NEW ROCHELLE, NY — If you celebrated Christmas in Mexico, the gifts of the magi might include important local items like chickens, ducks, chili peppers, and the animals featured in the Andes region of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia would likely include a llama, a jaguar, and jungle birds. In Puerto Rico, crèches frequently feature roosters, and sets by Pueblo Indians in New Mexico recall the folk tradition of storyteller dolls. Yet all share the common element of the nativity. As debates over immigration and border security fill the airwaves, viewing the new exhibit appearing at The College of New Rochelle Castle Gallery, Nativity Scenes from the Americas, is a fitting way to remind ourselves what we have in common with people outside our borders.
Featuring a curated selection of the Kate Canty Crèche Collection, Nativity Scenes from the Americas is on display at the Castle Gallery on The College of New Rochelle’s main campus from Tuesday, December 1, 2015 through Sunday, January 10, 2016. An opening reception is scheduled for Sunday, December 6 from 12-2 p.m. The reception and exhibit are free and open to the public. A Family Day with an art project will take place on Saturday, December 12 from 1-4 p.m. It is free and all ages are welcome.
Dr. Eileen Canty, an alumna and former psychology professor at The College of New Rochelle School of Arts & Sciences, and her husband Jim began collecting crèches to commemorate their travels in 1985. The collection, named in honor of their late daughter Kate, grew out of the Canty’s “love for the Nativity, appreciation of folk art, and interest in travel and foreign lands and their peoples.” The entire collection features more than 1,000 items from more than 90 countries and 40 states.
Nativity Scenes from the Americas features over 60 pieces from different countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, the American Southwest, and Canada. The “nacimientos” (Spanish for Nativity Scene) include Peruvian retablos (shrine-like boxes), triptychs (three-paneled paintings) from Venezuela and New Mexico, and clay objects such as a candleholder from Mexico that recalls images of the Tree of Life. The crèches are made of clay, wood, straw, emu eggs, automobile parts, gourds, and clothespins. The use of traditional techniques and local materials combined with imagery of native townspeople allows for an almost instant identification of many crèches with their country of origin. For Canty, “meditating on their similarities and differences led me to realize that we all have different gifts and all can be used to do God’s work.”
Curator Nereida Segura-Rico, Associate Professor of Modern and Classical Languages at The College of New Rochelle, explains that the exhibit reveals “a shared history of migration and cultural melding that highlights what we have in common across borders.”
The pieces illustrate how the blending by native artisans of pre-Hispanic elements, colonial heritage, and contemporary components encourage viewers to see the narrative of birth and origin with fresh eyes. A more contemporary nativity scene by New Mexican artist Annie Merrill features a Holy Family surrounded by a cowboy, a Mexican in formal attire with an offering of chilis, a miner bearing gold, and a shepherd. “The exhibit as a whole” Segura-Rico points out, “speaks to the rich diversity of The College of New Rochelle, of our academic programs, and of our surrounding communities.”