Richard Coyne became fascinated with Christmas villages when he was a young boy. His grandfather would set up an elaborate display every year.
Coyne grew up to be a successful artist and eventually took up his grandfather’s hobby by setting up his own villages each year at Christmas time.
A few years ago, the Bluffton man spent at least 10 weeks creating a new village. Instead of the modern villages showing winter scenes, this one was a village in Bethlehem.
Sadly, Coyne died Jan. 7 after a long battle with brain cancer. But before his death, he made sure those closest to him knew where he wanted the Bethlehem village to go.
“It is too heartbreaking to tear it down and destroy it,” Coyne’s life partner, Gabriele Hoffmann, said. “So we would like a permanent home, where it can be exhibited for the holidays and also stored for the rest of the year.”
Since the entire village is about 100 square feet, it takes up a lot of space. Hoffmann said it has to be taken apart in at least six pieces and is no small undertaking. She said she and Coyne’s family would prefer that it go to a church, but that isn’t necessarily a requirement.
“Whoever takes it, it will take some work,” Hoffmann said. “It would need someone with an affinity for art or 3-dimensional dioramas.”
A plein air oil painter and draftsman, Coyne was well-known in the community for his Christmas village displays, which he loved to share with the public. He was also known for his detailed drawings of Live Oak trees, including the historic Secession Tree in Bluffton.
Coyne won awards for his village displays, which were featured in several magazines, newspapers and on TV. His village displays were even made into puzzles.
The layout of Coyne’s Bethlehem village was inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Christmas tree and Neapolitan nativity scene. It was also influenced by his travels to Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran in the 1970s, which helped him arrange the intricate scene to resemble a Middle Eastern village.
The village features four centers of activity that are lit by campfires, with animals, shepherds and more. Coyne constructed some of the buildings, made many of the trees from scratch and sculpted the nearly terrain for the diorama.
“It has a very organic feel and is magical when lit up,” Hoffmann said.
Anyone interested in taking ownership of the display may call her at 646-417-3941.
Coyne’s nephew, Rick Coyne, is grateful for the memories he has of his uncle, who made sure to introduce him and his brother to the magic of his Christmas villages when they were children.
“He understood the importance of inspiring wonder and creativity as a benefit for all mankind,” Rick said. “I think the best part for him in the end was watching some kid’s eyes light up when they walk up and see these grand, magnificent pieces he dreamt up and made real with his own hands … He was a kind and passionate soul that spent his life creating beauty to share with the rest of the world in hope of helping others find beauty and passion in theirs.”
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.