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Santa Gets A New Look
The Legacy of Thomas Nast
Moore’s description of Saint Nicholas would mark a major change in his "appearance." While Saint Nicholas had previously been drawn as a Christian Bishop, Moore described him as "a right jolly old elf."
But he would soon come to be seen more as a rosy-cheeked, roly-poly Santa. Much of the credit went to the influential nineteenth-century cartoonist Thomas Nast. The first appearance was on January 3, 1863, when Nast did a political cartoon of Santa entitled 'Santa in Camp', for the cover of Harper’s Weekly. Dressed in Stars and Stripes, Santa was distributing presents to Union soldiers. That illustration is shown below right. Also in that issue was a drawing titled "Christmas Eve" – a double-paned drawing of a prayerful wife on the left, a soldier by a campfire looking at pictures of his family. The next year, this couple would be featured again in a drawing titled "Christmas Furlough."
From 1863 until 1886, Nast created a series of Christmas drawings for Harper's Weekly. These drawings, executed over twenty years, exhibit a gradual evolution in Santa from the pudgy, diminutive, elf-like creature of Dr. Moore's immortal poem to the bearded, portly gift-giver of today. But he did more than just give us a picture of Santa Claus; his also expanded on the Legend of Santa Claus.
Nast established Santa's workshop and official residence at the North Pole in four different drawings between 1879 and 1886. On January 4, 1879, Harper’s Weekly published "A Christmas Post," showing a girl putting a letter in the mailbox, addressed to St. Claus, North Pole. The sketch titled "The Shine of Saint Nicholas" published on December 31, 1882, showed good children at the North Pole; Santa was seated on a box with the inscription "Saint Nicholas, North Pole." Harper’s Weekly on December 19, 1885 published "Santa Claus’s Route," a sketch showing two children looking at a map of the world and tracing Santa's journey from the North Pole to the United States.
Finally, in "Santa Claus and His Works," printed in Harper’s Weekly in 1886, Nast showed Santa and his workshop at Santa Claussville, North Pole. In 1869, American writer George P. Webster published Santa Claus and His Works and took up this idea, explaining that Santa's toy factory and "his house, during the long summer months, was hidden in the ice and snow of the North Pole". Although his name did not appear on the cover, the seven color illustrations were provided by Nast, who gave us a look at the red and white suit of Santa. Many of the illustrations in the book were colorized expansions of the woodcuts from Harper’s Weekly.
In his annual drawings, Nast added other details such as Santa's list of the good and bad children of the world. His cartoons also showed the world how Santa spent his entire year constructing toys, checking on children's behavior (by use of a telescope from a parapet of his home in Santa Claussville, North Pole), and reading the letters from both the children and their parents. His images became incorporated into the Santa lore.
Most of his Christmas drawings were of domestic scenes, and most often of children. It was the Nast children who were most frequently the models. By the beginning of 1872, the Nast children were Julia (1862), Tom, Edith, and Mabel (born in December 1871). It was Julia who was the model for "Christmas Flirtation." A son, Cyril, was born August 28, 1879, was the model for "Another Stocking To Fill" published in Harper’s Weekly in January, 1880. According to Paine, Mrs. Nast was frequently the model for "Columbia."
Nast also provided illustrations to Christmas Poems issued by J. M. Gregory (1863-64), including one for Moore’s poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas." It was the first of his illustrations to appear in book form. His Christmas drawings were also published in the London papers in 1880. His last Christmas illustration was published in Leslie’s Illustrated in 1901 – where he got his first job as an illustrator in 1855.
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