The Crèche

The crèche which is part of our church every Advent and Christmas has a fascinating history which involves members of our congregation, the United States Air Force, a local artist, art students, and Bulgarian refugees.

The United States Air Force Base, Fort Pepperrell, was slated for closure in May, 1959.  At that time, the Americans were disposing of the Base’s assets.  A member of the congregation, Horwood Guzzwell, while visiting the Base during this time, discovered a crèche destined for disposal.  He procured the crèche and stored it for several years.  It was noted to be in very poor condition, with the figures being defaced and broken.

Several years later, Mrs Dorothy Peters, another member of our congregation, on examining the crèche, thought it should be repaired.  She contacted Mr Reginald Sheppard, a well-known artist in St John’s and the art teacher at Prince of Wales Collegiate.  Mr Sheppard, along with his art students, worked for a full academic year on restoring the figures.  The figures are vivid and life-like and exhibit the traditional form of crèche figures that we associate with those of our Bible stories of the 1950s.

It was thereafter used in the church for many years.  By 1990, the figures had again shown signs of breakage and chipping of the paint.  Linda Bowden, a member of Time Out for Women, contacted the Arts Council of Newfoundland and Labrador and was given the contact information for a new young sculptor and his wife, a painter, who had just arrived in St John’s and needed work.

Luben Boykov, a trained sculptor in his native Bulgaria and his wife Elena Popova, a trained artist, also from Bulgaria, had arrived with their infant daughter in Gander in 1990 and had claimed refugee status.

Linda Bowden met with the couple who agreed that Mr Boykov would carry out the restoration work and Ms Popova would paint the figures.  The commission was $1,000.00 for the project.  We should feel gratified that our church was able to help this young couple become established in St John’s, which they still call home, and the congregation is most appreciative of the quality of the work performed by this gifted couple.

It should be noted that the crèche is missing one of the wise men and no history of when this occurred can be documented.  It is possible that, because of the poor condition of the figures when first obtained, this figure was too badly damaged to be retained.

With thanks to Dr. David K. Peters for the early history of the crèche.