A world of nativities

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Al Key/DRC
A nativity scene is shown Monday at Marsha Keffer’s house in Denton.
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Local woman fills her home year-round

Marsha Keffer’s home in Denton is filled with 130 Nativity scenes from around the world and she said people, particularly her sister, just keep giving them to her. They fill her house year-round.

“I have a bookshelf in the den and I had to take all the books out of the bookshelf and stow them somewhere else,” Keffer said. “In the kitchen window, on the tree, on the walls, and I am running out of space.”

Keffer’s collection includes scenes from the Philippines, Taiwan, Italy, South Africa, Peru, Germany and New Zealand. A piece from Rwanda is carved out of wood and the figures sit in a wooden boat.

There is a scene with Peanuts characters, including Charlie Brown and his sister, Sally, Lucy and Linus, with Woodstock as the baby Jesus and Snoopy as the drummer boy.

Sister Lynn McCreary said her personal favorite is a raccoon piece done by villagers in South Africa.

“I try all the time to find ones that are handcrafted and unique,” she said.

One piece, from Peru, was made by a man who makes art out of car parts. Baby Jesus is a spark plug, McCreary said.

“It’s sounds trite but it’s really, really beautiful,” she said. “A little one I gave her last year has the family in an old Volkswagen bus. It’s interesting how the different cultures are evidenced through how they create.”

Keffer said she had to put up an extra table for one Nativity, made out of fabric, because the pieces are 12 to 14 inches tall.

“I just tend to hope my sister does not buy a larger one,” she said.

McCreary, who describes herself as the bratty little sister, gave Keffer her first Nativity scene, a tiny pewter one, because it was on sale.

That led to a new mission in life.

“We have kind of a teasing relationship, so I started buying one because, as much as they are unique and cool, then she has to find a place to put them,” McCreary said. “Having however many she’s got takes up quite a bit of space in the house, so I keep giving her additional ones at Christmas to add to that challenge. It’s in the spirit of Christmas and sisterly love, of course.”

Keffer said she has too many to keep in storage.

“Growing up, we always had at least one and I fell into it,” Keffer said. “And my sister got kind of carried away with it in the ’80s and insisted on getting me a new one every year. And friends felt they had to put their two cents in, though I tried to get them not to.”

Georgia Caraway, local historian and antiques expert, said she wishes she had started collecting Nativity scenes years ago.

“I have one and it was a gift and I treasure that so I can imagine how beautiful that collection is,” she said.

From the standpoint of collections and collectables, Caraway said Keffer’s was a significant collection, though she does know of some area collections with larger numbers. For instance, Bethlehem in Denton County in Sanger features more than 1,800 creches collected by Judy Klein.

“It’s one of these collections where people decide if they want it in their house all year-round or bring them out for the season,” Caraway said. “It’s not the same as other collectables with year-round appeal. ... I think it’s an amazingly wonderful thing to collect; it’s heartwarming.”

With a collection as varied as those like Keffer’s, the value is not so much monetary but in the collection’s appeal, she said.

“But when you’re collecting, you don’t really care about that,” she said.

Keffer hopes that her Nativity scenes will live on when she is no longer able to maintain them.

“I think my sister will take some back,” she said. “There are some that are pretty special to her. My children [may be] interested in keeping them.

“Maybe they will find a museum somewhere or some other collector that will pass them on.”

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.


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