Away in a manger
For more than 25 years, the University of Dayton’s Marian Library has presented its annual At the Manger exhibit. Each year, a small selection of its more than 3,600 Nativity scenes from more than 100 countries is exhibited in the Stuart and Mimi Rose Gallery, located on the first floor of Roesch Library.
The exhibit celebrates how people around the world ponder and picture the birth of Christ through many cultural lenses, according to the Marian Library. This year’s selection includes Nativities from Peru, Mexico, the Czech Republic and Brazil in media that include wood, paper, clay and mixed media.
Three of the Nativity scenes on display are by artist Angélica Vásquez Cruz, a master potter from Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Born in 1958, Vásquez Cruz is known as a master of Oaxacan folk art, inspired by the mythology, culture and folklore of Oaxaca.
“Her work is a beautiful representation of how artisan techniques are passed down and reinterpreted through generations.”
“Vásquez Cruz is not formally trained; she learned pottery techniques from her father and grandfather, so her work is a beautiful representation of how artisan techniques are passed down and reinterpreted through generations,” said Jillian Ewalt, librarian for visual resources at the Marian Library.
Three of her pieces are featured in the exhibit: "Mythological Nativity," "Cave Nativity" and "Mexican Nativity." The pieces were gifted to the Marian Library through a donation by Judy and Bob Davis in the early 2000s.
“Vásquez Cruz tells the Nativity story in a voice that is understated and playful,” Ewalt said. “The pieces themselves are quite small and detailed, so they naturally invite visitors to an intimate viewing experience that encourages reflection and contemplation.”
“The pieces themselves are quite small and detailed, so they naturally invite visitors to an intimate viewing experience that encourages reflection and contemplation.”
Vásquez Cruz does not paint her work but instead developed a process using "agobes," her term for natural-colored substances, such as stone or volcanic ash, which she uses to add different hues to her pieces, described Ewalt.
“What I love about these pieces are the artist's use of local and regional materials,” Ewalt said.
A continuation of the At the Manger exhibit can be found on the Roesch Library’s seventh floor, in the Marian Library Crèche Museum. In the space, “Mirror of Hope,” a large-scale installation by artist Kevin Hanna, is on display, as is “Of Fragile Beauty,” a recently restored wax Nativity from Mexico, plus additional Nativities from Mexico, Brazil and the U.S.
“Instead of packing the galleries with as many sets as possible, the curatorial team prioritized safe social distancing in gallery spaces, and the intentional use of space to encourage reflection on each piece,” Ewalt said. “The themes illuminate how the visual retelling of this story is informed by regionally specific materials, techniques and traditions.”
At the Manger: World Nativity Traditions is free and open to the public. Face coverings are required in the library. For more information on this and other exhibits in the Marian Library, visit https://udayton.edu/marianlibrary/index.php