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Couples nativity collection spans decades and continents
This nativity from Iowa will be on display through Christmas with other nativities from around the world at the Northeast Georgia History Center.

Northeast Georgia History Center

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturdays
Where: 322 Academy St., Gainesville
How much: $5 adults, $4 age 65 and older, $3 students 18 and younger and free for children younger than 6
Contact: 770-297-5900

It all started with a dime-store nativity put together nearly 50 years ago.

But that purchase served to start a hobby that Marvin and Cleda Locey have since pursued as part of their world travels.

The simple wooden manger scene that started it all is on display, along with other, more exotic ones, through this month at the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University.

The Loceys, who live near Lake Lanier in South Hall, have collected some 80 sets featuring the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph from such places as Italy, China, Australia, Russia and Kenya — a few of them acquired in ways other than firsthand, such as from other people.

The couple, married for 60 years, has collected about two-thirds of the pieces through their travels, as part of Marvin's work trips or on cruises in retirement.

"We tried to bring (home) part of our souvenirs as fine art of some kind," Cleda Locey said Sunday during the history center's Hometown Christmas activities. "And then we began finding these intriguing nativities."

About 15 of the pieces are Christmas tree ornaments, while others are enclosed in or placed on top of glass cases at the history center.

They also vary widely in materials used - from rolled-up newspapers to pewter and clay — and in style.

"The thing that's intriguing to me is that, as you go around to the various countries and communities, the people created the nativity scene in their own image," Marvin Locey said. "If you look at these various ones, the figures look like where they came from.

"They think of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as themselves. And don't we, as Americans, also do that?"

Locey said he was looking recently at the stained-glass window at his church and noticed Jesus had red hair and blue eyes. "I looked at it and said, ‘He's a Scot.'"

Not all of the pieces were made overseas.

"There's one from Iowa ... that we got from a craft show," said Cleda Locey, whose favorite is a stained-glass nativity made in North Carolina.

The Loceys also have a set made in Oakwood. "We got that one from a local show," Cleda said.

Many of the pieces have a memorable story attached to them.

In one instance, the Loceys, who have lived in Hall County since 1986, stopped in Italy as part of a cruise. They visited the pope's summer palace in Castel Gandolfo, a small town southeast of Rome.

"It's a beautiful place and has a big plaza outside the front door, almost like the Vatican," Marvin said. "There's a big window over the front door. And across the way, there's this little gift shop.

"I was looking around the square and I noticed this little nativity scene ... and I thought I'd really like to have that, so I went into the shop."

He asked a worker inside the store if the pope ever steps from the window and blesses people, like he does at the Vatican.

"Oh, yes!" the worker replied.

"Was this nativity scene in the window during that time?" Locey asked.

"Yes, it has been blessed three times," he said.

So, Locey said, "I thought that was one (nativity) I should get."

Cleda Locey recalled the story behind the nativity set made in Jerusalem.

An Israeli woman in charge of a YWCA in that city had been invited to travel with Presbyterian women in this country.

"I was running the program (locally) at the time and so we had them come to our house," Locey said. "What I did not know and what she did not know is that the hostess gift she brought for me was that (nativity) set. She didn't know I had a collection."

The Loceys, both volunteers at the history center, plan to keep up their hobby and build on their collection, which is stored in boxes in a closet at home.

She keeps on adding to it "every time I find a different one," she said with a laugh.

"She keeps some on display throughout the year," her husband said.

Cleda nodded. "It's part of our art. In addition to bringing these (nativities), we bring fine art from the various places where we've traveled, so our walls are filled."