Haddon Hubbard Sundblom

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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.

Haddon Sundblom

Santa Claus as popularized by Haddon Sundblom

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.

Haddon Sundblom

Haddon Sundblom

Haddon Sundblom

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.

Haddon Sundblom

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.

Will Foster

Maurice Logan

Pruett Carter

Howard Pyle

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.”

Haddon Sundblom

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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