December 12, 2014

John Miniero's Presepe Napoletano

A Christmas Tradition in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
John Miniero with his masterpiece
By Giovanni di Napoli

Last week (Dec. 4th) during Anita Sanseverino's Presepe Napoletano lecture and photo exhibit at the Italian American Museum I had the pleasure of meeting John Miniero, a local artisan who keeps the Neapolitan tradition of presepi making. Mr. Miniero, a retired baker, was nice enough to bring a few examples of his handiwork for the museum to exhibit.

After the presentation, while I was admiring his work, he shared some of his modeling techniques with me, as well as what kind of tools and materials he uses to build the scenery. Because of the detailed work that goes into his creations, each one takes him a couple of days to make.

Mr. Miniero, I learned, also displays a giant outdoor presepe in front of his house in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Seeing my interest in the art form, he kindly invited me over to take a look.

So the next day after work I took Mr. Miniero up on his offer and made my way to 14th Avenue, between 79th and 80th Streets. When I arrived, I was blown away by the sheer size of the presepe. Spanning the length of his front yard, the intricate diorama—made with wood, cork, paper and paint—was covered with a multitude of characters, from the Magi to Pulcinella. The impressive collection, portraying vignettes of everyday life from 18th century Naples, was acquired over the years from his native Sorrento, Napoli and various hobby shops around Brooklyn.

To the delight of the community, Mr. Miniero has been constructing his presepe for nearly 20 years. Never put together the same way twice, the display is always growing with new additions. The multi-leveled diorama—complete with scenic backdrops, hidden grottos and mirrors that create the illusion of more space—even has running water; hidden water pumps feed flowing brooks, fountains and waterfalls.

Naturally, his house has become one of the stops on the now popular Dyker Heights Christmas Lights bus tours, and the whole time I was there talking with him, people walking and driving by in cars were stopping to take photos. It was great to see so many people taking an interest in his work. I felt privileged to see it and experience his love of the tradition. 
A bustling tavern
A dinner party with Pulcinella
A town in the distance
A look inside the manger
A bakery
Scenes from an open air market
A shepherd with his flock  
Up the stairway towards the manger
Figures performing domestic choirs
Pilgrims making the journey towards the manger
Photos by New York Scugnizzo