Artists' Homemade Christmas Cards | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
Pablo Cano, a Miami-based artist who creates marionettes, sent this holiday card to Miami art critic Helen L. Kohen in 1989. (Archives of American Art)

Artists' Homemade Christmas Cards

Seasonal greetings from artists such as Alexander Calder and Philip Guston celebrate the handmade holiday card

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Americans last year sent more than two billion Christmas cards, and a great many bore a familiar sentiment printed in an overseas factory and boxed for mass consumption. The more than 100 holiday cards in a new exhibition at the Smithsonian's Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, each one designed by an artist for personal use, represent a fresher approach to a tradition that is for many of us, let's admit it, something of a chore. Most of the exhibition cards celebrate Christmas, while several acknowledge Hanukkah and the New Year. They were selected from the Archives of American Art's collection of artists' ephemera, which also includes journals, sales receipts and snapshots.

The thick brushstrokes and cartoon-like blazing fireplace in Philip Guston's 1970s Christmas card are unmistakably his, reminiscent of his darkly primitive renderings of hooded Ku Klux Klan members. "Right away you see that style, but it's happy," Mary Savig, one of the exhibition curators, says of the Guston image.

In 1929, Alexander Calder, best known for his wondrous mobiles, took time out from Cirque Calder, the wire-sculpture circus he showed in Paris and New York City, to create a playful linocut New Year's card, perhaps the exhibition's most ribald season's greeting.

Alexandra Darrow (1910-93) of Connecticut, known for her Works Progress Administration murals of the 1930s, was a model of yuletide cheer in a 1957 photograph. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Noche Crist, an artist who lived in Washington, D.C., sent this screen-printed image of the C&O Canal in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood to fellow D.C.-based artist Prentiss Taylor in 1962. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Philip Guston used a style similar to his paintings depicting the Klu Klux Klan to create this uncharacteristically cheerful Christmas Card that he and his wife, Musa, sent to painter and poet Elise Asher. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Kay Sage, an American Surrealist artist and poet, sent this Christmas card to Eleanor Howland Bunce, who was active in the visual arts scene. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Sage, who was married to French Surrealist painter Yves Tanguy, sent this typescript card to Bunce as a Christmas and New Year’s 1959 card. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Sage sent this creative card to Bunce in 1962 just a few months before she committed suicide in January 1963.) (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Arnold Newman, an American photographer, took an image depicting his family’s travels throughout the year for this holiday card sent to art magazine editor Belle Krasne Ribicoff in 1958. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
August Arp, a painter who lived in New York City, designed this block print holiday card in 1922. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Frederick Hammersley used his keen sense of color and precisionist style to create this screen-printed Christmas card design. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Alexander Calder borrowed imagery from his Cirque Calder, a wire-sculpture circus, to create this playful card in 1930. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Werner Drewes, a German-American painter and printmaker, created this pastel illustration for a holiday card in 1965. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Alfred Frueh, best known for his mid-century caricatures in The New Yorker, sent this hand-colored print to painter and lithographer Wood Gaylor. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Polish-American painter Max Weber created this holiday card with Hebrew lettering at the top and sent it from the Weber family to painter Abraham Walkowitz in December 1934. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Stuart Davis, an American modernist painter, sent this holiday card to artist Ernest Schnakenberg. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Helen Frankenthaler created this collage and sent it as a holiday card to artist Theodoros Stamos in 1960. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Yasuo Kuniyoshi, a Japanese-born American artist, sent this hand-colored print to American painter Reginald Marsh in 1932. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Robert Indiana used his iconic LOVE image to create this 1964 holiday card that he sent to artist Dorothy Canning Miller. The next year, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned him to create a Christmas card featuring the same image. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Ad Reinhardt’s cheeky block-printed Christmas card depicts a painter and an illustration of David beheading Goliath. No date. EDITOR'S NOTE: This caption has been corrected from its original text, which misidentified David and Goliath. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Philip Reisman, a Polish-born American painter and printmaker, created this screen-printed card as the family’s holiday card. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Ernest Blumenschein, who was famous for his paintings of Native Americans and New Mexico, created this family Christmas card that was sent to artist Chester Beach. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
George Zoretich, an artist and professor at Pennsylvania State, sent this watercolor to artist James Mullen in 1971. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Andrew Bucci, a Mississippi-based artist, sent this colored pencil and watercolor holiday card to artist Prentiss Taylor. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Julia Thecla, a Chicago-based painter, created this playful mixed media collage and sent it to Katharine Kuh as a holiday card in 1975. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Abstract painter Regina Bogat weaved this holiday card that she and her husband, painter Alfred Jansen, sent to art historian Katharine Kuh in 1975. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Lithuanian-American sculptor William Zorach and his wife, Margeurite, sent this block print card to artist Alfred J. Frueh. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Prentiss Taylor, who was involved in the Harlem Renaissance, sent this block-printed holiday card to painter and instructor Robert Franklin Gates in 1932. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Julia Kepes, wife of Hungarian-born artist Gyorgy Kepes, painted this Christmas card using gouache paint, which is similar to watercolor but thicker. The Kepes family sent the card to Katharine Kuh. No date.. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Dan Flavin, famous for creating sculptures with fluorescent lights, sent this Christmas card to artist Andrew Bucci in 1962. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Philip Evergood, an American artist active during the Depression and World War II, sent this hand-painted watercolor as a family Christmas card to artist Ernest Schnakenberg in 1958. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Abril Lamarque, a Cuban-American artist, created this set of six nesting envelopes and small holiday card in 1930. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Lamarque, an amateur magician and member of the Society of American Magicians, created this card with six removable playing cards. No date. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Nickolas Muray, a Hungarian-born American photographer, took this image for a 1937 Christmas card that was never sent. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Muray took two images for this unique holiday card design that was also never sent. (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Pablo Cano, a Miami-based artist who creates marionettes, sent this holiday card to Miami art critic Helen L. Kohen in 1989. (Archives of American Art)

A 1989 card by Pablo Cano, a Miami-based Cuban-American artist known for his marionettes, depicts a dove in a swirl of blue. "This would sell well," says Savig, who, as it happens, worked for a greeting-card company in Minnesota during high school. "Doves always sell well."

But the cards in this exhibition weren't about making money. They were for friends, family and maybe a gallery owner or two. Not meant for public viewing, they give us an intimate, unguarded view of artists doing what we count on artists to do: break through the canned sentiments and commercial clutter of their time to make a personal statement.

Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus