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NATIVITY NICHE: First created in 1978 by Maria Luisa Teña, the Tucson Museum of Art's El Naciemento has become a charming local tradition. Each year, Teña spends countless hours composing the elaborate nativity scene with hundreds of painted figurines, mostly of terra cotta, which she's collected throughout Mexico.

In recent years she's also added special pieces, such as handmade babies from Tlaquepaque, an artists' colony on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico, and Teña's former home.

The Naciemento concept itself is steeped in tradition: Some art historians maintain that simple versions were constructed as early as the 16th century for the instruction of newly converted Indians. Historical documents show the scenes were used in conjunction with las pastorelas, or shepherd plays.

By the 1700s, naciementos were widespread in the New World. At the same time, the Mexican nativity became distinct from its precursors with the addition of biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and depictions of Mexican folk life alongside traditional scenes from the birth of Christ.

All these elements come together in an exhibit continuing through March 30 in the TMA Casa Cordova, 140 N. Main Ave. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5, $4 for seniors, $3 for and students, and free for children under age 13. Admission is free on Sunday. For information, call 624-2333.

NATIVE PARLEY: Join a timeless celebration at the Native American Indian Heritage Month Social Powwow and Craft Market.

Indians from more than 50 western tribes will gather for a powerful display of indigenous arts, crafts, traditional foods, dances and songs. Among the highlights: an Indian baby contest, and a 24-foot teepee for the wee set. Crafts for sale will include baskets, beadwork, jewelry, paintings, pottery, rugs, kachinas, Indian books and music. And then comes the powwow, featuring traditional songs and dances.

The event runs from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, November 24 through 26, at Rillito Park, on the southeast corner of River Road and First Avenue. Admission is $5 plus an unwrapped toy for needy children. For information, call 622-4900.

PROVOCATIVE PIECES: The riveting paintings of Tucsonan Joanne Kerrihard are now on display in the Tucson Museum of Art.

Kerrihard is known for combining technical proficiency, rich but subtle color and an enigmatic narrative into emotionally intense works. The pieces draw on elements from the Renaissance, the theater and the circus. They're all finely orchestrated in her latest collection, displayed as part of the TMA's Contemporary Southwest Images series.

"Kerrihard's work defies simple categorization," says TMA director Bob Yassin. "It functions like good art in that it can make us think. The artist creates a world of her own and she invites us to visit with her in it."

The show runs through January 7 in the museum, 140 N. Main Ave. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5, $4 for seniors, and $3 for students. Admission is free on Sunday. Call 624-2333 for information.

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