BRIDGEWATER, NJ — Drawing inspiration from the coronavirus pandemic, Bridgewater husband and wife artist team Karen Loccisano and R. Michael Palan created an exquisitely detailed, three-dimensional nativity scene reminiscent of tough times in America.

“This year when we were creating our nativity it coincided with the quarantine,” said Palan. “We created it based on the tough times in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl and we worked on it during tough times so it was parallel.”

The nativity is featured in the Glencairn Museum’s annual World Nativities exhibition which presents 25 Nativity scenes from around the world. You can view the nativities virtually here.

This isn’t the first time, Loccisano and Palan have been featured for their work. The couple actually met while working as illustrators for Highlights magazine. They eventually branched off to illustrate children’s books and design Christmas ornaments for Kurt S. Adler.

Then in 2011, the couple saw a Presepio (the Italian word for nativity) at the Carnegie Museum of Art and were inspired to create their own.

Loccisano would craft the figurines and Palan would sculpt the backdrop for a true Italian Prespio.

“We are commercial artists and are always working on a deadline. We just wanted to do something and show our very best work,” said Palan.

“Do something for fun,” said Loccisano.

The Italian nativity the couple started off with currently has about 24 figurines. And each figurine takes about a couple of weeks, some figures take even longer to create.

“It’s always a work in progress,” said Loccisano. “When we started out we had no idea how elaborate or how big it would be. It took off on its own.”

To create the figures, they use polymer clay and wire for the bodies and dress in silk samples from India and antique fabric. They also use everyday items such as corks, cereal boxes, cardboard, wood, and styrofoam for the backdrops.

Since then their work has been featured across the country in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Washington, DC.

Their work is a perfect example of how well the couple works together. Both crediting one another for the beauty of the nativity.

“Without Michael’s backgrounds, my figures would just be dolls,” said Loccisano.

“Her figures bring life to my buildings,” said Palan.

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