The Artist behind the Artistry of the Nativity at the Dallas Arboretum
Amidst the twinkling glow of the 12 Days of Christmas gazebos, and tucked away by massive oak and magnolia trees, lies the DeGolyer House. The 21,000 square ft. estate is hard to miss in daylight, and its exterior takes on a more festive tone as dawn turns to dusk and the lights come on.
But just wait until you get inside the house to see the real show—over 500 crèches from over 50 different countries around the world, displayed with elaborate decorations, and rich, full designs that transform the DeGolyer House into a holiday dreamland.
The Arboretum has the honor of displaying three private crèche collections in 2018, never before featured in the DeGolyer house, generously lent to us by Joyce and Larry Lacerte, Lydia and Dan Novakov, and Mary and Mike Terry. The Lacertes and Novakovs each spent years building their collections, acquiring beautiful pieces through many worldly travels, friends, and family. Finally, Mary and Mike Terry shared a very specific display: their life-sized, fiberglass crèche, to be displayed in the outdoor courtyard of the DeGolyer home.
If you look closely when you visit, you’ll notice the variety of materials these crèches, collected over several decades, are made of—clay, Waterford crystal, horns, seeds, cornhusk, glass, adobe, paper mache, driftwood, porcelain, silver, coconut, shells and more. Some delicate, some hardy, some miniature and others massive, the Creches took five days of set up with 10 volunteers, a 5-person team, one public events manager, and the mastermind behind it all, Michael Hamilton.
Hamilton, owner of interior design studio La Foofaraw in downtown Plano, has been constructing and conceptualizing the design for the yearly DeGolyer house holiday display for 18 years. The self-made designer said he took the inspiration for the interior from Israel, the landscape for the original Nativity scene.
“I grew up in the country. I’m a farm boy. I get natural. I get organic. I consciously took out elements of red because I wanted the people who walked through the house to feel this sense of natural peace; no artificial colors, just that overwhelming feeling of hope in the manger.”
But to get that feeling of peace and hope it takes more than just an idea, it takes a U-Haul. Public Events Manager Marcela Torres worked with Hamilton this year to oversee the setup, explaining that it started on pickup day, when they went from house to house, picking up all the different pieces and carefully loading them into the truck.
Once the crèches make it safely to the Arboretum, an extensive form of cataloging begins that includes over 1,000 photos of the individual pieces, tagging each piece, categorizing and logging it all in a binder Hamilton has appropriately named “The Brain.” Marcela explained how crucial this cataloging process is, because, “The Arboretum wants to show these crèches, and more importantly, these families respect. If a family gets a crèche back and only two wise men show up, then we’ve lost a part of the story.”
After categorization and filing, two team members begin the layout of the nine-foot Christmas trees adorning every room of the house. The remaining team members and volunteers under Hamilton’s direction begin to “zhoosh” the other elements—yards of garland, wreathes, bells, floral arrangements and much more that line the mantels, tables, windows and light fixtures in each room.
Hamilton credits his degree in landscape design and his floral studies background to his vision for holiday decorating. If you pay attention, you may even see the crèche from his own collection hanging in the parlor room above the mantel! However, Hamilton says his favorite is the corn husk piece, found in the tea room, noting that the handmade items tell a very special story.
“I love the handmade ones because of the humbleness of them. They aren’t spit out of a machine. The story of the nativity is like that; it has a humble beginning in a manger. The nativities that can capture that feeling are my favorite.”
Hamilton hopes that, as patrons move throughout each room, they find their own favorite crèche, ones that speak to them throughout the noise and colors of the historic Degolyer house.