Nativity mural graces wall of Winona Methodist Church

WINONA – It was commissioned by God, Rev. Mary Owen of the Winona United Methodist Church said about the large colorful nativity scene mural decorating the west wall of the church.

It could have been.

The artist, Jackie Sabbato of Guilford Lake, said it began when another church woman, who assisted in decorating the church with her, mentioned some large murals she had seen online and thought of doing something with stained glass.

“She thought we could get a copy and I thought we could make one,” Sabbato said Monday at the church located at 32114 Winona Road.

The six-foot high, 16-foot long painting was displayed the first time as a whole presentation two years ago.

Sabbato worked for three years on the five panels composing the birth of Christ scene that she named “The Gift.”

She said, “Our gift is the Christian belief the He was sent to earth for our salvation.”

It was displayed the first week of Advent.

Studying the painting, Owen said, “It’s absolutely exquisite. One of the things I love about it is the light (the way it strikes the painting) and the protectiveness of the (angel’s) wings … (and) it’s interesting to look at the faces in detail.”

Working from thumbnail sketches, Sabbato said it’s one of the largest pieces she’s created.

A 1962 graduate of Wellsville High School, she earned her bachelors degree in fine arts at Miami University in 1968, the same year she was married to her husband, Michael.

“I’ve been drawing since I was a child, five or six,” Sabbato said, explaining her mother encouraged her.

“So I always did art things in elementary and high school.”

She subbed at United Local teaching “everything” for about 15 years while creating back-drops for school plays.

For a while she did color separation for a decal company in East Liverpool and drew “birdseye” view maps for the Elkrun Township Tourism Board and the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce.

She says she not retired and decorates the church sanctuary.

“I’m just finally getting it off the ground,” Sabbato said, “I’d like to go back to school … as a student.”

She has taken classes with Mary White, a well-known water color artist.

There are 10 people in “The Gift.”

Eleven if you include the angel, whom her daughter, Michelle, posed for.

But Sabbato says, “There is something in this you don’t see when you first look at it.”

She points to a section above the wise men, just below the dove.

“There is Jesus carrying the cross.”

On closer look, a faint, shadowed outline of Jesus with the cross is evident.

“I kept having a vision of Him carrying the cross,” Sabbato said.

“I never saw that before,” Owen said, “and the fact that He’s walking the other way.”

The village of Bethlehem and the North Star are part of the background scenery while the wise men, four shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are center stage.

Three camels, an ox, donkey and a couple of sheep are part of the scenery that is surrounded by angel wings.

“I just had this idea of having the whole Nativity scene encompassed by an angel,” Sabbato said.

Working with acrylics, Sabbato said she can’t recall how many colors she used, but the light colors like turquoise, rose, gold, and lavender quickly attract the eye.

“The shading is just amazing,” Owen said.

“I love the way you have the flooring … I like the light coming off the floor.”

“I love the camels,” she added, and Sabbato said, “I love the sheep in the foreground and the donkey.”

Owen said, “There’s so much to see.”

The baby Jesus is yawning, as if unimpressed with gathering, and Sabbato said He wasn’t like that the first year, and He wasn’t crying either, but she changed Him.

Sabbato has a Facebook page under her own name and the Winona United Methodist Church is at or .org.

Owen said, “It’s a beautiful piece to have for Christmas.”