To explain ... before Sundblom, Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas had been interpreted in many different ways by many different artists - as time went on, his character evolved (mainly due to the various interpretations of Clement Clarke Moore's poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"). Moore's poem evoked Santa as a magical elf (with eight tiny reindeer), the more so to make his tiny frame able to ft up and down chimneys - NOT a full-sized man. If you remember the poem, it says, "When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick."
Let's try that again ... Nast's version (as seen at right) of 'Merry Old Santa' expanded on the Jolly Old Elf theme and added the large belly. What I find fascinating about this particular version of Santa are the variations in his costume - the holly sprig hat and the (very itchy-looking) winter coat. He is a more practical Saint Nick, who looks like that dark outfit has seen more than its share of chimney soot over the years.
The character continued to evolve on covers of magazines through the years, but no one had yet hit upon the iconic figure of Santa that we know today. Enter Haddon Sundblom.
Sundblom was a graphic artist and illustrator who took on the job of drawing Santa Claus for the Coca-Cola company, beginning in 1931 with this ad for the Saturday Evening Post.
According to the Love Hate Advertising blog, "Coke credits its advertising agency for the vision: “Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic.” So in 1931, Sundblom got the gig to develop advertising art using Santa Claus, with a twist: the images would depict the actual Santa, not a man dressed as Santa ... Remember, Santa shook “like a bowl full of jelly” before he started on the soda. Sundblom’s visual inspiration came from Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (better known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Once he discovered his calling, Sundblom kept painting Santa for the next 33 years. Sundblom’s body of work continues to live on in perennial Coca-Cola Christmas (yes,“Christmas,” not holiday) advertising. His original art is still being used today, decades after his death in 1976. In fact, a 1964 Sundblom Santa served as the basis for an animated TV commercial in 2001."
|"I know it's their Christmas dinner, but I'm hungry NOW!"|
The question inevitably comes up, "Who WAS the model for Santa?" The answer, according to Coke's own website Coke Lore: The History of the Modern Day Santa Claus, tells us: "In the beginning, Sundblom painted the image of Santa using a live model — his friend Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman. When Prentiss passed away, Sundblom used himself as a model, painting while looking into a mirror (as seen at the top of this article). Finally, he began relying on photographs to create the image of St. Nick.
|"NO, Santa! Not the last Coke! I'm telling Mommy and Daddy!"|
The dog in Sundblom’s 1964 Santa Claus painting was actually a gray poodle belonging to the neighborhood florist. But Sundblom wanted the dog to stand out in the holiday scene, so he painted the animal with black fur".
Sorry, but the little girl from this 1938 ad looks LESS than thrilled that Santa is scarfing down that Coke. Let him have it, Susie! Don't argue with the Fat Man or ...
|"Oh, I don't think so, Susie ..."|
Ummm, never mind ... well, as usual, the K.A.C. just went to the dark place! :) Let's try to get this Holiday Hoedown back on track. At right is the 1964 ad that was referenced earlier. It was also Sundblom's last year of making the 'Coke Santa' ads. But after 33 years of these images pervading all types of print advertising, this version of Santa was firmly embedded in children's imaginations as "THE Santa Claus", leading to an urban legend that Coca-Cola INVENTED the modern Santa Claus. Snopes.com looked into it and debunked it as false - you can see their full report here:
You can also see a full gallery of the Coke Santa ads through the years by going to this link:
Sundblom did revisit the whole Santa Claus mystique one more time, in 1972 on the cover of Playboy. As a Huffington Post article relates, "Despite this wholesome association, Sundblom had his racier side. He regularly took breaks from Santa Claus to paint pin-ups and glamour pieces for calendars, including his final assignment, a painting for the cover of Playboy’s 1972 Christmas issue. But to label him a one-character painter or simply a purveyor of saucy caricatures would, according to Berry, be doing him a disservice.
"Roger T. Reed wrote that 'More than any artist including Norman Rockwell, Sundblom defined the American Dream in pictures, proved by his work for virtually the entire Fortune 500'. I think it’s important to remember that ‘Sunny’ was about a lot more than Santa.
"His ensuring legacy includes not only his body of work but also the many artists who went through his studio and came out influenced by his very clear style – including Howard Terpning, Gil Elvgren, Earl Blossom and Morgan Kane."
Nevertheless for most of us, Sundblom will always be remembered for the modern day St Nick."
Before I forget, here is the animated TV commercial based on Sundblom's paintings ...
And that, boys and girls, is why Santa looks the way he does today.
Join me tomorrow for more Christmas fun and adventure!