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Crèches 2017: Eastern Europe, Africa, Volunteers' View and a Marianist Milestone

By Maureen Schlangen

With a major library renovation starting in early 2018, the University of Dayton is taking a “behind-the-(Nativity) scenes” approach to At the Manger, its annual exhibition of Christmas crèches Nov. 27-Jan. 5.

Because the main gallery in the Roesch Library will be closed, part of the exhibit will take place in the Marian Library’s crèche workshop on the fourth floor of Fitz Hall, where visitors can learn how volunteers plan and construct display settings and clean, repair, pack and store Nativity sets. Crèches also will be on exhibit in two other locations — the Marian Library on campus and at Bergamo/Mount St. John in Beavercreek.

In the Marian Library, on the seventh floor of Roesch Library, visitors can view three displays:

  • Nativity sets of the long-hidden but rich and colorful artistic tradition of Eastern Europe, especially of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Russia.
  • Nativities from East and West Africa, including a large Nativity from Malawi, carved from native wood and presented to University of Dayton President Eric Spina in 2016.
  • Twelve monotypes by artist Michelle Arnold Paine about Advent leading into Christmas.

At Bergamo/Mount St. John, 4400 Shakertown Road, Beavercreek, Nativity sets from France and Spain — the birthplace of the Marianist orders — will commemorate the Marianists’ 200th anniversary. They’ll be on display in the Gallery St. John, Bergamo Center, Queen of Apostles Chapel and the North American Center for Marianist Studies. 

For hours, parking and other information, see the event website.

“We're looking forward to showing people behind the scenes in our crèche workshop,” said Marian Library curatorial assistant and volunteer coordinator Michele Devitt. “I am often asked, ‘How do you do this? Where do you make these settings? Where are 3,500 Nativities stored?’ This will be a chance to have questions answered and learn how we keep this wonderful collection at its best.”

Devitt said volunteers work year round to care for the collection, which contains more than 3,500 sets from more than 100 countries.

“It’s impressive to see the craftsmanship, creativity and ingenuity it takes to showcase these crèches,” she said. “Our volunteers are so devoted to the display of these Nativities, which capture both the universality of the Christmas story and the individuality of the cultures and artists they come from. I believe this will be a wonderful experience helping families keep their tradition of visiting our crèche exhibit during Advent.”

Note: The Grand Open House event, typically held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, will not be held this year because of the renovation.

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