12/14/11

A Gift from my Grandmother

My family is made up of women who sewed, including my mother, my maternal grandmother, and my aunt.  I've written about them before, but I haven't said much about my paternal grandmother, Ella Richards Nelson, who knitted and crocheted.  Her real specialty was the beautiful ceramic work she did. Here's a picture of her with my grandfather taken around the late 1960's. (I believe my mother made that shirt my grandfather is wearing.)


My grandmother has been gone a long time . . . decades . . . and she was taken from us too soon by Alzheimer's Disease.  The last time I saw her she had been vegetative for a long time, spending 100% of her time curled up in her bed.  On that last visit, however, she came back to us for just a few seconds, when I showed her pictures of my children.  She opened her eyes and said, "They've grown!"  It was the first time she had spoken in over a year.  It was wonderful to have that last bit of communication with her, if only for the briefest of moments.

She left behind a beautiful ceramic nativity that I have enjoyed for many years.  She had ten grandchildren, and she made one of these sets for several of them.  I was the only one lucky enough to receive all of the pieces in the set.


It is quite large, and so it's difficult to get a good picture of the whole thing.  She gave it to me over a period of about seven years, a few pieces each year.  The first pieces were Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.


When she first started making them, she had a steady hand, and the faces are beautifully painted.  In fact, all the pieces in my set are perfect.  She made a set for my mom and dad some years later, and her hands were not nearly so steady.  It showed in the faces when they were held side by side, but all of her work was beautiful nonetheless.




She gave me these first pieces in 1965.  It's hard to believe it's been nearly 50 years.


The next year I received the first king and his camel.  I think these are my favorite pieces because of how beautiful the painting is.  She achieved the look of crushed velvet on his robe by first painting with gold, firing it, and then painting it again with color.  Isn't he handsome?



This is his camel.  It was to have been painted with the same burgundy as the king, but she said it was difficult to get the gold paint to fire this perfectly, and so she left it, proud of what she'd accomplished.



Here are the other kings.  After so many years, all the sequins and pearls are still stuck fast.  That was some strong glue she used!


I love the mother-of-pearl effect on this one.

While the kings are elegant and sparkly, the remaining pieces are beautiful in their humility.  The colors of the paint always reminded me of candy.  Whenever it is set up, I find myself touching and stroking the pieces.  They are delightful to look at, but somehow compelling from a tactile standpoint as well.




I feel so fortunate to have this set.  It's a wonderful memento of my grandmother.  I hope that it can remain in my family, intact, for the enjoyment of generations to come.

23 comments from clever and witty friends:

WoolenSails said...

What a wonderful treasure to have and each one different as she learned new techniques. My grandmother had a ceramic studio and made a beautiful nativity, but my older sister got that.

Debbie

Michelle said...

I'm trying to decide if that's the same set my Mom made years ago - the angel is different, but all of the figures and animals look the same. The wise man and camel are just gorgeous...love that she used the real gold. And that she dated the pieces.

Mrs.Pickles said...

what a lovely keepsake!

Tonya said...

Those are gorgeous! What a neat set to pass down.

Cathy (aka CrafteeCC) said...

what a beautiful collection! I used to do ceramics myself and can really appreciate the work involved in this set! It is wonderful that you have some great memories and feeling when you set it up each year ;-)

Miki Willa said...

What an amazing gift and tribute to your relationship with your grandmother. This is very beautiful.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

I love the animals in your set! Mine is also from my grandmother and it's in terrible shape, the poor donkey is missing his legs. But I wouldn't trade it for any other. It's so nice that you have this. Thank you for sharing.

Aimee said...

Wow!! These are amazing!!! Thank you for sharing?

JJ said...

Those are beautiful and such a treasure to have especially because they came from your grandmother. I remember doing ceramics in the 60' and would love to make a mother of pearl nativity. Thank you for sharing.

Kelli said...

What a gorgeous nativity, and even more special b/c of its history and being given to you by your grandmother. :)

Snoodles said...

How beautiful...thank you for sharing the story, too. We have a much loved set that is far more humble...we bought it so that the kids could handle the pieces as we read the story. Not to play and move them around, but to look at them, and get into the story. Good memories!

Stray Stitches (Linda G) said...

Such a beautiful nativity and you have so many memories attached to it. Thanks for sharing.

free indeed said...

Beautiful post of memories!

Denise :) said...

Barbara, your nativity is gorgeous. What a precious treasure! :)

LethargicLass said...

what a wonderful collection to pass down!

KatieQ said...

What a wonderful treasure to remember your grandmother by. Thanks for sharing the photos and the story behind them.

June said...

I painted that same set back in 1969, right before my daughter was born. I haven't taken it out in years, but it is still in storage. Thanks for the memories...I used to be a certified ceramic teacher (sigh).

Kathleen said...

what a wonderful keepsake...

Jen said...

Beautiful pieces and such a heartwarming story. Merry Xmas!

Kate said...

What a beautiful reminder of your Grandmother. It's absolutely beautiful.

Sandi P said...

What a wonderful treasure.

Quilter In Paradise said...

OMG this is the same set that I did as a kid ( back int he 50's) and every year my Mom would put it under the tree. When she passed away, my stepfather wouldn't let anyone go thru things, so it stayed at their house for a few years, then when he went to an assisted living facility, I found out that his family CLEANED OUT THE HOUSE! and they didn't tell me - so my nativity set is who knows where!
thanks for sharing yours!

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

What a treasure. Glad you enjoy it.