I would like to wish everyone a very, very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from me, the lovely and talented Annie, and the excited and wide-eyed Alex (above). Art Blog By Bob will be very quiet after this post until most likely the New Year as we enjoy the holiday with family and friends.
I’ve always been a big fan of Santa Claus as a cultural phenomenon. A history of images of St. Nicholas, Santa Claus in his previous life, appears here. Thomas Nast’s Victorian Santa Claus (above, from 1881) ranks up there with the iconic images of the Jolly One. Christmas really is a Victorian invention in terms of traditions, thanks mainly to Nast and Charles Dickens. Our conception of Santa today still relies heavily on how the Victorians imagined him. My Mom has a collection of Santa figurines showing Santa through the years hailing all the way back to the 1880s and up to the 1940s, when that image, at least in America, became set in stone. Perhaps that was for the best. Imagining a 1980s Santa in a Members’ Only jacket and spandex with a mullet makes me shudder.
Perhaps no American artist loved the idea of Christmas and Santa as much as N.C. Wyeth. (His rendering of Santa from 1925 is above.) A behemoth of a man himself, N.C. would dress up as Santa for his children every year. Andrew Wyeth describes the literally bed-wetting terror he felt as “Santa” stood at the foot of his bed. Jamie Wyeth once described sweating profusely in anticipation of Christmas morning, which is at least better than wetting the bed.
No slice of Americana can be complete without including Norman Rockwell, who painted Santa many times over the years, including the image above from 1939. I find Rockwell’s image of Santa mapping his route around the world fascinating in light of just how divided the world was in 1939 as war raged in Europe and threatened to engulf the globe. Santa’s string tying together all the good boys and girls around the world provides the link of hope that the world needed at that moment. We could use that link today, too.
My new favorite image of Santa is, of course, this year’s photograph of Alex with Old Saint Nick (above). Christmas is about children above all else. Here’s hoping that everyone finds the love and peace that comes with embracing the children around us as well as the child remaining within us.