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A crèche from the Philippines

#TraditionsTuesday: The Sherrick Crèche Collection at Otterbein University

A crèche from Alaska. 2007. Made of soapstone and bone. Height: 1 1/2 inches - 2 3/4 inches. 6 pcs. Carved stone Holy Family with four animals. Removable carved bone tusks and horns on the animals. Photo courtesy of Otterbein University.The concept of using art to teach is not new; in fact, arts integration has some surprising connections to the holidays, which we’re excited to delve into in today’s Traditions Tuesday. In 2019, an extensive collection of nativity sets, or crèches, was donated to the Otterbein University Department of Art and Art History, and each of the more than 660 individual pieces has its own story to tell.

Donated by Otterbein alumni Richard Sherrick (’54) and Carolyn Brown Sherrick (’53), the collection comprises crèches from around the world that are made of an incredible array of materials. While many are traditional ceramic, metal, and glass, more surprising mediums like gourds, sand dollars, eggs, and even orange peels make an appearance. Each set is representative of the culture and style of its place of origin. This is the aspect of the collection which excites Janice Glowski, director of the museum and galleries and an art historian at Otterbein. The collection, rooted in a single subject matter and viewed through a global lens, allows audiences and researchers alike to consider the cultural variations represented and promotes discussion of topics such as cultural heritage, the migration of ideas, and trade routes and their influence on people.

A crèche from Cameroon. 2012. Ceramic. Height: 2 inches - 8 inches. 12 pcs. Rich dark brown finish. Large animals. Mary and Joseph seated as sign of respect. Photo courtesy of Otterbein University.Sets from around the world can feature unique interpretations of the nativity story. A soapstone set from Alaska, for example, features an unusual array of animals: a moose, bison, bear, and walrus with tiny, removable carved bone horns and tusks. And while the traditional nativity set may feature Joseph standing protectively over Mary and the baby, the crèche from Cameroon features both the Mary and Joseph figures seated as a sign of respect.

Catholic friar St. Francis of Assisi is widely credited with creating the first crèche in 1223 A.D. At the time, church services were performed only in Latin, so few people truly understood what was being taught. The arts were used in several ways to bridge this gap, and Francis staged a live nativity scene for his parishioners in a cave outside of town. The spectacle soon evolved into a diorama which could be displayed throughout the advent season—a classic example of arts integration at work.

At Otterbein, there are no current plans in place for a public display, but the crèches will continue to be used for learning. Students and faculty will be able to use the Sherrick Collection in classes and arts-professional training in curatorial skills, collections management, conservation, and more. In this way, the vision of St. Francis and the dedication of the Sherrick family will be able to serve as an inspiration for learners of all backgrounds, cultures, and faiths.

Take up the #TraditionTuesday:

A crèche from China. 2001. Glass. Height: 6 inches. 9 pcs. Stylized tall figures, each in a different color. Photo courtesy of Otterbein University.EXPAND: The crèche is not the only artistic item used as a tool to pass down traditions of faith, especially this time of year. Many of the decorations used in the winter holidays feature candles or twinkling lights to brighten a dark time. Explore the backgrounds of the Menorah, the Kinara, and even the Yule Log to see how beautiful, decorative pieces are an important part of lighting up the season and connecting us to the past.

EXPERIENCE: Consider the holiday traditions which are special and sacred in your family and create a piece of art together that celebrates that experience.

EXPLORE: Learn more about the origins of the crèche, or nativity scene, here:

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Amy Ruggaber, Ohio Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Contractor
Featured photo: A crèche from the Philippines | 2004 | Natural materials (brushes), wood, metal | Height: 13" | 12 pcs. | Figures are made of brushes, painted wood heads, dressed in fabric. Photo courtesy of Otterbein University.

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