Painting a full blown nativity scene has always been on my professional bucket list but the daunting nature of the subject has detoured me for over three decades. The Nativity is a scene that has been portrayed countless times throughout history with the result that every Christian man, woman and child has already developed a very personal and treasured image in their minds of what that special night might have been like. That visual imagery is sacred, emotional territory that I have been reluctant to tread upon as an artist. The Nativity, however, remains as the quintessential subject in Christian genre and because of that it’s one of those pieces that eventually “you just gotta do”! I’m not sure I wanted to do anything “differently” with my version of the Nativity, I actually wanted the image to feel familiar. Some of my earliest memories revolve around the Christmas season. I remember receiving a toy farm set for Christmas (apparently I was three years old that year). I recall adding my toy farm animals to the little nativity set displayed near the Christmas tree in our home. Even at that young age I somehow felt and understood the magical spirit of Christmas and I was aware that it centered around the story told by that wonderful little nativity set. That’s why I included the Three Wise Men in the painting, although not chronologically accurate, they are part of the familiar and magical imagery we have of that first Christmas night…who wants a nativity set without any Wise Men? There is one element however which I added this is somewhat unique to the traditional nativity imagery and that is the kneeling woman with the small lamp. I often feel like women are under represented in the scriptures. I’ll leave her possible identity up to the viewer but she could be the innkeeper’s wife, a midwife or a relative. I simply enjoyed the inclusion of another feminine element in this tender maternal scene. One “behind the scenes” story revolves around two of the models in the painting: the woman with the lantern and the seated shepherd on the far right with his hand on the small boy’s shoulder. These two models are friends of ours and are actually married to each other. They also happen to be the parents of another model in one of my paintings entitled “Lost and Found”. That painting depicts a teenage young man on a park bench seated beside the Savior. That young man is their son, Dan. Dan and our son Nate have been friends since grade school. Some months prior to the creation the Nativity painting, Dan passed away. For me this was a case of life (and death) imitating art. I can very much imagine Dan receiving love, compassion and rest in the Savior’s company. So in a beautifully strange twist of chronology and storyline, Dan’s parents, in the Nativity painting have the chance to offer their love and light to the little Christ child who will one day return it upon their own son!
by Greg Olsen