I imagine a good number of us older artists, especially former illustrators like myself, are familiar with the name, Haddon Hubbard Sundblom (1899-1976). There are also, I suspect, a vast number of the younger generation that have never heard of him. Maybe, if I tell you Sundblom is largely responsible for the current image of Santa Claus, then you’ll have one of those “aha” moments.
His fame as creator of “the real Santa”, largely due to his work with Coca Cola, often caused people to trivialize some of his other work and the central place he holds in 20th century advertising art. In reality, Sundblom was a brilliantly prolific artist who worked with most of the Fortune 500 companies of his day.
He was the youngest of 10 children born of immigrant parents from Scandinavia. Born in Muskegon, Michigan, his mother died while he was still a young boy. As a result, he dropped out of school to help support the family.
With only an 8th grade education, he committed himself to a lifetime of learning. Through correspondence courses and night school, he studied architecture, business, and a variety of artistic disciplines. By age 21, he was working for one of the top illustration studios in Chicago. Surrounded by some of the top illustrators of his day, he received great on-the-job training. In addition to working with Will Foster, Maurice Logan and others, Sundblom also found additional inspiration through the works of John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, Anders Zorn, Howard Pyle, and Pruett Carter. From each he learned how to impart a warm, luminous, radiant glow to his portraits and figures.
An article in a 1956 issue of American Artist magazine described his paintings as always sunny. “They and their characters and settings breathe an air of refinement. They are romantic, idealistic, melodious, wholesome, healthy, and pleasing. They look good. His men are men, his women desirable, his children adorable. He gives the human race cause for self-respect. Never do his compositions ever suggest anything sordid or depressing…either in color or in subject matter. They have what people like.”
Just as he benefited from his early studio apprenticeship, he is credited with developing the next generation of commercial artists. “His various studios were a training ground for up-and-coming illustrators who wanted to learn at the foot of a true master. Always generous with his staff and modest about his impact on the industry, Sundbloms’s circle of influence extended to hundreds of artists.
For more on Haddon Sundblom and his work for Coca Cola, and the devolution of St. Nick, click HERE.
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I’m pleased to announce the release of my latest teaching video and book. The video and accompanying book, shown here, along with my first video, “Limited Palette Landscape”, include everything I’ve taught in my workshops. You can now take my oil painting workshop right in the comfort of your home, and for a lot less money than physically being present. (Click image to learn more)
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Living Master. To view his art and bio, please click HERE.