One Tank Trip: Jennie Tren's putz collection at Moravian Historical Society


For nearly 60 years, Jennie Trein would invite family, friends, neighbors, strangers, anyone into her home on East Center Street in Nazareth to hear the story of Christmas.

As a Moravian, it was a calling. As an artist, it was her passion.

Her family putz, which after a 25-year hiatus, is on display inside the Whitefield House at the Moravian Historical Society.

Putz comes from the German verb meaning to decorate or to clean. It's an elaborate miniature display with Christianity at it's core and a Moravian tradition that goes back to the 18th Century.

Theories suggest it began as a way to teach those who couldn't read about the birth of Jesus.

Trein's twin daughters, Marie and Martha, inspired her collection that began in 1908 with these figures from Germany. Most of the figures came from Europe. There are a few pieces from the Middle East and Japan.

Trein was an avid traveler. Some pieces she bought, some were gifts from missionary friends. She created the surroundings, the buildings and the backdrops.

"It took up her whole living room, the sun room I've heard, and also she had it on three different tiers in her living room," said Susan Orr, curator of collections for the Moravian Historical Society.

A display so large it took about 20 minutes for a tour. Trein would narrate. There was music and lights.

She recited the bible stories but would also add to it creating farming and skiing scenes. Nature was brought indoors. The greenery and moss needed to be sprinkled with water every day to stay fresh.

Trein mixed elements based on what she had on hand. There were buildings made out of scraps of wood. The dome of one is a hand juicer. She used acorns for the smaller domes, belt buckles for windows.

King Harod is sitting in a small jewelry box, on top of a rug made out of a gold foil candy wrapper. When something broke, it was repaired.

"She was a true folk artist, she was creative in many, many ways," shared Executive Director Susan Ellis.

Trein was an accomplished musician and quilter.

She created 63 putzes in her lifetime and welcomed an estimated 50,000 visitors to her home. Now, decades after she's gone, her art lives on.

The display is open until Jan. 13. For more information, visit Moravian Historical Society's website.