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Handmade Christmas Cards Sent By Famous Artists to Their Friends

Original designs from artists over the years to celebrate the holidays

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Arturo Rodríguez used a postcard from the Louvre to create this Van Gogh-inspired holiday card to Helen L. Kohen, ca. 1980-1999

The head of Hallmark, Donald Hall, is worth an estimated $1 billion, according to Forbes. Founded in 1910, the company has grown into the biggest greetings card manufacturer in the United States and by now, its brand is commonplace during the holiday season.

But Mary Savig and the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art are here to remind you that not all cards come from a store. In her new book, Handmade Holiday Cards from 20th-Century Artists, Savig includes 190 illustrations of the original holiday cards held in the Archives. Some famous names pop up, including Josef Albers, John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Robert Motherwell. Unlike the Hallmark stock on the shelves, these cards weren’t meant to be sold, but were instead just sent between friends to mark a shared occasion.

Painter and printmaker Philip Guston sent this Christmas card to poet Elise Asher in the 1950s, which was a departure from some of his dark subject matter contemplating the violence and persecution perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan.

Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears, a prominent Works Progress Administration artist in Chicago working in the 1930s, sent this Christmas card to fellow artist Andrew A. Bucci in 1964.

Born in Ohio, Charles Ephraim Burchfield painted evocative water color scenes of nature like this one, a letter sent to Louise Burchfield in 1933.

 

Abstract artist Frederick Hammersley met Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Constantin Brâncuşi during the 1940s and created this festive card in the 1950s.

Miné Okubo was one of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans interned during World War II, later publishing a book of sketches and writings on the period. Here, she turns her artistic skill to a Christmas card made in 1959.

Using imagery from a wire-sculpture circus creation, Alexander Calder created this unique card in 1930.

Signing her name in newsprint in the bottom right hand corner, Helen Frankenthaler created this collage for artist Theodoros Stamos in 1960.

Count on a Surrealist artist and painter like Kay Sage to send this as a Christmas card to Eleanor Howland Bunce.

 

Read more articles about the holidays in our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here

See more handmade cards here.

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About Leah Binkovitz
Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is a Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow at Washington Post and NPR. Previously, she was a contributing writer and editorial intern for the At the Smithsonian section of Smithsonian magazine.

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