Star Treatment

A photo essay. To view all 25 photos (and at a better quality), check out the email edition of this story.

Softly, amid distant stars, and boldly, amid giant books, is how you experience The Nativity Story: The Art of the Crèche, the first physical exhibition at the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center since the pandemic broke out. The stars—fine points of white airbrushed as if twinkling onto midnight walls, a rolling desert horizon painted in silhouette below—are shared by the show’s many fine- and folk-art depictions of the night of Jesus’s birth. The books, which represent the Bible and reach almost from floor to ceiling, contextualize the characters and elements of the Nativity while also showcasing singular works of art.

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The Center’s curator, Bethany Sheffer, says the idea is to “follow the Nativity story as it’s presented in the Bible” and compare and contrast that with depictions by “various artists doing their own interpretations and being inspired by their own cultures.” Sheffer’s favorite item, which “shows the global impact of the story” alongside many other crèches here, features large doll-like sculptures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as Maasai, their hair cropped to the scalp, their dark skin wrapped in iconic shuka cloth.

Such renderings also strike a chord with Peter Sonski, the Center’s director of education and outreach. “To be able to see these depictions is really moving to me, because it means this is a story that has found root everywhere across the globe. The expression is unique to that culture, but it conveys the same meaning.” He also delights in the fact that the exhibition, which is normally held annually and changes approaches each year, “gives the public an opportunity to see different forms of artistic expression [applied to] a theme that they know well.”

It’s true: We all pretty much know the story behind Christmas. But we don’t know it like this.

The Nativity Story: Art of the Crèche
Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center – 1 State St, New Haven (map)
Wed-Sun 10am-4pm through 2/6
(203) 865-0400…

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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