Sat, Dec 17 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Peña
I think that it can be correctly stated that the present exhibit at the Bonita Museum had its origin in 1952. This might seem rather strange since the museum itself did not come into being until 35 years later.
This exhibit, the Magi Collection, is something that has graced the walls of the museum at Christmas time for the past 19 years. But, like we stated, it had its beginning many years before. The late Dr. Harris Teller, who put the collection together in the beginning used to relate to the museum goers how this came to be.
Teller, you might recall, was a teacher and then a psychologist in the Sweetwater School District. I knew him first in this capacity and then later when he was a grant writer for the district. We often ask folks about memorable Christmases in their past, some that reminded them of great times, and some that were rather sad. I never asked Teller about that but I would guess that if I had he would mention that Christmas of 1952.
Teller was a sailor, a hospital corpsman on board a small naval vessel in Korean waters at that time. He told about a time when he had a few ill individuals in the sick bay. One of the worst experiences that one can have, he related, is to be away from home at Christmas time. And if one is sick the condition is compounded.
Teller thought he might rectify this condition somewhat with a few decorations in the sick bay.
The ship was in Pusan Harbor and he went into town to see what he could find. One thing that caught his eye was a small crèche in a store window. The set was complete and it included statues of the three wisemen, the Magi that is associated with Christ’s birth. This was the start.
This first set is still part of the collection. In the ensuing years Teller, and then others, amassed the more than 800 sets that are currently on exhibit.
The Teller collection includes figurines, statues, plates, stamps and other forms of the Magi, and all with a story to tell. They range from homemade, inexpensive small statues to the more expensive Lladro and Hummel figures and others of that type.
They represent a cross section of place of origin as one can find a representation of many countries and probably all the continents. There is many sets from Mexico. These include one where the figures are seated on a horse, a camel and an elephant. This, no doubt, depicts the theory that the three were from diverse cultures. There are some that are in the form of jam jars from England, ceramics from Portugal, brass candle holders from Korea and many made from exotic woods. Each year at least one, more likely more, are added to the collection.
Teller, until his death a few years ago, was the principal speaker at a museum reception that highlighted the Magi.
According to museum personnel the Magi exhibit is being well received by the viewing public. It will be up until after the New Year. It is one of the most appropriate symbols of the season. Harris Teller, I don’t think, intended this exhibit to be his legacy. But it is.
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