In The News
Handmade Nativity sets paint Jesus as a refugee
John Shearer, Shopper News, December 2019
When Hannah Kline was thinking about making a Nativity scene for her small children last year, she was wanting something that was break-proof and that they could touch and play with to more fully immerse themselves in the story of Jesus’ birth.
The heirloom ceramic kind that a grandmother kept on a fireplace mantel and was not to be touched by youngsters was definitely not what she had in mind.
She also wanted to create a Jesus with whom everyone could connect emotionally and culturally by making his painted skin color more representative of the larger world.
“When all the immigration stuff was happening (in the news last year) and I started reflecting on Jesus as an outsider and a refugee who was told there was no room at the inn, that inspired me,” she said. “That was my motivation.”
So she made one set in this style, posted some pictures on social media, and now it has blossomed into a cottage business.
In fact, the business has done so well that those who might want to purchase such a last-minute Christmas decoration for this year might be out of luck, since she puts them all together herself and can make only so many at a time. She has just finished with the 35 or so orders she was shipping out in recent days, and the waiting list now extends to orders that will be shipped out in February for those wanting to get a small or full set for next year, she said.
“I ordered some wooden peg dolls and I painted them and posted a picture and shared it with friends, and people started commenting and said, ‘I’ll pay you to make me one,’ ” she said.
She ordered the wooden pieces from craftparts.com. The people pieces came from peg dolls, while the animals are circular pieces whose faces she paints in a unique way.
She also uses a small bowl to represent the manger. And as a mother of a 6-year-old boy and a 3-year-old daughter, she knows the baby Jesus did not spend all his time in a manger, so she also uses a mini-band that symbolizes a blanket and can be placed around both Mary and the Christ child.
A resident of Knoxville – who spent her early years in England and came to Knoxville via Arkansas and Texas – is an artist whose mother is also an artist, Kline has always enjoyed making and decorating birthday cakes and figurines made out of molded clay, she said. “I’ve always been into art. I have always made sure I am creating.”
She has found that it is easier to make a batch of pieces like Mary all at once and then move on to the next character, instead of trying to make complete sets each time.
Despite their simplicity, the Nativity pieces appear to have a quality of paint and texture that make them both appealing and more complex than typical child-like items. Hannah Kline creates Nativity scenes that are break-proof and perfect for children to touch.
She wants her sets to convey the more complex world she sees and embraces. She is active in her church, Church of the Savior on North Weisgarber Road, which promotes itself as an inclusive church.
The Nativity sets that embrace her outlook have apparently connected with others, too, and have been an extension of how in part she feels called as a Christian.
“I am positively overwhelmed with how it’s been received,” she said. “People really connect with it and God’s welcoming love. And people who have children who are not white have said they see themselves in them.” She also hopes they will have a lasting effect.
“I’m honored that people all over the country will be including these Nativity sets as part of their family Christmas traditions for years to come,” she said. “That part brings me so much joy. My hope is that they would remind people of God's abundant and inclusive love, a love in which there is always more room.”