16 November 2009
Jean Hodge talks to a woman whose collection is on show for about a month every year – and takes four or five days to get out of the attic! ...
Patricia Skuce’s collection is only put on display once a year, at Christmas time when her 200 or so Nativity scenes provide all the decoration needed in her St Albans home.
Funnily enough, the only other time it comes out of storage is when Patricia uses it to raise money for charity – and it is rather fitting that a collection inspired by the story of a homeless baby should in turn raise funds for charities that help the homeless.
The first Nativity was bought from Woolworths in the 1960s when Patricia wanted to bring something of the true message of Christmas into her home. Her three children were young and she was conscious that the birth of Christ was being portrayed generally as being about tinsel and Father Christmas.
“I had seen some wonderful Nativities in churches and so I bought a plastic one from Woolworths, which is actually rather nice,” reflects Patricia, who has since acquired scenes from Bethlehem that she describes as “very crude”.
It was some years before a second, bigger Nativity was acquired, again in plastic, but Patricia says the detail of the Italian-made model was “very good”. Interestingly, that scene includes the figure of a shepherd – playing the bagpipes! It appealed to Patricia because the shepherds are represented, rather than the three kings more typically included in the Nativity scene – as she points out, it was the shepherds who came upon the stable first.
Patricia says: “I didn’t think at first I was going to collect them, but I started to see good ones and people bought me nice ones. It just started to grow, and now everywhere I go I am looking out for Nativities, although they have to be different to ones I already have. Collecting them sort of gets into your blood. I haven’t got a favourite because they are all different, although I really like the ingenious ones that come from Africa made out of twigs and string, or the one made in Peru with the figures sheltering under a Jacaranda leaf, and some have special meaning because various people bought them for me.”
The collection is surprisingly varied: one where the scene is encased in a tiny thimble while another is contained in a matchbox; a beautiful Lladro Nativity with porcelain figures is in a large stable backdrop; many were bought from charities and are made out of bamboo or twigs or are hand-knitted figures; she has bean bag and delicate Irish Dresden figures; one from Bethlehem made from Mother of Pearl; there are musical Nativity scenes; and one, with the key figures rather unusually mounted on a camel, came from a garden centre.
Patricia also has about 13 Nativity scenes among her collection of Christmas plates, and figures from the Nativity are also represented in her collection of Christmas tree decorations.
What is the most you have ever spent?
My husband bought the Lladro Nativity for me in Spain and it cost about £999. Another piece, by NAO, was about £300.
If you had to sell your collection what would be the last piece you would sell?
I wouldn’t sell them – I would give all my things away, but I would want to keep the first plastic one and the Lladro one my husband bought me.
Is there anything particularly unusual or rare in your collection?
I think they are all unusual and I wouldn’t buy them if they weren’t all different, but what is fascinating about my Italian one is that everybody in the village is represented in the plaster figures, including women carrying shopping, to shepherds. I also have a Playmobil Nativity that I have owned for some years, and all the bits were meant to be taken to pieces but I have got them all, even the cats in the stable. I have a couple of Stork margarine tubs depicting the Nativity, lapel pins, and even a Rubik cube that displays changing Nativity scenes.
What do friends and family think of your collection?
People seem to think it’s quite a nice idea and people have sometimes given me Nativities.
If you won £500 tomorrow, what would you spend it on?
I suspect I might try and buy one of the spectacular ones they have in Italy or Germany.
How do you display the collection?
Most of the year it is in the attic, but it comes out usually about a month before Christmas. If I am doing a charity coffee morning I will plan it for the first Saturday in December or the nearest one to the start of the month. It takes four or five days to get it out and my husband Ralph helps with setting it up.
Do you have any tips on collecting Nativities?
You will only find them in the shops at Christmas time – and sometimes you can find a bargain after Christmas. You can find some really lovely ones in Christmas markets held overseas.
To view the pictures of Patricia's collection click here