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Tucson collector goes nuts for nutcrackers

Tucsonan Bertí Brodsky began collecting nutcrackers 34 years ago in Germany. (Debe Campbell/AJP)

With a collector’s heart, Arizona Jewish Post advertising manager Bertí Brodsky surrounds herself with things that have meaning. A collection of crystal balls that began when her mother gave her an antique glass paperweight; charming David Winter cottages; teddy bears from the early ’80s; shoes in every color, to match any possible outfit — for work, of course.

But a novel troupe of wooden nutcrackers is perhaps her most expansive collection. The bevy of colorful characters began with a pair of traditional soldiers, purchased when Brodsky lived in Germany in the mid-1980s. Nutcrackers, dolls with a simple hand-crank mechanism that opens their mouth to crack a nut, originated in late 17th century Germany. They often are given as gifts and keepsakes to bring luck and protect the home. They are said to have strength and power to keep away evil spirits and danger. They come in every size, shape, and character. Some are painted, while others are ornamented with outfits and accessories. Some even blow smoke.

Nutcrackers have become associated with the Christmas season, perhaps because of the ballet of the same name. “But I avoid the overtly Christmas ones,” Brodsky says, noting, “The latest additions bringing the population to 61 are Moses, Noah, and a rabbi with a menorah.”

Brodsky’s collection has members of the Village People from the song “YMCA”; skeletons from Dia de Los Muertos; her favorite, Wolfman, with his entourage of Dracula and witches; a golfer, skier, and fisherman; a rock star, KISS band character, and Mardi Gras king; Beefeater, Hawaiian, chefs, and many others. “Each has a meaning to me and reflects my life, where I’ve been, places I’ve traveled, family members,” she says. There is Gumby from her childhood and icons for every holiday. In fact, if you visit her home today, seasonal decorations include a turkey and three pilgrim nutcrackers.

The collection is not complete and Brodsky has a long wish list in her online shopping basket: a jazz saxophone player, football player, card dealer, martial artist, lumberjack, snowman, aviator, safari guide, and a Viking. Husband David Rosenstein indulges his wife’s hobby. He is commissioning a custom display cabinet to house the unique dolls.

“I’m a little obsessed, and interested in people from all walks of life,” admits Brodsky. “This is my microcosm of the world.”