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A Christmas Gift

By Sarah B. Cahalan

Dayton artist Robert C. Koepnick (1907–95) completed this terra cotta Nativity set after returning from military service in World War II. It was finished in 1947 and he loaned it to multiple venues for Christmas display, ultimately donating it in 1962 to the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Dayton, Ohio, for display in their chapel; they had begun borrowing it in 1958. In 2022, members of that religious order contacted the Marian Library to offer the Nativity group as a gift ahead of their centennial in Dayton in 2023. The sisters’ generosity echoes that of the artist 60 years earlier. 

The set is currently on display on the seventh floor of Roesch Library in the Marian Library’s Crèche Museum. In the coming years, we hope to raise funds for professional conservation work, as it has sustained some wear and tear in the 75 years since its creation.

Koepnick is a familiar name to many in the Dayton area. He studied at and then worked for the Dayton Art Institute for many years and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Dayton in 1995. His free-standing and relief sculptures can be seen in many regional churches and on public buildings. His papers are part of the University Archives and Special Collections. Among his original works at the University of Dayton is another version of this very Nativity set, as well as “Our Lady of the Marian Library,” a 1960s sculpture visible on the south façade of Albert Emanuel Hall. 

Practically speaking, adding an item like this to our collection is a labor of love — with an emphasis on labor! It involved the logistics of paperwork as well as multiple visits to its storage space at Salem Heights in Trotwood, and finally a very careful drive back to campus in a UD-owned van. Hanging the angel on the wall presented its own fun challenges. We do not accept such significant donations lightly since they represent a permanent commitment for the Marian Library and the University of Dayton. It has been a privilege to add this set to the collections here in the Marian Library. We are especially grateful to the Sisters of the Precious Blood — in particular Sister Noreen Jutte, C.PP.S., and Sister Edna Hess, C.PP.S. 

— Sarah Burke Cahalan is an associate professor and the director of the Marian Library.


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