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Nativity collection goes on public display
• Rural resident west of Ceres opens home for two weekends
Toni Conway
Toni Conway at her 2015 display of Nativity sets held at her house west of Ceres.

A collection of nearly 800-plus nativity sets of every size, shape and material will be on display at a free Christmas open house.

For more than 33 years, Toni Conway has collected nativities and every other year she converts each room in her home, a separate showroom, and her garage into a showcase of the birth of Christ.

Conway’s Nativity Open House opens Friday and continues through Dec. 8 and then is open again the weekend of Dec. 20-22. The Conway home is located at 3242 S. Carpenter Road, Modesto. Friday and Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday hours are from 1 to 8 p.m. There is no admission charge and refreshments will be served. Voluntary donations will benefit the Salvation Army.

One of the newest sets added to the global collection is crafted from natural gourds by designer Fran Gurule of Albuquerque, N.M. Gurule dried, peeled, mounted, painted and clothed the natural gourds that feature Pueblo design coloring.

Also new to the collection is a whimsical, colorful, folksy, child-faced figurine set from ESC and Company. Each figurine person in the set has long spindly legs. The 11-piece set was designed by artist Lori Mitchell.

Featured at the open house for the first time is Conway’s life-size white fiberglass nativity, purchased in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The life-size pieces feature Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus in a white manger and bed of hay. The set is so large that it had to be shipped by long haul trucking from Michigan to California. Due to the weight of the set, it is placed in position at the open house by forklift.

“This is my ministry,” said Conway. “It takes a three-person team more than four weeks to unpack and setup the collection.”

“I invite everyone to spread the word, bring friends and share the event with others. All ages are welcome to enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.”

In 2017, over 1,000 guests passed through the Conway showcase, including several busloads from local clubs, group residences and churches.

“This is my ministry,” said Conway. “It takes a three-person team more than four weeks to unpack and setup the collection.”

Conway's unique and varied collection includes a nativity set from Mexico sculpted from boiled potatoes, a nativity set from Kenya made of banana leaves and even a set from Columbia made from orange peels. The smallest nativity in the collection is one-half of a playing marble and the largest is life-size.

Toni and Bob Conway bought their first nativity scene when they were married 54 years ago. The 1997 death of her mother fueled a passion to collect more sets and now her amazing collection of nearly 800 nativity scenes is available for viewing during the four-day open house at their rural home in front of Valley Harvest Nut, the family farm.

After Frances Skittone was diagnosed in 1996 with ovarian cancer that went into remission for a short time, Toni relented into her suggestions to share the collection with the public, a tradition that has repeated itself every other year.

The Conway home is located on Carpenter Road, between Whitmore and Service Roads (at the intersection of Carpenter and Hackett roads). For the driveway entrance, look for the Valley Harvest Nut sign, or the American flagpole and Nativity Open House welcome sign.