Carol Kjellsen’s love for Nativity scenes is rooted in her Christian upbringing. Her mother was an organist, and Kjellsen was regularly involved in events at her South Carolina church growing up, including the children’s Christmas pageant that depicts the Nativity scene of Christ’s birth. Kjellsen was often the angel, Gabriel, that delivers the message to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus, or Mary herself.
From the start, Kjellsen was captured by the story of the Nativity, and so she began collecting Nativity scenes as a young girl. Her first ones were cheap and often made of plastic, “because that’s about all I could afford,” Kjellsen said.
'Nativities from Around the World'
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays to Sundays, Dec. 4 to Jan. 6 (not open Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve or New Year's Day).
Where: Brannon-Heard House, at 111 Pilgrim Road in Cumming.
But Kjellsen’s collection is now extensive and diverse, totaling almost 40 pieces from around the world which will be on display starting Tuesday and going through Jan. 6 at the Brannon-Heard House in conjunction with the Sawnee Association of the Arts.
Kjellsen’s collection features Nativities made from a variety of materials, from marble to wood, ceramic to Fabergé eggs — Kjellsen’s own artistic specialty — and they come from almost all corners of the world, from Guatemala to Israel and Italy to Poland.
Many of the nativity scenes were gifted to Kjellsen by family and friends, others Kjellsen found herself, and she holds a strict standard for her own purchases.
“Nativities to me are very simple,” Kjellsen said. “I don’t like the really elaborate ones, because that’s not what the original Nativity was like the way we’re taught in church. It’s very simple, very lowly, so that’s what I always collected.”
But Kjellsen, 72, admits her fascination with Nativity scenes is as strong as ever.
“If I see a Nativity scene that I’m drawn to it, I will buy it,” Kjellsen said.
Each of Kjellsen’s Nativity scenes tells a story, too.
The one from Israel was gifted by a friend, who found a simple wood Nativity made by a child at a market in Jerusalem (“It’s just precious to me,” Kjellsen said).
Another was made by a friend who fell and died during its creation (“But the family gave it to me, which was really special,” Kjellsen said).
For Kjellsen, her collection is a reminder of her upbringing and her faith, and she hopes those who visit her display find it similarly meaningful.
“I hope that they just enjoy it,” Kjellsen said, “and as they celebrate the season of Christmas they can think about the true meaning of Christmas and Christ’s birth and hopefully enjoy what I’ve been collecting all my life; just be touched by it in some way.”