A few years ago, someone gave Richard Nourse a Nativity set.
The gift sparked something in Nourse, now 89. As he puts it, he got “the fire to collect.”
In less than six years, Nourse built up the largest Nativity collection he’d ever heard of — estimated at almost 1,800 sets.
The unique collection, along with other treasured items, fills Nourse’s historic home near downtown Meridian. The outside of the house is adorned with an elaborate flower garden, and, fittingly, a Nativity scene.
“I just got collecting, and I’m a fanatic when I collect,” Nourse said. “I don’t know when to quit.”
His hobby began years ago with postcards.
“I traveled all over the country to get postcards, and I have several folders full of them,” said Nourse (pronounced “Nurse”).
Then he started searching for glass bottles during his lunch breaks, back when he was a mail clerk with Idaho Fish and Game.
“I guess it’s something in my hidden DNA that makes me (want) to collect,” Nourse said.
Nativity scenes are meaningful to Nourse in part because of his Catholic faith, he said, but the intrigue goes beyond that.
“It’s the art in them, is really what’s interesting for people that would not be Christian,” he said.
His collection ranges from the elegant to the cartoonish, from sparkling ornaments he found at Hobby Lobby to a detailed scene of glass figurines depicting Jesus’ birth.
The sets fill shelves in every room of the house.
“Brace yourself,” Nourse warned at the front door. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
He found most of the Nativity sets at thrift stores. During the height of his collecting days, Nourse would constantly shop for new sets.
“Boy, every day,” he said with a laugh. “I had it bad.”
Sometimes he’d find a complete set, other times he would have to piece together a set himself.
“I have to sometimes pick out a baby Jesus,” he said. “And I’m like a marriage counselor — I have to find a Virgin Mary to match with Joseph.”
Nourse only goes to thrift stores about once a week now.
“I have so many now,” he said. “I don’t have room for them, you know, to bring in many more.”
AN EYE FOR BEAUTY
Nourse said he has no artistic ability, and that’s why he collects other people’s work. His appreciation for detail is obvious, both inside and outside his old white house.
The house is nestled among colorful blooms and yard ornaments. Plastic pink flamingos huddle on the edge of the yard, near a stone path with an arbor and patio seating.
“Did you see my duck pond?” Nourse asked, pointing to a peaceful scene of bird statues.
He marveled at the vibrant yellow and orange gaillardia plant, also known as the “blanket flower.” Of the many plant varieties in his yard, Nourse said this one is his favorite.
“See how on the end of it they have little Xs?” he asked. “Isn’t that amazing?”
Nourse does all of the yard work himself, even the heavy lifting. A few years ago he painted the house and worked on the roof.
“And he actually fell off of it,” neighbor Gwen Alger said. “I’ve reprimanded him, and he doesn’t listen. He just smiles.”
Nourse first moved to Meridian in 1931 at the age of 4. His grandfather built the house in 1898, he said, and the family used to own the surrounding lots.
Nourse’s mother, Rose Unternahrer Nourse, lived in the house until she died in the mid-1970s. She was part of Meridian’s garden club and taught Nourse about gardening since he was a boy.
Nourse still displays the wedding dresses worn by his mother and grandmother, along with his parents’ marriage license from 1911.
“He has so much history over there,” said Alger, who runs Something Special Antiques across the street. “I have actually learned a lot about antiques from him.”
Nourse never married or had children, and he’s not sure what will happen to his collections after he dies.
In an effort to stave off that day, Nourse is growing barley in the back yard for its nutritional value.
“I’ll be 90 years old in October, so I have to try to stay living a little bit longer,” he joked.
A fluffy white cat — the mean, jealous one of his three cats, Nourse said — lounged in the shade as Nourse took stock of his barley sprouts.
As to what will become of his collections after he dies, Nourse shouldn’t have to even worry about that, Alger said.
“He’s enjoying it. He loves it,” she said. “It’s probably what’s kept him alive all these years. He’s got a drive.”