I have always loved Nativity scenes. I remember all of the Nativities from my childhood in the homes of my family. My Grandma & Grandpa Wilcox had a brightly painted papier-mache set from Ben Franklin dime-store. My Mom had an abstract acrylic set from Hallmark. My favorite piece in the sets has always been the donkey. Think about the importance of this humble beast in the Bible. Donkeys have a significant role in the life of Christ interpretations: the trip to Bethlehem, the quick exodus out of Bethlehem to Egypt, and then years later, the parade into Jerusalem. My research shows other Biblical references, but I am not a Bible scholar–I just love donkeys. There is some Bible scholarship that indicates that Mary more likely traveled to Bethlehem on a horse or in an animal drawn cart. However, they do not know for sure, so I’m sticking with the donkey in my telling of the story. The little Bethlehem donkeys have a cross on their backs that is legendary in donkey themed folklore.
I have a little donkey from a Nativity set that I keep on my studio desk at home-year round. I keep it there to remind myself that great things, life changing things, can be escorted into our lives in humble ways.
When I drive to Altenburg from my home in Cape Girardeau, I know I’m almost at the museum when I see what I call, “Buffalo Ranch.” There is an incredible menagerie of constantly changing critters on this beautiful ranch, and for awhile now there has been a little herd (actually called a ‘drove’ or ‘pace’) of donkeys. It’s all I can do to not stop and have a little visit with them. I promise you, they smile at me as I pass by–because everyone knows that donkeys and mules can smile.
Thank you for your time, indulging my love of donkeys. Here are some examples from the incredible Gloystein Nativity Collection here at the museum.￼￼￼ (Thanks for helping with the photos, Warren.)