Bronner’s Exclusive Life-sized Nativity

Bronner’s exclusive life-sized Nativity is popular with cities, businesses, churches, parks and even individuals. Airbrush artists paint the molded fiberglass pieces with automotive paint and sealant. Indeed, the process creates a lasting finish.

Joe and friend in back of U-Haul truck with Bronner's exclusive life-sized Nativities pieces
Joe picking up life-size Nativity pieces from Bronner’s April 2016

Joe Tyria of Kalamazoo, Michigan, began collecting pieces from Bronner’s exclusive life-sized Nativity in 2014. Indeed, his late grandmother, Beverly Tyria, for whom the collection is named, encouraged him to collect and display the Nativity. (Check it out on Facebook!). We spoke with Joe about his love for Christmas, the Nativity and his grandmother. In addition, he discussed the journey he embarked on in 2014 to collect and display the large-as-life Nativity.

What Joe Loves About Christmas

“I’m Catholic, so for me, Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, that’s always the most important part to me. Other than that, the entire season from Thanksgiving to Christmas seems to be the happiest time of the year, even in the midst of hard times.

“I found that particularly true during the 2015 Christmas season when my grandmother passed away December 2.  Even with her passing and everything surrounding it, the spirit of the season kept me from going into despair. Also, being Catholic gives me the advantage of an extended Christmas celebration. Liturgically, we celebrate starting on Christmas Day and then for twelve days after that, ending with Epiphany. After all, the 12 days of Christmas comes from that.  So in celebrating both the secular and liturgical seasons, I get nearly three months of Christmas.  How can you beat that?”

Joe as a little boy standing in front of Bronner's life-sized Nativity outside the store entrance
Joe at Bronner’s August 1986

When Joe Started Visiting Bronner’s

I recently found old photographs of my first visit to Bronner’s. As a matter of fact, the date stamp on the back of those photos is August 1986. I was 8 years old when the photo was taken.

“To begin with, I remember being impressed with how big the place was. And it’s even bigger now! – bronners.com One of the photos shows me posed in front of Bronner’s exclusive life-sized Holy Family displayed at the south entrance. To be sure, I’m facing the camera. But I turned my head, totally focusing on the figures of Mary, Jesus, and Joseph.

“At the time, my grandfather was purchasing an illuminated blow-mold Nativity for me to display in the yard. We were there to buy new figures for that. I actually still have that Nativity set. Currently, I am selling that and all of my outdoor illuminated holiday figures. I’m now focusing my entire display on the Bronner’s exclusive life-Sized Nativity scene.”

Why Joe Chose a Bronner’s Exclusive Life-sized Nativity to Display

“First, I should give you a little background on how it all happened. As stated previously, I had displayed a blow-mold Nativity set in the yard since the mid 1980s. I was browsing eBay in February 2014 and found a blow-mold Baby Jesus with His arms extended outward. Usually a blow-mold Baby Jesus depicts His hands resting on His chest. In any case, I decided to get the Baby Jesus from eBay. I planned to modify it to illuminate and then spray paint it to match the rest of my set.

From Blow Mold Set to Fiberglass

“When it arrived, I noticed it was made of a thicker plastic than I was used to. Hence, it likely would not light up like the other figures. My grandmother pointed out that it resembled Bronner’s life-sized Baby Jesus. I then went to Bronner’s commercial website. In truth, I used the photo as my reference to hand-paint the figure in Bronner’s current style.

After seeing the finished product, I decided that maybe I should get the Mary, Joseph and hovering angel from Bronner’s exclusive life-sized Nativity to display in the yard instead of the blow-mold set. Meanwhile, Grandma encouraged the decision so I called Jan Kribs of Bronner’s commercial division to place my order. Particularly, I asked for a custom paint on the Joseph, inverting the stock colors, and she obliged. After that, I went with a U-Haul to pick the items up in August 2014 and displayed them that year.

Adding the Shepherds and Sheep

“In short, I purchased the shepherds and sheep in 2015. I again asked for a custom paint on one of the shepherds and picked up the figures in a U-Haul. Then my Grandmother became ill. I devoted all my time outside of work and church to caring for her. She passed on December 2, 2015, of complications from intestinal cancer. But before going into her final sleep, she insisted that the Nativity be erected, even if she couldn’t be there to see it. And I obliged.”

Joe's grandma, Beverly A. Tyria, in a purple sweater and wearing eyeglasses
Beverly A. Tyria
Bronner's exclusive life-sized Nativity on lighted display in the yard outside Joe's house with large tree trunk in the middle and buildings behind
Beverly A. Tyria Memorial Nativity Scene December 2015

“Later that December, I was looking on Craigslist. Before long, I found a vintage, nearly complete, Bronner’s life -sized Nativity for sale at a very low price. Bronner’s no longer manufactures this particular design. The molds for them perished in a fire back in the 1960s, I believe.

Actually, I only wanted the three Magi on camel-back, but the guy refused to break up the set. So I purchased the entire set and rented yet another U-Haul to pick the figures up. In short, I donated the surplus figures to my parish, Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Kalamazoo.

“That tells you the how; now for the why.

Bringing Back Community Memories with Bronner’s Exclusive Life-sized Nativity

“Even as a young child, I was devoted to the Nativity. More and more we’re finding Nativity scenes pushed out of the public square. Presently, it seems owners relegate them either to church lawns or storage. In effect, I decided to go with a Bronner’s exclusive life-sized Nativity to remind everyone who drives past my house what the season is all about.

“Why did I choose Bronner’s set? Because Bronson Park in Kalamazoo used to display the set. Actually, the display mixed the current figures and the vintage figures that are no longer made. Unquestionably, it was always a highlight of the Christmas season to go to Bronson Park and walk through the life-sized Nativity.

Giving Back to the Community

Unfortunately, the City of Kalamazoo auctioned it off to a private buyer in 1999. At this time, they live so far off the main road that you have to go onto their property to see it. Since that Nativity holds fond memories for generations of people in the Kalamazoo area, I longed to bring back those memories to my community.

The Nativity is also a yearly memorial to my late grandmother. I named my Nativity the Beverly A. Tyria Memorial Nativity Scene. With everything going on with Grandma’s illness, I undoubtedly wouldn’t have displayed it in 2015 had she not insisted I do so.”

three vintage camels from Bronner's exclusive life-sized Nativity refurbished and standing to dry in Bronner's north building
Camels from Bronner’s vintage life-size Nativity refurbished by Bronner’s May 2016 for Joe

Where Joe Developed the Skills to Refurbish Figures and Build a Stable

When I was in middle school in the early 1990s, my best friend Bill and I took some Saturday classes at a local ceramics shop. As a matter of fact, my grandmother thought of the idea, mainly to keep us out of mischief. I learned most of the painting techniques I use from those classes.

The Figures from Bronner’s Exclusive Life-sized Nativity

“However, I have honed my skills on the many projects I’ve completed throughout the years for family, friends and my church. I do know my limitations, though.  So I brought my three standing camels to Bronner’s this year for them to do some fiberglass work and repaint them. They do a better job on the animal figures than I can do. Nonetheless, I will be repainting the three Magi myself. I’m also repainting the figures I donated to my church.  So it will be a busy summer!”

Joe in his garage painting a vintage wise man from Bronner's exclusive life-sized Nativity
Joe repainting a vintage Bronner’s Magi

The Stable

“Regarding the stable, the priest from my parish, Fr. James Richardson, will be assisting me in building the new stable. Specifically, he’s the one with the carpentry skills; I’m the one with the rough design in mind. For the most part, we plan to create a very wide pergola with a back wall. I’ll share pictures with you once we have it completed.

“I originally bought the stable that Bronner’s offers. However, the floor space is very limited and really only lets you display the Holy Family in two basic configurations. Since I like to change up the display from year to year, we’re going to build the new stable.

To that end, I will be donating the Bronner’s stable to my church to go with their life-sized figures. By and large, the new stable will be made from mostly reclaimed wood from pallets and tractor crates to give it a nice rustic look. Indeed the bonus in using this kind of wood is that it’s already weather-treated. The new stable will have a larger footprint that will allow me the variety I seek in displaying the figures. What’s more, it will be totally collapsible for storage off-season.”

Bronner’s fiberglass figures have also appeared in movies.

In addition to offering exclusive life-sized Nativities, Bronner’s also offers exclusive ornaments.

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