Farley woman’s Nativity collection on display for public
“I never had a dollhouse when I was a little girl, so this is my dollhouse now,” joked Farley resident Madge Hanrahan.
And what a dollhouse it is, as in fact it’s a Nativity scene with more pieces than Hanrahan can count. “Oh, now you’re putting me on the spot,” she said, when asked exactly how many, but estimated the collection contains more than 300 figurines from various sources and took two days for her to set up, with assistance. Now on display at St. Joseph’s Hall at the Society of Saint Pius X in Farley, the collection takes up much of a fairly large reception room, with the display arranged over dozens of tables and boxes in a lit series of scenes. It all began with a trip to France. Hanrahan, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, has lived in the Kansas City area since 1958. Her husband owned Hanrahan Asphalt and Paving and after his death in 1995, she took a trip to France. She spotted a beautifully carved crèche in a gift shop in Lourdes and asked the shop owner how she could get it home. It was a set from the House of Fontanini, Italian makers of hand-painted figurines since 1908. After the shop owner carefully boxed up that first set, Hanrahan was hooked. She carried it home on the plane and never stopped collecting. Today, she said about 70 percent of her collection is from the House of Fontanini, but it also includes Santons from Provence, France and pieces from all over Europe and the Holy Land. The scenes include figures that you wouldn’t expect to see in a standard Nativity, including an elaborately clothed Russian peddler, fishermen and characters from all time periods and walks of life. “The figurines have come from all over but they all have something in common that they’re all bringing gifts to the Christ child,” Hanrahan said. The scene also contains palm trees, buildings created both by Fontanini, other designers and members of her own family. Her son built the first manger she used to display the original set, and since then the contributions have just grown. This year, she admits, she only added one figure to the collection – a carved angel statue. Over the years, she added little cat figurines to the display in a game challenging her grandchildren to find the cats on Christmas Eve after they placed the baby Jesus in the manger. Now, nearly two dozen cats decorate the display, along with countless other animals and set pieces. Visitors to the Farley display are challenged to locate the cats, an elephant, turkeys, a mouse, a camel wearing a Jerusalem hat and even a partridge in a pear tree. The display has outgrown her home over the years, though she used to keep it on display at her Leawood, Kan. home during the holiday season. Since her relocation to Farley, she brought it to the attention of the priests at the Society of Saint Pius X and they happily provided her with a place to share it with the community. “They had to use a truck and horse trailer to get it all here,” she said. Storing the display is a bit of a challenge, but as a long-time art lover it’s something Hanrahan said she is happy to share with the community. The public is invited to see this grand Nativity at an open house from 1-4 p.m. Dec. 29 at Saint Joseph’s Hall, Society of Saint Pius X, 11485 North Farley Road.