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Couple shares artistry of Nativity scene collection

1/3/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

One of Glenn and Mary Ellen Atwood’s favorite Nativity sets is this one made of shells by a Chilean artisan.
Many of the Nativity scenes on display are from the Atwood’s travels, especially in Mexico and South America.
Photos: Kathleen Folkerth
COPLEY — Instead of Three Kings, there are closer to 300 in a special display of one local couple’s Nativity scenes.

Mary Ellen and Glenn Atwood are shown with some of their collection of Nativity scenes that they put on display over the Christmas holiday at Concordia at Sumner’s Manor House.
Glenn and Mary Ellen Atwood, both 77, have put most of the 121 Nativity scenes they’ve collected at home and abroad on display in the Manor House of Concordia at Sumner in Copley, where they live in Independent Living.

The display will be up through Jan. 6, the Epiphany, which is when Christians celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings or Three Wise Men in Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus.

This is the first time the Atwoods, who have been residents at Concordia for about 18 months, have put their vast collection on display there.

“People have really liked them,” Mary Ellen Atwood said.

The couple also has conducted three “fireside chats” with residents to talk about the scenes and how they were acquired.

Mary Ellen Atwood said the couple got its first Nativity scene in the first year of their marriage 57 years ago. The symbolism of the sets was always an important part of their holiday tradition, they said.

“When our kids were little, it was important for us to have them understand that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday,” Mary Ellen Atwood said.

Glenn Atwood was a chemical engineering professor at The University of Akron and Mary Ellen Atwood started the university’s preschool and day care program, she said. The Atwoods lived in West Akron for many years before moving to Wadsworth.

They met while students at Iowa State University. Mary Ellen had lived in India, where she graduated from high school, before returning to the United States for college, she said.

When the couple began to travel more for business and pleasure, they found that Nativity scenes were one of the easier things to find, and a collection was born.

Mary Ellen Atwood said they tended to purchase sets that were handmade, unique and typical of the culture from which they came.

They have many sets from Mexico and Chile. Because they had a foreign exchange student from Chile stay with them 37 years ago, with whom they remain close today, they have traveled extensively in South America and also spent winters studying Spanish in Mexico, Mary Ellen Atwood said.

Other sets they have acquired include a felt set from Nepal, one made of peach pits from Chile, a hemp set from Ecuador and a wooden hand-carved set from Austria.

Some they purchased on their travels and others they bought from stores like Ten Thousand Villages.

A favorite is one made entirely of shells by a craftsman in Chile. Mary Ellen said she asked the artist to make it for her but she had to leave in a week, and she is still impressed with its intricacy and design.

Their most expensive set is one by Lladro, Glenn Atwood said. They also have some Don Drumm pieces, as well as Fostoria Glass.

Some parts of the collection were found locally.

“I got a couple at garage sales,” Mary Ellen Atwood said. “I thought if I didn’t buy them, they would just be thrown away, and I thought they needed respect.”

She added their collection probably totaled around 150 at one time, but their three children now have some of the sets in their homes.

The collection also includes Nativity-themed pieces such as Christmas tree ornaments and pillows. And the collection is still being added to, as Mary Ellen said she received a Nativity scene pin to wear this Christmas.

The couple said it’s their tradition to keep the sets up through Epiphany, and they plan to start packing them up Jan. 7. Until then, the public may stop to see them at the Manor House, located at 970 Sumner Parkway, off Ridgewood Road.

They added they hope to put the display up again next Christmas season, and some residents may add their unique sets to it.

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