Institute of Texan Cultures shares family's holiday tradition with nativity display

nativity

Pribyl family nativity

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(Nov. 17, 2009)--In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Ferdinand Pribyl, a Czech Moravian, painted a series of nativities of immense scale, brilliant color and painstaking detail. Through four generations, Pribyl's nativities have been passed to family members and close friends. This holiday season, Pribyl's descendents have chosen to share their family tradition with the Institute of Texan Cultures, which will display two complete Pribyl nativities from Nov. 21 to Jan. 3.

Ferdinand Pribyl's nativities stretch between 8 and 18 feet long. Originally, they were measured to fill entire walls in family members' homes. The Pribyl nativities use cardboard cutout figures placed in a baseboard to add a sense of depth to the panorama.

Pribyl built the nativities from cardboard scavenged from oatmeal boxes, post cards and shirt boxes. The figures stand between four and six inches in height and are painted in meticulous detail. The backgrounds draw on Pribyl's memories of Austria. Vibrant colors bring life to lush green hills, stone buildings, earthy farmhouses and wooden sheds. Central to each nativity scene is the Bethlehem stable with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.

Presumably, there were seven Pribyl nativities, painted between the 1890s and early 1900s, each slightly different. Over the years, they have been displayed at various museums, libraries, churches and residences in South Texas.

Ferdinand Pribyl and his family emigrated from his native Moravia in the 1880s and settled in Fayetteville, Texas. They moved to La Grange and then Hallettsville, before joining Ferdinand's brother, Jan, in Victoria. In his late 60s or early 70s with no prior artistic training, Pribyl began work on the nativity scenes.

Bette Stockbauer of Victoria, whose family owns one of the Pribyl nativities, is a descendent of Pribyl's adopted son, Albert Stockbauer. She has had some success in locating other Pribyl nativities around Texas. In addition to the Stockbauer family's nativity, the institute will display a complete Pribyl nativity belonging to the Staha family of Hallettsville, two partial Pribyl sets and a two-dimensional nativity painting, all belonging to other Pribyl descendents.

The Institute of Texan Cultures is on the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, 801 E. Durango Blvd., a short distance from the Alamo and the River Walk. Regular hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m., Sunday.

Holiday hours are:

  • Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day -- closed
  • Nov. 27, day after Thanksgiving -- 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Dec. 5, Family Day -- 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (activities end at 4 p.m.)
  • Dec. 24, Christmas Eve -- 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
  • Dec. 25, Christmas Day -- closed
  • Dec. 26-30 -- 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Dec. 30, New Year's Eve -- 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
  • Jan. 1, New Year's Day -- closed

Admission is $8 for adults (ages 12-64); $7 for seniors (ages 65 and over); $6 for children (ages 3-11); free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification.

For more information, call 210-458-2300 or visit the Institute of Texan Cultures Web site.