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Young artist creates 'face' of 2011 LDS Alabama Nativity exhibit

By Susan Turley

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Nov. 27 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The finished product has a peacefulness that belies its beginnings, which include coffee stains and joint compound. But that’s exactly the result the creator hoped to achieve.

“I wanted to contrast the softness of the moment of the mother and child with the roughness,” 16-year-old Belle Prosser said. The harsh texture of the joint compound and the dirt-colored coffee stains “reminded me of the rough surroundings Jesus was born in,” she said, adding, "but I really wanted to get across the serenity.” The result is the “face” of the Montgomery Alabama Stake’s sixth annual Interfaith Nativity Exhibit.

Prosser’s mixed-media artwork portraying the Madonna and child is one of several hundred Nativities being displayed in the exhibit, which will run Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 and culminating with the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. The event is intended to focus on the true meaning of the Christmas season amid the busyness of the holidays, and Prosser hopes that viewers get the same feeling when they look at her art — a reminder of the peace that Christ brings.

The daughter of Rachel and John Prosser of the Carter Hill Ward in Montgomery, Belle Prosser created her artwork during a weeklong seminar this past summer at the Savannah College of Art Design in Georgia.

For her mixed-media class, “I knew I wanted to do something for the Nativity exhibit,” said Prosser, a Laurel and a junior at a Montgomery magnet school in the visual arts program. She applied the joint compound to a canvas to give it some texture, used coffee as a stain to provide an aged appearance, stenciled on her sketch of a simple, stylized portrait of Mary and the infant Jesus, and added acrylic paint.

Prosser frequently uses her art to express her faith, and her artwork was the only religiously themed one in her seminar.

“Other people portrayed things like their struggles in life, or the things they really loved,” such as playing guitar, she said. But she said she felt entirely comfortable expressing her own artistic vision. Her other mixed-media project was a collage on forgiveness, she added.

Her mother, Rachel Prosser, is a graphic artist and designed many of the publicity materials for the Nativity exhibit, so it seems appropriate that her daughter titled her 12-inch-by-19-inch piece “For Rachel Dawn.”

Belle Prosser, who’s an only child, said she has always known she wanted to be an artist. The other class she took at the seminar was in furniture design, which she said also reflects her interests in creating and using art in non-traditional ways. Just as her Nativity artwork features unusual ingredients, she also is fascinated by “turning fine art into something useful, like taking a painting and turning it into a vase.” For that reason, she is leaning toward studying industrial design in college.

The strength of her existing portfolio helped her earn a scholarship to the Savannah seminar. Her architectural rendering of a row of buildings in downtown Montgomery was selected to represent the 2010 Arts in Education Award, presented annually to the area business that contributes the most to the arts or art programs in an educational way.

She also has earned a first-place school arts award from the Alabama National Fair and had pieces displayed in the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, as well as having her work published in an anthology series form the Alabama Writers Forum.

Merrilyn Lloyd, who at the time was the community relations liaison for the Montgomery Stake Public Affairs Committee, decided to start a Nativity exhibit after viewing a similar festival in Birmingham.

“Christmas is a glorious time," Lloyd said. "However, each year we hear of more threatening attempts to take Christ out of Christmas. Therefore, what better way to outshine the endeavor to disband the true reason for the season than to join together as a Christian community and honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by displaying beautiful depictions of his birth.”

Lloyd began planning the Montgomery Stake’s exhibit in January 2006 with a six-person committee. That first exhibit was three days long and featured about 250 Nativities, including one from the governor of Alabama.

Since then, Lloyd’s committee has more than doubled in size, and the Interfaith Nativity Exhibit is her primary assignment. Her husband, Kurt, was recently called as bishop of the Capitol Ward.

The exhibit has expanded to five days and includes concerts from area performing groups and an afternoon to honor military members. Last year, more than a thousand people attended the exhibit, which features more than 300 Nativities provided by members of more than 50 central Alabama churches. The event culminates with the live broadcast of the First Presidency’s Christmas devotional.

If you go ...

What: Montgomery Alabama Stake’s sixth annual Interfaith Nativity Exhibit.

When: Nov. 30-Dec. 4

Where: 3460 Carter Hill Road, Montgomery, Ala

Web: www.montgomerynativity.com

Susan Turley is the Montgomery Alabama Stake Public Affairs Council's media relations director.

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