Whether it’s daffodils in his front yard or a Nativity scene, when Warren Kapsner starts a project, it has a tendency to grow. And grow. And grow.
Twenty years ago, Kapsner built a large, sprawling Nativity scene. He talked to several shopping malls about displaying it, but found little interest in it. “It’s just the way we are today,” he said with a shrug.
On New Year’s Day 2021, with the world in lockdown because of COVID-19, he decided to work on the scene again, with the idea of displaying it in the windows of his shop in Columbia Heights, Rapid Graphics and Mailing, 4016 Central Avenue. He worked on it daily until June, adding another ten feet to the diorama.
The resulting three-dimensional display would be proudly shown by many a railroad modeler. The countryside surrounding Bethlehem is modeled out of red clay. Magi on camels traverse the roads; they look as if they’re stopping to ask directions. On top of a hill in the center is a red brick stable with Mary, Jesus and Joseph inside.
But then Kapsner got to thinking about other world religions besides Christianity and decided he needed to include them, too. While he was at it, he also decided to include nine different cultural groups. The resulting work spans the entire front of the print shop, with the words, “Celebrate together as one nation” unifying the presentation.
“I did a lot of research on each,” Kapsner said. “You could write a book about it, but I had to keep it brief.”
He created placards for Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. His cultural groups include Native Americans, the LGBTQ community, Blacks and atheists. The placards give a brief overview of the religion or group and are accompanied by a symbol such as the “Om” for Hinduism or the seven-candle Kinara for Kwanzaa.
The card for the LGBTQ community reads, “Social movements, organizing around the acceptance and rights of persons who might today identify as LGBTQ, began as responses to centuries of persecution by church, state and medical authorities.”
Calendar-wise, Kapsner said, “Some of the groups don’t really fit into the holiday season, but they do have a day that they celebrate.” He cited Sept. 22, Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day, as an example.
He said Native American beliefs and traditions are very different from European traditions and beliefs. “They tend to locate sacred power to space, which is why they have trouble with pipelines going through their land. To them, it would be like running a pipeline through the St. Paul Cathedral.”
Kapsner included atheists because, he said, “They’re the fastest-growing community in the nation.”
Rapid Graphics and Mailing has been on Central Avenue for 50 years; Kapsner’s been there for the past 35. It’s the first time he’s pulled out all the stops for a display.
Public reaction has been positive, he said. “People have called and said they really enjoy it. One lady said she read it while she waited for her bus.”
He plans to leave the display in the windows for a while so more people can see it.
Below: Warren Kapsner’s extravagantly detailed Nativity scene. The display, with the title, “Celebrate Together as One Nation,” takes up the entire storefront. Kapsner recognized various communities, including African Americans (Kwanzaa), and Native Americans as well as religions such as Islam and Judaism. (Photos provided by Warren Kapsner)