culture. Because of this the shopka often has two levels, the upper level for the sacred story and the lower level for the secular story.

This Ukrainian nativity is inspired by the Vertep tradition with its puppet-like figures that are housed in a decoratively painted wooden box which functions both for storage and when assembled as the stable for the Nativity.

The finely detailed figures are hand made using different natural materials that are molded, baked, sanded, glazed, dressed and finally painted.

Joseph measures a little more than 5 inches tall. The box measures 8.5 x 8.5 x 5 inches when closed.

This nativity was certified “environmentally responsible” by the certification of Ukrainian public organization “Living Planet.”

Kokeshi Nativity

Traditional Kokeshi dolls began to be made about two hundred years ago in the north east region of Japan known as the Tohoku region. It is commonly believed that the 18th C.  Kijiya or woodworkers who originally specialized in household utensils began to make small dolls which they sold to the tourists who came to bathe in the many onsens or hot springs near their villages.

Kokeshi dolls traditionally consist of a basic cylindrical limbless body and a round head. Though the first dolls might have been unpainted, today most Kokeshi are painted in bright colors. The traditional colors used were red, yellow and purple. The woods used for Kokeshi vary though dogwood most popular.

Kokeshi is recognized as one of the traditional folk arts of Japan.

This nativity was made in the Usaburo Kokeshi workshop in Shibukawa in the Gunma prefecture. This workshop was started by Usaburo Okamoto in 1950. Mr. Usaburo was born in Shinto in 1917 and died in 2009.

What sets this Kokeshi Studio apart from others is that Mr. Usaburo introduced new styles and developed new techniques for the creation of his Kokeshi.

This Nativity exemplifies Mr. Usaburo’s innovations and is characteristic of the Kokeshi created in the Usaburo workshop. Each doll is egg shaped rather than having the traditional limbless body with a round head. Also, they are decorated using a method of carving and burning with Nichrome wire in addition to the traditional brushes and paint.

Usaburo Okamoto won numerous prizes for his work, including the Prize of the Minister of International Trade and Industry.