When one thinks of the holiday season, one of the first things most people think of is Santa Claus. This jolly spirit of Christmas generosity has become a part of world culture for years. Originating from a series of mythological figures in Scandinavian countries, Santa has become a beloved fatherly icon of Christmas cheer. Like all stories, Santa has evolved over time, but not many people know that many of the things we associate with Santa comes from the art and imagination of Norman Rockwell.
Artist Norman Rockwell created some of the most famous pieces of Americana during his tenure on the Saturday Evening Post. His work captured both pre and post-war American society at its best and worst. Born in Manhattan, Rockwell began working at 14 years old, earning early commissions painting children's books and magazines. When the United States joined WW1 Rockwell attempted to enlist in the Navy but was rejected for being underweight. To meet the requirements, Rockwell stuffed himself with bananas and donuts to make weight. He passed and spent his military service as an illustrator, painting icons on ships and working on their military magazine.
Rockwell made his name as the cover artist for the Saturday Evening Post, painting an astonishing 323 covers. Many of his most famous captured the Christmas spirit perfectly. Inspired by American illustrator Howard Pyle, Rockwell's style is incredibly detailed and captures a sort of sentimental beauty of his subjects. Many of his most popular paintings were of Santa Claus, which solidified many of the iconic aspects of his look. Santa had been previously depicted as wearing either white and green or red and green, but Rockwell solidified the boots, belt, trim, and jolly smile. His Santa became part of family celebrations, picked toys for well-behaved children, and relaxed with bottles of Coke.
His work influenced a generation of creators from George Lucas to Steven Speilberg and his beautiful work has been displayed everywhere from the United Nations to the White House. He's the state artist of Massachusetts and every year the town of Stockbridge, where he lived the last quarter of his life, recreates his 1967 oil painting Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (Home for Christmas). For added authenticity, antique cars that perfectly match their illustrated counterparts are brought in, and thankfully, with very few exceptions, most of the buildings look much like they did in Rockwell’s day.
When asked about his work, Rockwell said in an interview, "some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I've always called myself an illustrator. I'm not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life.." If you've never seen this iconic painter's work, treat yourself.