Maria Luisa Teña and the nativity scene she spent 30 years creating at Casa Cordova at the Tucson Museum of Art November 27, 2007. 

Jeffry Scott / Arizona Daily Star 2014

Be prepared to be overwhelmed.

El Nacimiento at the Tucson Museum of Art’s historic Casa Cordova, 175 N. Meyer Ave., is a holiday tradition that you will find only in Tucson. It’s worth a trip to the museum to see this lovingly built, intricate exhibit of scenes that tell the Christmas story, as well as other Bible stories.

The museum is open for free this Thursday, Dec. 7 from 5-8 p.m. and the first Thursday of every month. Regular museum admission is $12 for adults; kids 12-and-under are free.

Housed in a separate room since 2009, the elaborate 800-piece nativity installation has been presented in Tucson from November to March since 1978.

Nacimiento maker Maria Luisa Leon Teña added pieces, updated scenes and set up the nacimiento for more than 30 years to honor her mother, who died in 1977.

Before there was a permanent glassed exhibition space that protects the figurines from heat and dust, Teña dusted the figures, retouched nicks and reinstalled the nacimiento year after year after year.

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Maria Luisa Teña and the nativity scene she has spent 30 years creating at Casa Cordova at the Tucson Museum of Art November 27, 2007. Jeffry Scott/Arizona Daily Star. 138093.

Teña learned the art of nacimiento from her mother, Maria Arredondo de Leon, who won several nacimiento competitions in Mexico, according to Star archives.

"Her mother was so famous for her Nativity scenes that people would come to the door of their home and ask permission to come in to see it. Buses would stop so passengers could get a look, and nuns would make sure not to miss it," the Star said.

Teña’s nacimiento fills an entire room and might take your breath away. Plan to spend some time peering into the complex scenes and discovering the intricacies and wonder of this exhibit.


This story originally appeared on tucson.com in 2014. It's been updated for 2017.

Contact Ann Brown at abrown@tucson.com