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Utah Artist Says He Hopes Nativities Inspire Others To Reflect On Meaning Of Christmas

SANDY, Utah – Christmas may still be 3 weeks away, but somebody has already been extremely busy for months inside his workshop preparing for the holiday.

And no, it’s not Santa.

In fact, Val Ugolini would probably rather not hear that name mentioned at all.

“Santa is not Christmas,” Ugolini said. “Christmas is Jesus Christ and my intention is, if I can, to bring back Jesus in the families of the Christian people who should be worshipping him.”

Ugolini attempts to do that through nativity scenes—most of which are extremely elaborate and take months to complete.

The Italian-born artist has crafted hundreds in his lifetime.

“I’ve been doing nativities since I can remember,” Ugolini said. “My grandfather helped me and that’s the only memory I have of him because he died when I was probably 3 years-old.”

Ugolini said his grandfather would take him to find moss and sticks in the field to construct a nativity for Christmas.

“At the age of 11 I went to Rome, I studied at the Vatican and I made several there—basically every year I made a different one,” Ugolini recalled. “That was some magic to me that I kept doing all my life.”

The artist said he originally used inexpensive and recycled materials to build the nativities, but more recently he has incorporated more woods and jewelry into his creations as he has begun to sell his art. 

Much of his earlier artwork he donated to relatives and other families, the artist said.

Ugolini said he often starts with figurines he finds and purchases, or with those that are given to him.

“It’s the figurine that inspires me what to do,” he said.

Then, over the course of weeks and months, Ugolini etches, carves and constructs a suitable home.

One nativity near the entrance of his home took him 5 months to complete.

“He stays up until two, three, four in the morning,” said Ugolini’s wife, Carolyn. “It brings him such great joy, and so that’s what I really like. For him, it’s good. It’s good.”

Carolyn Ugolini said the artist toils tirelessly while helping to care for her.

Their lives were changed forever after a car accident that left her paralyzed a week after Christmas in January of 1986.

Their faith in Jesus never wavered.

“He’s the one that has helped me through these 34 years,” she said.

That faith now rings like a magnum opus in Ugolini’s grandest design to date.

Constructed over 9 months, the massive nativity that is set to choreographed lights and music sits proudly in a corner of the couple’s home.

“I really wanted to be one of those shepherds,” the artist reflected as he sat and gazed at that nativity. “Imagine being there as a shepherd, taking care of your sheep and all of a sudden, you hear this choir singing. Who knows how wonderful that was!”

Ugolini said he hoped his art would inspire others to reflect on what he maintains is the true meaning of Christmas.

“That is what I would like to have everybody feel—that’s what I feel when I make these and when I see it many times during the year,” Ugolini said. “It’s in my heart.”

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