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Manger scenes bring back memories for Ellinwood collector
Collection on display at Ellinwood library through New Years
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This manger scene was acquired by Phyllis Miller, Ellinwood, after she learned from an antique dealer that rarely is the Virgin Mary depicted holding the infant Jesus. She began looking for one such scene for her collection, and it is one of her favorites that she shared with the Ellinwood School and Community Library this Christmas season.

ELLINWOOD — Phyllis Miller, has been collecting manger scenes for at least 25 years. Several of her favorites are on loan this Christmas season to the Ellinwood School and Community Library, and are on display near the entrance through the New Year. 

Phyllis, widow of George Miller Jr., shared how the two former owners of Our Mother’s Treasures antiques and collectibles in Ellinwood, used to attend auctions together where she’d pick up a scene now and then. Other times, they would acquire them on their travels. Each one carries a memory.

Memories like the trip to a craft show in Colorado where Phyllis found a small stained-glass scene. Then, there were the trips to the Miller’s favorite vacation spot, Laughlin, Nev., where they got to know people in the area while cruising the garage sales. Phyllis always kept an eye out for manger scenes to bring back home. 

“They aren’t very expensive, but every one has meant something to me,” she said. 

When the Millers owned their Main Street store, the display window provided the perfect space for her to showcase the collection at Christmas, and she enjoyed sharing it with the public. 

“Jesus is the reason for the season, and sharing these scenes helps me and others to remember this,” she said. “I think we all need to remember this, and not spend so much time worrying about presents and eating so much.” 

She once acquired a set of the Holy Family, which she later learned from an antique dealer friend had come from Russia. She also learned that rarely is Mary depicted holding the infant Jesus. Determined to find one, she kept looking until she finally found a modern set of figurines. 

Each is blank where the face would be, allowing the viewer to imagine the expressions the representative persons might have. 

Not every scene remains in the collection, Phyllis said. One, she gave to her mother-in-law when she was in assisted living. Another, she gave to be auctioned for the local hospital’s auxiliary fundraiser one year. 

Phyllis and George owned a large home in the country with plenty of space to display her collection each year. About six years ago, when both were in their 80’s, they made the move into town and downsized considerably, she said. Still, Phyllis kept her collection, and displayed them in the couple’s living room each year. 

In July, George passed away, and this year, Phyllis intended to keep the collection in storage. But then, Julie Blakeslee from the library contacted the family and asked if the library could borrow some scenes for the Christmas display.

 She was happy to share, holding onto a few of her favorites to display at home. “I enjoy having people look at them,” she said.  

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Phyllis Miller, Ellinwood, spent decades acquiring manger scenes for her collection, which at one time included upwards of 30 sets. They range in size from a few pieces like this small ceramic set, to sets that include a full contingency of barnyard animals, shepherds and wise men.
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This set of the Holy family was created in Russia, and is now part of the collection of manger scenes owned by Phyllis Miller of Ellinwood. - photo by Veronica Coons