If you think the front window display at Carolyn Nosky’s home in Depew resembles a scene from a Christmas card, you’re right.
But it’s not a decal or super-sized print.
For the past 60 years, Nosky has painted a religious Christmas scene on the inside of windows where she lived. For the past 53 years, it’s been at her home on West Second Street, where outdoor spotlights illuminate the scene on dark winter nights.
Nosky actually paints two scenes: on the driveway side of the house is the “Children’s Window,” whose whimsical themes vary from year to year and often involve animals.
But the one out front always is based on the traditional manger scene.
“It’s always the manger on the front. Always,” said Nosky, 78. “That’s the main purpose of Christmas.”
Her designs come from actual Christmas cards; she has a stack of them that includes a contender for next year’s display.
The tradition of painting the windows started in 1954, when her family’s home on St. Lawrence Avenue in North Buffalo was entered in the Junior Chamber of Commerce Christmas Lighting Contest. “My dad lit up the house. He said, ‘Put something on that window,’ ” she recalled.
The contest entry was under her name, and she won third prize – $10.
She was 18 years old then and she hadn’t thought about making it a tradition. But she did.
“I just thought Christmas was not Christmas without the window,” she said.
Nosky has a thick, time-worn scrapbook that contains a yellowed copy of a newspaper article about that 1954 contest. And, with very few exceptions, Nosky also has preserved the Christmas cards that inspired each year’s display, along with photographs of the finished product.
Painting is a self-taught hobby for Nosky, a widow with four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“I have an easel downstairs. My sons bought me a beautiful box of oils,” she said. “I keep saying I’ve got to take some lessons in oils.”
Work on the paintings usually begins the first week in December, but Nosky said she got an early start this year. The process starts with her drawing the scene on the window in black crayon, then painting with watercolors.
Her paintings often reflect some artistic license, with colors more vivid than those used on the cards and some additional touches. On average, she said, it takes her 13 hours to paint the front window – which includes a large center panel and lower panels on each side – and six hours to do the side window.
Getting facial features right can be tricky, Nosky said, as is writing messages backwards so that they can be read from the street.
And some paintings contain more details than others.
The 1995 scene, for example, included dozens of characters – angelic and animal – around a manger. The card rendered in 1998 lacked a manger, so she added one.
To commemorate her 50th display, she painted a “Snowflake Madonna” in silver and white, with the flowing gown stretching across all three panes of glass.
Each new arrival to Nosky’s family has been celebrated on the side window. In years when there are none, all of the children’s names are included in the painting.
Removing the paintings is another story.
“In the old days, I used to wash it off,” she explained. But drips on the windowsill and rug were a problem.
Now, she tapes plastic bags to the floor and uses a razor to scrape off the paint.
The paintings are a labor of love, and Nosky admits she has a hard time when it’s time to remove them – usually at the end of January or beginning of February.
“If I enjoy looking at them, I don’t care what people think on the outside,” she said.