Monday, October 18, 2010

The Best Nativity Set - Or is it Christmas Yet?

I listed a Painted Wooden Nativity Scene in my Etsy shop.  It's a version of one I've been making for years that is partly my design but mostly designed by Judith Martin.  Sorry for the long post but I wanted readers to know where this design came from.

More than 20 years ago my sister and I were both pregnant. It was fun to share being pregnant with someone.   I'm the oldest and she is only three years younger but our life stages had never been in sync. I married at 20 and started having babies right away, this was number six.  She married at 30 and it took a lot of pregnancy tests before one showed positive.  She was due the end of September.  I was due in March.  This was a surprise pregnancy for me (long story) and because pregnancy #5 had been plagued by hypertension and preeclampsica, and because of my "advanced maternal age" I was considered very high risk and had been referred to one of the nation's best perinatologists.  We also found out that BL Hubby and I had a rare blood incompatibility, similar to RH disease, so even my early pregnancy was full of worry.  Sis tested borderline diabetic when routine testing was done at 28 weeks and she followed her Dr.'s diet and testing advice and decorated a nursery.  She was told it wasn't anything to worry about.

My sister is really my best friend.  She had lived with me for a year and a half when she graduated from college and my kids (and husband) adored her.  Even after she got her own place we loved to get together for a day out.  Usually we liked to shop (we rarely bought anything).  We preferred the antique district, thrift shops and what we referred to as "cute" decor and gift shops.  Most often one of us would fix lunch.  Our tastes were similar and when I moved to the other side of the country what I missed about So. Cal. was a day out with my sister.

We were excited about having babies nearly the same age though everyone worried a lot about me.  As my sister's due date came and went our whole family and everyone who knew them was excited to welcome their new little boy.  We weren't prepared to find out that 2 weeks postdate, her baby died and then he was delivered stillborn.  My sweet sister and brother-in-law were overwhelmed with grief and we were, too.  Our hearts broke and we felt guilty for having a surplus of children while they were denied one.  To make things worse, it became apparent that her doctor had been negligent.  My sister and brother-in-law named their little boy Daniel.

My sister never begrudged me our baby boy.  He was born in February, more than five weeks early and after a lot of  high tech intervention.  She used to say there were times when she just wanted to hold a baby  and she was glad that she could come over and cuddle mine to her hearts content.  As Christmas approached the next year and we would have our days out, she looked for some kind of Christmas ornament that would memorialize her sweet boy.  Hallmark makes an ornament for almost everything, but not this.  We both were also searching for a nativity scene we liked.

Christmas passed with without any success in our search but we kept looking.  Sometime that year we were visiting a decorative painting store near my home owned by a couple that produced wood cutouts for many popular designers.  There in the window was this book and wood set designed by Juliet Martin. 
Christmas Elegance by Judith Martin

We fell in love.  I still love this depiction and symbolism of the baby Christ and the lambs.  Sis bought the book and I was going to paint one for each of us.  By the time I got to the project it had occurred to me that Judith Martin had other designs for Christmas figures that could be combined to make an awesome Nativity display.  I altered the size and when I couldn't find a Judith Martin design of Mary I liked I (after a few bad designs) designed one of my own.  For Joseph I re-purposed a shepherd..  I then had the bright idea that this would be the perfect ongoing Christmas gift for my close family.  People got "starter sets" that consisted of Mary, Joseph and baby and each year I could add a figure.  I could, and did, play this out for years. Young family members know they are really grownups when they get their own set.

Fast forward a few years and I'm living far from my sister.  I was asked to come up with and teach a painting class for a Relief Society "Christmas in July" event and I decided that the group could paint the Baby and a couple of lambs.  It was a pretty successful class, but several people wanted more of the Nativity Scene. Thus was launched the longest ongoing Relief Society class ever.  We had people meet to paint Nativity Scenes for eleven years.  (One of my friends still wants to do a Joseph - I should gift her with one).
My Nativity Scene

I've altered, refined and added to the original idea over the years but I'm still indebted to Juliet Martin for her designs.  Though her books and designs are out of print they are still in demand.  I haven't been able to find any  contact information for her but would love to let her know what her design has meant to me and my   family.  To me this is still Daniel's Nativity Set and it reminds me of the hope I have for resurrection, and joy and healing even after unimaginable loss.  Plus, I learned to paint well using Juliet Martin's designs.  (Every sheep I draw still tends to look like hers.)  Juliet, where ever you are - Thanks.

Note: The Nativity in the Etsy shop is smaller than my original.  One of the problems mine has is that it takes a whole lot of space to display. It's also made using a layered technique so the figures can stand alone.