The Wonderful Nativities of Marie Cloutier

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This Nativity scene was hand-made from wheat straw in Poland, and features Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in his manger. It is an example of Polish folk art, which makes creative use of woven straw, string, and other traditional household materials. Artisans are known for using this technique to create a range of distinctive Christmas decorations and ornaments.

This is the tale of Mrs. Marie Cloutier, her Nativity collection, and how her passion for collecting helped inspire a St-Georges Christmas tradition. According to her children, Marie began purchasing Nativity scenes during her post-retirement travels abroad. What started as a fun hobby steadily escalated, and soon, she had amassed an impressive collection. “Collecting Nativity scenes became a huge part of our mother’s life,” they explained.

For those unfamiliar: A Nativity scene is a visual representation of the Christmas story. It can be made of any material, can be sculptural or 2D, and range in size from miniature to monumental. Typical scenes portray Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, often accompanied by farm animals and three wise men. Throughout history, countless artists have interpreted this iconic scene, resulting in some of the most significant artworks in the Western art canon. In modern times, Nativities are popular decorations in churches, towns, and family homes during the Christmas season.

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Coming from the small South American country of Ecuador, this Nativity scene was modeled out of bread dough that was air-dried and painted, in a technique known as Masapán. This unique craft originated in the village of Calderόn which specializes in the manufacture of Christmas ornaments and has made it into a successful local industry. This brightly-coloured grouping features baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a spotted cow, and a saddled donkey.

One snowy weekend in 2010, Diane Dubé (community volunteer) was visiting her friend Joanne Bouvier in Winnipeg. It was during a casual chat that Diane learned of her neighbour, a certain Marie Cloutier and her collection of 300+ Nativity scenes she had gathered from around the world. As a new museum volunteer, visions of a Christmas exhibition began dancing in Diane’s head. She enlisted her friend to find out if Marie would be open to loaning some pieces to the museum for a holiday display. Diane soon received an invitation to visit Marie in Winnipeg and select an assortment of pieces to exhibit. Later that year, Marie and her sister came to visit the exhibition, bringing with them over 40 tourists from Winnipeg on a bus excursion organized by Fehrway Tours. They were impressed, and Marie agreed to loan Nativities to the museum once more. Thus was born the Crèche Festival, becoming an annual St-Georges Christmas tradition.
It was due to Marie Cloutier’s passion for the Nativity, and Diane’s stroke of inspiration, that the St-Georges chapter of the Amis de la crèche was formed in 2010 and established its own collection of Nativity scenes. The collection is eclectic, inspired by Marie to collect artworks from far afield while at the same time supporting local Manitoba and regional artists.

“We have a lot of fun! We love exploring little Christmas boutiques and finding pieces that demonstrate local art-making traditions. The festive spirit, the tradition, the colours, that magical feeling – that’s what drives us,” Diane explained. At almost 300 pieces, the collection is now so large, storage space has been allocated for it in the new Winnipeg River Heritage Museum.

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This Nativity scene is made from glazed ceramic accented with gold flourishes and textural details. The once-known artist employs a blend of 2D and 3D modeling, showing an intimate scene from an interesting perspective. The Holy family shelters in a humble stable, accompanied only by their sheep companions and the Star of Bethlehem suspended above. While the exact provenance of this piece is not known at present, we like to imagine it was crafted in warmer climes, where palm trees and winter co-exist.

Over the years, the Amis de la crèche have exhibited dozens of Marie’s nativity sets. That is why this year, we’re showcasing over 100 newly-donated pieces from Marie Cloutier’s collection at our 9th Annual Crèche Festival in celebration of this special relationship. The exhibition has grown from 39 pieces borrowed from Marie and the local community the first year, to this year featuring 200 Nativity scenes.

Visitors to Allard Library will have the opportunity to admire artworks hailing from all four corners of the globe. They’re large and small, colourful and subdued, wood and metal – there is truly something to suit every taste. Organizers hope to impart upon the visitor an appreciation of the diverse ways artists and craftspeople interpret this most-classic religious theme.

The Crèche Festival will be opening on Tuesday November 27, 2018 at Allard Library and will be on view until January 5, 2019. Diane Dubé will lead tours during the Snowflake Bazaar on Friday November 30 from 4-5pm and Saturday December 1 between 10am-1pm. Please call (204) 367-9970 to arrange your tour.

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On these next two slides, we see another Nativity scene using straw as its medium. This time hailing from Bangladesh. After wheat straw is cut and laid flat, heat is used to create the differences in tone, then the scene is constructed layer by layer. An angel graces the cover of this fold-up piece (known as a diptych),
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Inside, a multi-layered scene unfolds. At left, the Virgin Mary kneels over baby Jesus, flanked by a donkey and a sheep, while at right, the three wise men look on.

Les crèches de Marie Cloutier

Débuter une collection commence souvent par hasard. Soit vous avez reçu un objet qui vous a plu ou alors hérité d’une collection d’un parent ou d’un grand-parent.
Et donc, comment devenons-nous collectionneur de crèches? « L’aventure pour Marie Cloutier a commencé il y a à peu près 40 ans. Pour Marie, c’était devenu une partie de sa vie! » racontent ses enfants.

En discutant avec son amie un jour, Joanne Bouvier de Winnipeg, Diane Dubé a découvert qu’une « Madame Cloutier » qui habitait le même bloc appartement que Bouvier, possédait plus de 300 crèches, provenant un peu partout du monde entier.
En demandant si cette dame serait prête à prêter quelques crèches pour embellir l’exposition des crèches prêtées par d’autres familles de la communauté. Mme. Bouvier s’est informée et elle a organisé une rencontre entre Mme. Dubé et Mme. Cloutier pour choisir des crèches à mettre en vedette.

Et donc, l’aventure de collection de crèches a connu son début comme tel et pendant plusieurs années, Les amis de la crèche ont mis en vedette, une trentaine de crèches de Marie.

Lors d’une tournée organisée par Fehrway tours en 2010, Marie et sa sœur sont même venues avec une quarantaine de touristes de Winnipeg à Saint-Georges, afin de voir ses crèches en vedette, ainsi que d’autres mises en exposition.

C’est donc, avec grand plaisir que nous présentons cette année 100 crèches données par Marie et sa famille pour le neuvième festival annuel des crèches.

En rentrant la Bibliothèque Allard, les visiteurs pourront admirer les œuvres provenant des quatre coins du monde mais aussi celles provenant de Saint-Georges. Des petites, des grandes, des colorées, des miniatures, qu’elles soient en bois ou en aluminium.

L’exposition répondra à tous les goûts des gens. De plus, il n’est pas nécessaire d’être pratiquant de foi ou pieux pour apprécier ces beautés qui captent l’histoire de Noël.
Lorsque nous admirons les crèches exposées, nous voyons davantage une œuvre d’art plus qu’un objet religieux. La création artistique est très importante pour les amis.
En 2009, 39 crèches empruntées de la communauté étaient exposées à la Bibliothèque Allard. Aujourd’hui, Les amis de la crèche possèdent une collection de 294 crèches et de cette collection, plus de 200 ont été minutieusement choisies pour cette exposition.

La collection de crèches est éclectique et unique. Les amis de la crèche ont aussi reçu plusieurs des crèches d’un peu partout, de toutes sortes, mais ils demandent aussi aux artistes manitobains et locaux d’en créer.

« On s’amuse beaucoup! C’est la tradition, le côté festif, la magie, les matériaux, les couleurs. On aime fouiller dans les petits magazines d’occasion ainsi que les friperies pour être capable d’illustrer les traditions. La crèche, c’est une mise en scène », affirme Diane Dubé.

Cette collection est maintenant si imposante qu’un nouveau local lui est réservée à l’entreposage de ses crèches au musée du patrimoine de la Rivière Winnipeg
Le vernissage de l’exposition Les crèches de Marie Cloutier aura lieu le mardi 27 novembre à 10:30 à la bibliothèque Allard Library et continuera jusqu’au 5 janvier 2019.