Nativity Scenes by Winfred S. Hyatt (1929)

representationsmall.jpg“After the service [Christmas Eve, 1929] the whole congregation filed out to the Choir Hall, where were three beautiful representations, modeled by Mr. Winfred Hyatt, and showing in the central scene the stable at the inn with the Holy Family and those who came to see and worship the Child, while on the one side was shown the angel giving his message to the shepherds, and on the other the wise men following the star through the desert. At one end of the room were tables loaded with stockings, so that each child received one well filled with good things” (New Church Life 1930, 189).

winfredhyatt.jpgWinfred S. Hyatt, the principal stained glass artist and designer for the Bryn Athyn Cathedral project and later Glencairn, made Nativity scenes for the Cathedral, the Raymond Pitcairn family, the Harold Pitcairn family, and President and Mrs. Eisenhower. The figures for all the scenes, with the exception of the Eisenhower scenes, were modeled by Hyatt, then cast in plaster, painted, and clothed. Hyatt was fully responsible for all the sets made, with help being provided by other craftsmen from Bryn Athyn Studios. The Cathedral’s Nativity scenes are still being used, and are displayed every Christmas in the choir hall at around the time of the annual Tableaux. A new wooden display case has been crafted to hold all three scenes.

The scenes made for Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn were commissioned in the mid-1920s for use in their home during the Christmas season. At that time the family was living in Cairnwood, Raymond’s childhood home, where the three scenes were placed in front of the fireplace in the parlor hall. The Nativity scenes were considered the most important element in the elaborate decorations of the hall, which included festoons of fir garlands and a large Christmas tree. The decorations were not seen by the Pitcairn children until Christmas morning, a custom not uncommon in households of the period. A simple black wooden railing was placed in front of the Nativity scenes so the younger children would not be tempted to handle them. The biblical story was depicted from left to right: the first scene has the angel appearing to the shepherds, the second portrays Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (see photo, top), and the third shows the wise men gazing at the star of Bethlehem. The set moved with the family to Glencairn in 1939 and is still displayed by Glencairn Museum every year in the upper hall (see special event announcement below).

The scenes made for the Harold Pitcairn family were given to the Glenview New Church in Illinois in the 1970s and remain part of their annual Christmas decorations.

eastroom.jpgIn 1954 Raymond Pitcairn commissioned Winfred Hyatt to make a single scene of the birth of Christ for President and Mrs. Eisenhower. Hyatt and the Bryn Athyn Studios produced the cases and landscaping, while Hanna Binder, of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, produced the human figures. The scene was displayed in the East Room of the White House that same year (see photo, left). Two more scenes were added in 1957, and all three scenes were displayed together in the East Room next to the Christmas tree. The Pitcairns, active supporters of Eisenhower’s presidency, had been part of the “Eisenhower for President” petition drive in 1951. The Eisenhowers visited Glencairn in 1961 as a way of thanking Bryn Athyn for its support. The Eisenhower Nativity scenes still exist and are currently in storage in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Winfred Hyatt (1891-1959) was born in Toronto, Canada, the son of Rev. and Mrs. Edward S. Hyatt. In 1908 he came to Bryn Athyn to attend the Academy of the New Church Boys School. He went on to enter the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, winning two Cresson traveling scholarships during his time as a student. In 1914 the Bryn Athyn Cathedral project commissioned Hyatt to study stained glass windows in England and France.

By 1916 Hyatt was employed full time designing windows for the Cathedral. A large number of his original cartoons and sketches survive in the Glencairn Museum Archives. In addition to his work for Raymond Pitcairn, Hyatt produced landscapes, still lifes, and portraits, and also wrote and lectured on the subject of art.

This year Glencairn Museum’s Nativity scenes will be unveiled on Sunday, December 2 (2007), during their special event, “Glad Tidings: A Celebration of Christmas.” (See the events section at http://www.glencairnmuseum.org/ for details.) Visitors will also be able to view a Christmas stained glass window designed by Lawrence Saint, originally placed in Bryn Athyn Cathedral. Watch for more information about this window in next week’s New Church History Fun Fact.

Photos: The photograph of one of Glencairn Museum’s Nativity scenes is in the collection of the Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA. The photograph of Winfred S. Hyatt is courtesy of Cynthia Hyatt Walker. The photograph of the East Room of the White House with the Hyatt Nativity scene to the right of the Christmas tree (December 23, 1954) is courtesy of the National Park Service (photo by Abbie Rowe).

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November 29, 2007 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact