Austinite displays collection of African-American angels, Santas

Joan Roberts Scott can’t remember when she first started collecting ornaments with African-American faces on them. She thinks it’s been more than 25 years.

She knows it happened by chance, when she was in a Foley’s department store and found a set of African-American Santa Claus ornaments. Something drew her to them, and she began her collection. “I got on this mission,” she says, to do her whole tree in African-American Santas and angels.

She estimates it took about eight to 10 years before she had enough to fill a tree. As she was collecting, she would replace ball ornaments she had with new ornaments she picked up.

Roberts Scott, who worked in Disability Determination Services for the state for 35 years, retired in 2016. She’s active in Simpson United Methodist Church as well as Delta Sigma Theta alumni association.

One of the ways she began getting so many ornaments was by telling friends that she was collecting ornaments of African-American people, Santa Clauses and angels. People began buying them as gifts for her. She found some in unusual places. Often church or holiday bazaars had them. Sometimes department stores stocked them. Occasionally, she’d see them in a Hallmark store. Every once in a while, a kid would be selling stuff for school, and there would be an angel or Santa for her in the catalog. Of course, she had to buy it.

“Every now and then, you can just run into them,” she says.

Now on her tree she has Santa Clauses of all sizes as well as angels. She also has some ornaments of children playing. Occasionally, you’ll see an ornament that isn’t an African-American figure on her tree. She has two from her sorority and one that says simply “Peace.”

Most of her ornaments include her favorite color — red. She also has red lights on the tree. She tried yellow lights, but she didn’t like them as much. This year, the tree is a new artificial one, after her old one needed to be put out of its misery.

At the top sits a beautiful African-American angel. “She’s very old,” Roberts Scott says. “I’ve been gluing her together for so long.”

She would buy another one, but she hasn’t found one as perfect or as beautiful as this one. “Her face is so smooth, so natural,” Roberts Scott says.

Finding African-American ornaments is becoming more difficult, Roberts Scott says. Some of her go-to places closed or were bought by a larger company. “In the last few years, I haven’t found any,” she says.

She doesn’t have a particular order that she places each ornament on the tree, but she puts the heavier Santas and angels at the bottom to hold down the tree. She does notice when something seems amiss.

One year, it seemed like one of her favorite angels was looking a different way each day. She couldn’t figure it out. “It was so spooky,” she says. “I could tell something changed in my house. ‘What, God, are you trying to tell me about that angel?’” she thought.

Then she realized her late dog, Faith, was going behind the tree and twisting it ever so slightly. The angel wasn’t moving — the whole tree was. She realized it when the whole tree was down one day when she came home. The only thing broken, though, was one wing of that angel that kept seeming to move. That angel is still on the tree with one wing missing because it’s one of her favorites.

In addition to her tree, Roberts Scott has figurines of African-American angels and Santas around her house.

“Christmas is my time of year,” she says. “I play Christmas music all the time. It’s really a special time.”

In the foyer, several Santas rest on the piano. In the living room, angels cover the mantel, and Santas hang out on the windowsill and on a side table. Her coffee table is filled with angels.

“I didn’t even put them all out this year,” she says. Still in a box is a Nativity scene and more angels and Santas. She’s never counted how many ornaments and figurines she has. She estimates she has 20 or 30 more still in boxes.

It usually takes a full day to set up her tree and decorate around the house. She usually decorates for the season on Thanksgiving Day. Each ornament or figurine is individually wrapped and packed away in a box. “I stayed up, I bet you, to 1 a.m. to get them on the tree,” she says of this year.

Her daughter, Rodshede, who at 33 is a staff sergeant in the Air Force and stationed in Kuwait, “never had fun doing this,” Roberts Scott says. “She let me do it all by myself.”

At first it was that Roberts Scott was worried that her daughter might break something. “They’re so fragile,” she says. “You have to be careful with them.”

Then as her daughter grew up and saw the work that went into wrapping and unwrapping each one, she decided to pass.

On New Year’s Day, Roberts Scott will pack up the ornaments and figurines once again. “My friends say, ‘We’re going home,’” she says, when they find out about what she plans to do that day.

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