Grand Lake exhibit features Hallmark cards through the ages
November 23, 2012
GRAND LAKE – He warmed by the fire with a cross stitched on his hat, a backpack basket full of toys.
Later, Little Red Riding Hood would sit with a cloaked version of him next to a hearth.
By the 1870s, children spoke to him by way of the nation’s first telephones. And by the 1940s, an evolved Santa Claus rode atop a missile through the sky, or a frightened Santa ran for missile cover on the ground.
He is depicted in black face, or depicted as thin. He is a ghost, or he is a commoner.
And in one instance, he is sitting on a beach in a Hawaiian shirt, a bottle of suntan lotion stashed in the sand.
A rare opportunity of seeing how the modern-day Santa Claus evolved from an obscurely perceived character to the jolly and wise fellow we’ve grown to love is available at Grand Lake’s Kauffman House Museum this holiday season.
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Grand Lake Historical Association volunteer Kathy Means coordinated the exhibit with the Hall family of Hallmark Cards, Kansas, the family that has been visiting their vacation home built on the rocks on the south shore of Grand Lake since the early 1920s.
The holiday exhibit at the Kauffman House features vintage Hallmark Cards from 1881 to 1984, showing “The Many Faces of Santa.”
The display gives a unique perspective on how the mythical man became who he is today, and how artists through time have interpreted his character.
“For Santa Claus in America, his public image evolves as society evolves,” said museum official Elin Capps.
Designer Benjamen Salman depicted him in the mid- to late-1800s as a ghost who visited children at night, and during that same period, he was referred to as “Saint Santa.”
Although there’s an artist’s rendering of a Santa sitting by the fire as early as 1844, it wasn’t until Louis Prang’s depictions in the late 1800s showing Santa warming by the fire with children, and another of him emerging from a chimney-top.
By the 1900s, we see Santa cards as a reflection of the war and of the Industrial Revolution, and by the 1950s to 1980s, we see Santa cards becoming cheerful and bright, some depictions by popular American artist Norman Rockwell and cartoonist Saul Steinberg.
Presidential holiday cards
In tandem of the vintage Santa Hallmark exhibit at the Kauffman House is another display of U.S. presidential Hallmark cards. Museum-goers will be treated to a glimpse of the personal holiday cards sent to friends and families from the first families of Dwight D. Eisenhower through to George W. Bush. Some have an artist’s rendering of rooms in the White House, some of the exterior of the White House, others with the presidential seal – all picked by the families, all stately, yet with a hint of personality of each of the presidents.
Each presidential family enlisted Hallmark to design their holiday cards, with the exception of Bill Clinton’s family, who used American Greetings designers. Eisenhower had 500 of them printed, but by the time George W. Bush got into office, Hallmark was printing holiday cards in the tens of thousands for the presidents.
A notable presidential holiday card is the one sent out in 1963, immediately following the late-November assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Hallmark had already printed Kennedy’s cards that year, and the replacement card was one sent from Lyndon B. Johnson and family. As many as 30,000 holiday cards were mailed, the design of which was understated and sensible – an all white card with the presidential seal embossed on the front.
The card exhibit is accompanied with a collection of essays about how each president spent his holiday.
And a separate exhibit gives the history of the Hall family, including their connection to Grand Lake. The family of J.C. and Elizabeth Hall rented the Hallmark Cabin – as the remote lakeside cabin has since come to be known among locals – in 1922, and then bought it in 1929. For several years in the 1950s and 1960s, the Denver University Faculty Club used the Hall’s cabin. Ever since, it has been a family retreat, where grandchildren and great-grandchildren now are enjoying the home.