Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
From the Time-Life series American Country volume A Country Christmas comes this description of the "inventor" of Merry Old Santa Claus - or at least his popular image above, dating from 1881 - Thomas Nast:
"Without Thomas Nast, our vision of Santa Claus might be very different. A political cartoonist who originated the familar symbols of the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey [above from a post-war edition of Harper's Weekly showing a rampaging elephant heading blindly over a cliff while the donkey becomes the proverbial *** in a lion's skin], Nast is thought to have been the first artist to draw Santa Claus as the 'jolly old elf' we know today."
"Nast was born in Germany in 1840 and emigrated to New York with his family at age six. As a teenager he enrolled in art school and, at fifteen, began his career as an illustrator. After jobs with several periodicals, he joined Harper's Weekly in 1862 as a war correspondent and began to produce acclaimed cartoons and Civil War sketches [like the one above titled Christmas Eve, 1862]."
"About the same time, Nast 'met' Santa when a publisher asked him to illustrate a book of holiday poems that included Clement Moore's 'A Visit From St. Nicholas.' Combining imagery from Moore's verse, and his own childhood memories of Christmas, Nast created a rotund, bearded, pipe-smoking figure in a woolly suit and cap, carrying a large sack of toys [above]."
"Nast's first Santa for Harper's [above] appeared on January 3, 1863. Santa was shown visiting a Union camp and wearing a suit of stars and stripes (the artist was a staunch Union sympathizer). His next Santa for the magazine, [below in the panel at left] published December 26, 1863, was part of a composite picture that included a soldier home on furlough."
"Nast's Christmas illustrations for Harper's were so popular that each year for the next twenty-three years the artist would take time from cartooning to contribute holiday drawings to the magazine [like the 1865 center spread above; note at the bottom Grant the Giant Killer standing beside the severed heads of Lee, A.P. Hill (?), and Ewell]... [T]he last one Nast did for Harper's... was published December 28, 1886, and fittingly illustrates a line from Moore's poem ['Not a creature was stirring']." Below, Nast as he appeared at the height of his career in the 1870's.