Artist: Kevin Hanna

Something Wonderful for God -- The Art of Kevin Hanna

Kevin Hanna's art was featured in Time Magazine, April 10, 1995. In our institute's search for artists who do Marian work, his outstanding art was referred to us. He agreed to create an original nativity scene for The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute. We recently received Hanna's creche and wish to share with you, unedited but slightly abridged, the commentary he wrote to accompany his work.

Excerpts of letters:

I have tried to express my sense of the mystery of the Incarnation, proceeding in a way that simply looked or felt right, and only later do I interpret the meaning behind certain decisions. In large part this creche is similar to others I have made. In certain details I have made changes, which I will note and try to explain as I go along.

Nativity] The mystery of the Word becoming flesh is expressed mainly in two ways:

1) Movement within the composition, particularly the movement of the eye downward and forward. The energy represented in the heavens (the singing heavenly host, the blackness dotted with stars) is the power and potential and mystery of the piece. The structure of the stable is designed, starting with the downward point under the roof, to lead the eye downward and through the open door, along the central platform forward, spilling down into the surface where Jesus lies. The force of this movement is what pushes out the corresponding shape which thrusts from the front edge of the base -- it is not merely ornamental.

In past nativities I included a headboard, fashioning a sort of criblike manger into this ramp. But that, for all its charm, seemed to interrupt this movement and I have eliminated it here. In the past Jesus was nearly seated, or at least inclined, against the headboard, facing out toward the viewer with the presence of an older baby. Here I have laid Him head first to suggest the process of birth and the helplessness of a newborn. For all the quiet force of this movement downward and forward, it seemed important that the infant seem vulnerable as it enters this cold and dirty place, that his nakedness contrast the rather heavy clothing of most of the other figures.

2) A tension, visually, between the muddiness and brilliance of the piece - the flesh and spirit. Though most of the brilliance is expressed in the stars, some is also reflected in the gold and finery of the kings and their little entourage, as if these adornments themselves might represent a straining toward the divine. Even this fine clothing of course is not exempt from becoming dirty as the hems and boots move through the mud.

This tension between dirt and brilliance is also embodied in the way the two groups of people relate, both visually and narratively, as they meet at the nativity of Jesus. There is some reference here to justice or social classes but it could be interpreted in many ways.

I have included for the first time the washing of Jesus -- pitcher, bowl of water, cloth in Mary's hand as if she's just finished this. This refers not only to cleaning afterbirth, but also to the muddy environment, and to a washing that might be ritual or sacramental. There is a poignancy in such an effort, as the eventual contact with the mud is inevitable for this child, as all of us. Already the cloth on which he lies is becoming dirty at the edges.

The figures form a composition and it is their power as a group that is important. The figures form a composition and it is their power as a group that is important. Therefore the carving on certain ones is not quite as refined as my work usually is. Surfaces not exposed to primary view are given less attention. I have chosen to invest the time toward a large group rather than on perfectionism of every detail. Those figures in the rear are intentionally smaller to create an illusion of greater depth.

I hope you are happy with this effort. I will be eager to hear your response. I feel I have shown good faith in trying to do the work with thought and care, and in offering an enormous amount of work... It amounts to about five weeks of full-time work...

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