Xenia Miller always believed a silent night could speak volumes.
The late Columbus art aficionado and longtime Indianapolis Museum of Art board member collected folk-art Nativity scene sets from all over the world for decades — and amassed more than 300 works made of ceramics, porcelain, papier-mâché, metal, wood, cloth and stone before her death in 2008.
“I hope that the millions of Christians around the world, of diverse races and countries and cultures, feel the tenderness and beauty of the story of the birth of Christ,” Miller said in a 1997 local speech before one of her crèche exhibits, “and that we all are drawn closer together in love and kindness to one another.”
People can have that chance once again at Crèche the Halls, the 90-minute holiday incarnation of the Miller House tour than runs on select days through Jan. 22.
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The event features 10 of Miller’s crèches that she would place in the home, and especially the bookcase, during holiday decorating — plus a touch or two outside, including Christmas lights on one of the property’s magnolia trees near the carport. Organizers are relying on the recall and expertise of people such as Ben Wever, site administrator at the Miller House and a longtime Miller family employee, as was his grandmother, Barbara Voelz.
Wever mentioned that Miller House interior designer Alexander Girard routinely chose from among Miller’s pieces to be displayed in the home. And like anyone who knows the pieces, Wever has his favorites.
“It’s hard not to pick the Tunsi,” Wever said, referring to a fanciful porcelain work by Tunsi Girard, brother of Miller House interior designer. “But I really like any of the ones that Alexander Girard picked to be displayed.
“It’s great to see the diversity from all over the world.”
Karen Niverson, new executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center who saw the crèches for the first time this year, can relate.
“I was just taken aback by all the diversity,” said Niverson, who conceived the Miller House holiday tour. “If you think of the kind of traditional Nativities many of us once had sitting out, and you look at these and note how they express so many cultures, they’re really amazing.”
Miller’s collection — frequently displayed through the years at places such as the former Indianapolis Museum of Art Columbus Gallery that Miller herself made possible — includes a veritable global village. From Poland to Portugal and Sweden to Sri Lanka, exhibits have offered a varied view of the baby’s birth. For instance, one wooden Nigerian piece shows the Christ child born under a thatched roof hut, surrounded by African figures bending low in admiration and adoration.
But one of her most treasured crèches is not a part of the current display.
The artist? A college-age Will Miller, her son and former Columbus business and community leader.
While a student at Yale University, Will Miller was asked to compose a children’s story for an English literature class. So he illustrated the text with rabbits, a favorite art figure for him at the time.
But his creativity also led him to create what he titled “Rabbit Crèche,” featuring construction paper silhouettes of several humanized hares. A stuffed black rabbit lounges beside the piece as a snoozing bunny rests in the rafters of the Bethlehem stable.
“I call it my million-dollar crèche,” Xenia Miler once said.
What: Creche the Halls, the hourlong Miller House tour with a light holiday touch featuring the late Xenia Miller creches (Nativity scenes) collected from around the world. Shuttle time to and from the home adds about a half-hour to the event.
When: 1, 3 and 6 p.m. on select days through Jan. 22.
Where: The Miller House, accessed via a van from the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St.
Tickets: Daytime tours are $25. Nighttime tours beginning at 6 p.m. in December are $50.
Information: 812-378-2622 or columbus.in.us and click tour options.