The donkey is no longer dented and dinged. The shepherd’s face isn’t flaking paint. The wise man’s cracked arm has been restored.
Trinity Hospital’s life-size Nativity figures have returned to their traditional places along Wrightsboro Road, looking better than they have in almost 40 years.
For months, the fiberglass figures have been away from the hospital, undergoing a full restoration by artist Ken Rayburn.
Decades of wear had taken a toll on the figures, said Rayburn, who was sought out by hospital officials last year when it became evident that a restoration couldn’t wait.
“It was about 100 to 120 hours of work,” said Rayburn, an airbrush artist who specializes in auto customizing at his business, Custom Concepts. “It would have cost $10,000 to $14,000 if it had been done by my shop.”
For Rayburn it wasn’t business but an act of love. He donated the work as a tribute to his late mother, Sue Rayburn, who spent the last few weeks of her life at Trinity in 2008.
Rayburn’s partner, Valerie Spratlin, said the restoration was a huge project, even larger than they expected. Two suppliers, Finish Master and Single Source, donated hundreds of dollars worth of paints and clear coating, she said.
“It really became a selfless act to him,” she said. “This Nativity display means so much to so many people; we will never know how many it will touch in the years to come.”
Having a Nativity display has been a tradition almost as old as the hospital, which turns 60 this year.
The fiberglass figures, however, were purchased in 1974 – when it was known as St. Joseph’s Hospital – and have been on the front lawn each holiday season since.
Each year, families visit the manger scene and take photos with the figures, said Frankie B. May, the hospital’s director of pastoral care.
“We are going to bring our grandchildren out this year,” she said. “This is our youngest granddaughter’s first Christmas. I can’t wait until she sees them.”
Another part of the tradition includes moving the three wise men and their camels closer and closer to the manger scene in the days leading up to Christmas and the Epiphany.
Rayburn said the wise men were some of the last figures he finished.
“I made the paint more theatrical,” he said, explaining that he emphasized garment folds and outlines to provide more definition from a distance. “It’s like stage makeup, so you can see it from the street.”
One last figure, however, still remains at the shop – the baby Jesus.
“He’s going to get special treatment and will be brought out just in time,” Spratlin said.
That will be midnight on Christmas Eve, said Bob Trent, the hospital’s head groundskeeper, whose job it is to care for the figures and move the wise men along.
He expects there will be a crowd waiting as usual.
“I may have to bring him out myself this year,” he said.