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Brainerd artist restores church nativity for Christmas

A 1950s lithographed nativity set that was in poor shape and anonymously donated more than a dozen years ago to Trinity Lutheran Church in Brainerd was recently painstakingly restored by a local artist who is also a member of the Brainerd church.

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David Boudin stands behind the 1950s lithographed nativity set on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, that was anonymously donated to Trinity Lutheran Church in poor shape more than a dozen years ago. The 89-year-old artist and Brainerd church member restored during the past year the nativity set which was stored in the church garage. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

It could be called a Christmas miracle. And now it’s on display at Trinity Lutheran Church.

The 1950s lithographed nativity set was in poor shape when it showed up mysteriously at the Brainerd church. And it seemed destined for the garbage bin if it were not for Anne Niklaus.

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“The set was donated to us — to Trinity Lutheran Church — several years ago by an anonymous donor,” Niklaus said of the donation made more than a dozen years ago. “I could tell it was beautiful once.”

Niklaus stored the nativity made by Douglas Fir Plywood Association of Tacoma, Washington, in the church’s garage before the set was restored by David Boudin, another church member.

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"It's just beautiful, it's just gorgeous, what David has done."

— Anne Niklaus


“I really enjoyed doing it. I loved every minute of it. Painting, with acrylics and things, I like the bright colors and enhancing everything so it stands out more,” Boudin said Friday, Dec. 17.

Niklaus said, “It's just beautiful, it's just gorgeous, what David has done. … It was in really tough shape … and it was in need of repair but I didn't know what to do with it.”

Niklaus was in charge of the church’s garage sale and craft sale, which is how she came across the nativity set, which was promoted by the plywood association as a do-it-yourself project.

“Homeowners pasted the representations — sold as brightly colored lithographs on sheets of heavy paper — onto wood, then used a jigsaw to cut out the forms,” according to an article in the December/January issue of CountryLiving.com.

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The brightly colored lithographs on sheets of heavy paper were pasted onto wood and a jigsaw was used to cut out the form. Contributed / David Boudin

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“I found out that, working on this particular project, you're working on paper that’s glued on to wood, and a lot of it was off or missing,” said Boudin, who also used some plaster-like material in the restoration of the church’s nativity set.

The nativity set offered nationwide for $2 by mail by the plywood association contained 16 pieces, according to the article in the Hearst Corp. publication.

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The brightly colored lithographs were printed on sheets of heavy paper and pasted by homeowners onto wood, which were then cut out using a jigsaw. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“They were missing parts of the pictures, like on the camel. They were missing the whole front of the camel face and everything,” said Boudin, who usually paints portraits and landscapes.

The 89-year-old artist from Brainerd works with acrylics but was trained as an oil painter. He painted full time for almost four decades and exhibited his work in art and craft shows.

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The 1950s nativity set offered nationwide for $2 by mail by the Douglas Fir Plywood Association contained 16 pieces. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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Boudin said of restoring the nativity set, “It's a real thin-like, almost like plaster, that you put it on there as acrylic and sand it down. And then it’s really smooth and everything and then you just finish it off. I did that in quite a few spots on all of them — a little bit here and there.”

According to CountryLiving.com, the tradition of using crèches to celebrate the Christmas holiday dates back as far as A.D. 1223 “when St. Francis of Assisi reportedly created the first such scene using live animals.”

“And this nativity scene. I enjoyed doing it because you have all the animals and the shepherds and the kings and everything,” said Boudin, who began restoring Trinity Lutheran’s nativity set about a year ago.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

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I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper owned by Forum Communications Co.
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