2015 Mepkin Abbey Creche Festival – A Visual Entrance to the Holiday Season

By Paul Brustowicz - Retired Mensch
By Paul Brustowicz – Retired Mensch

There is an eclectic mix of art at the 2015 Mepkin Abbey Creche Festival in Moncks Corner. The depictions of the Christ child’s crib and surroundings are portrayed in ceramics, wood, clay, recycled car parts, a soda can, hammered copper, even oyster shells as seen in this photo.

Visitors to the festival are asked to vote for their favorite creche at the end of the tour. It is like picking your favorite child or favorite song. Near on to impossible.

Of the fifty-six artworks on display, this year’s festival has forty exhibits on loan from the University of Dayton’s International Marian Research Center. These interpretations of the Nativity were created throughout the world. France, Japan, Ecuador, Canada, Egypt and Ghana are just some of the thirty-two countries represented at the Festival.

In addition to the University of Dayton collection, there are two very special exhibits. The Monks commissioned artist Janet McKenzie from Vermont to create a new and inclusive interpretation of the Nativity Scene. In McKenzie’s own words she was “instantly inspired” after having learned of the events at Mother Emanuel AME Church. McKenzie’s work, The Night Visitors, is the invitational piece on the cover of the 2015 program and the first work a visitor sees on entering the Clare Booth Luce Memorial Library where the majority of the exhibits are housed.

As usual the tour is self-paced. The Mensch volunteered at the Abbey welcome center to hand out programs and direct guests down the path where nine of the exhibits are outdoors.

Last year the hammered copper nativity scene in the breezeway was my favorite. This year the handcrafted “Presepio” won my heart. It is the other special exhibit.

The Presepio, Italian for crib, was created by Karen Loccisano and Michael Palan of New York. They were inspired by the Neapolitan figures on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It is number thirty-two on the program and I could have spent all day viewing this intricate and lovely work depicting an 18th century village in Italy. It is enclosed in plexiglass and should be viewed from all five sides: left, right, front, back and top. Look for the woman with tomatoes in her basket or the devil in chains trying to escape a dungeon. Pictures will not do it justice, unless of course, you’re Ken Burns and zoom in and zoom out on all the carvings.? Loccisano and Palan are also responsible for the cloth and resin figures of the monks in exhibit number sixteen.

The festival runs from November 16 – 22 and November 27 – December 5. Tours start at 10 with the last tour at 3.

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. The 13th Annual Creche Festival is free and open to the public. Last year over 8000 visitors viewed the creches during the three week festival. Head out to Moncks Corner and to set the mood for Christmas.

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Creches are Cribs – The Retired Mensch

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The Mensch has learned something new: creches are cribs, that is crèche is the French word crib. The Trappist Monks at Mepkin Abbey are having their annual Creche Festival with over 80 displays of creches and the Mensch is just one of a small army of volunteers who make it happen up there at Monck’s Corner.

Over the years benefactors have donated creches to the Abbey; commissioned artists to create them for the Festival and the monks have bought them so that now their collection numbers over eight hundred. The variety is endless.

Along the path from the Gift Store to the The Clare Booth Luce Library, there are creches made of wood, marble, recycled materials, and copper. In the library, artists have carved juniper and other woods, glued oyster shells, sewn fabric, woven sweet grass baskets, painted papier-maché, and hammered brass into interpretations of a creche.

The creches hail from Poland, Lithuania, Italy, North Carolina, Beaufort, New Mexico, Haiti, Ethiopia, and many other foreign places. One of the fun things about the festival is the vote for a favorite. Visitors are asked for their ONE favorite creche at the end of the tour. It is always a tough choice. The Mensch’s volunteer job was to record the votes of visitors. Good thing it was pencil and paper and a big eraser. Some folks had no problem choosing a favorite: number 75, number 8, number 14. Others had a tough time: Not sure, it is between 14, 75 and 80, can I pick three?

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When the festival is over the Monks will tally the votes and the top three vote getters will be announced on the web site, www.mepkinabbey.org. Next year the winners are guaranteed a spot in the festival. A little competition is good for all.

There is no politically correct way to say this so I’ll just blurt it out: this is a festival for shoppers who are mostly women. Based on the Mensch’s observations, most of the visitors were women, retirees, and gray-haired guys who carried shopping bags for their wives. The gift store and the creche store are shoppers’ paradise for those who have Christian religious gifts on their gift list. And, yes there is fruitcake baked by the Monks for your giving pleasure.

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The Festival ends December 6th and if you can’t make it, here are a few photos of what you missed.