Architect Fernando Martínez’s Manger Scenes
A Family Tradition and Honduran Legacy
The display of Nativity scenes is a tradition that is upheld nationwide every year in Honduras. Those created and displayed by Architect Martínez have a unique twist which attracts visitors from all over the country and the globe, to the extent that several international news agencies have covered his work from Spain, France and the BBC, to name a few. Martínez’s mother, Rosinda de Martínez, was the first to begin displaying manger scenes in the 1950s. When she began creating the scenes, they used materials considered traditional in Honduras: moss, sand, plants, pine, among others. Sawdust was popular because it can be dyed to display different colors.
I started as my mom’s assistant. I was only 6 years old. We lived in Comayagüela; we would set up in her living room. It was small, maybe 20 square meters. You could see it from the balcony; people did not come inside. My mother was a very religious woman. She was an artist, really; everything was in its place. The scenes were Biblical only.
He helped his mother with her creations until the 60s, when he left the country to study abroad. Young Fernando was abroad about 10 years. Upon his return and now in 1980 he began to work on the manger scenes with his grandmother. In 1981 he opened the doors of his home to the public in Tegucigalpa, where he displayed his work every year until 2001, when he began to display in public spaces.
I ask Mr. Martínez if he has found a young boy, approximately 6 years old, who could help him continue this tradition. With a smile he responds that he has several grandchildren and that we shall see, perhaps one will take an interest. Then he comments that building these scenes is hard work; it requires a lot of dedication because it takes approximately two months of working on an 8am to 4pm schedule to be able to display the scenes on time for the Christmas season.
It isn’t very easy to find someone with the same kind of passion. As long as God gives me life and health, I will continue to do it because I feel as though it is now a duty I have with my country.
Mr. Martínez spent two months working in the past holiday season, from October 1st through the last of November in order to begin showing his work on December 1st.
A Source of Therapy and Wholesome Fun, for Free
Now that he is in charge of the manger scenes, they are no longer traditional but instead they are very dynamic. He tells me he does not pay attention to the characteristics of the material but in the type of environment he wishes to create. He uses wood and stone often. About ten years ago, he began using small motors to make water run throughout the scene.
The design and placement of the elements changes every year. At one point, sometime in the 80s, he came up with the idea of adding a small sign on one of the bridges and noticed people liked that. Little by little, he added more elements having to do with social and political issues in Honduras.
One could say that now, Architect Martínez’s manger scenes represent a summary of a year’s worth of social, economic and political situations happening in Honduras. He says if this commentary were not present in his work, people would complain and that he would miss it as well. The construction of his project is a form of therapy for him and a source of fun for visitors, who are always wondering what will make it into the scene this year. Topics of international interest often make the cut as well; this year the death of Nelson Mandela was included in the mix.
According to Martínez, there should be more activities available that provide a form of wholesome and free entertainment for Hondurans. The free entry to view his work is an arrangement that fills him with pride and which he considers is an important aspect of his duty towards the community.
Nobody pays so that anyone, from any social group, can come. That is very important to me because I believe that there should be wholesome entertainment that is free of charge in Honduras. Everything else you have to pay for. Here, people come in freely.
He adds that he has been offered sponsorship for the construction of his manger scenes in the past, but that he does not accept because he does not want his unique and free voice thwarted by limitations.