Before I tell you the History of the Christmas Card, I have a few personal notes: I am ending the season of painting my version of traditional Christmas images by creating a Box of Holiday Cards. Reproductions of the paintings on high quality card-stock with archival pigment ink each with a Kraft envelope and biodegradable clear sleeves for protection. All are fresh off the easel painted this past month except for Santa, he was painted last year, a portrait of my brother Gary, my eldest sister Sheila’s partner. It’s so cool to have a Santa ambassador in the Family whose white hair and beard and twinkling eyes and red button nose brings joy the year through.
As you put away your decorations and shop for those ‘save for next year deals’ I hope you’ll consider buying a boxed set or two of the CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY ART CARDS on this new Art Card and Print website.
I have priced them at 35% off and free shipping over $55 automatically. All the regular seascape and landscape cards continue to be 10% off and when you buy three of anything you get an additional 10% off.
I painted these paintings this season in honor and remembrance of Isabel, mi Suegra, the Abuelita of my children who we lived with for the last 30 years of her life. It was a good life. She is an angel and a second mother to me. She passed away a couple years ago. My mother and Isabel were best of friends. I like to think of them carrying on in heaven, together again, and my dad would loved her both always laughing. She loved cards. So did my mom. As I sorted through her things one category of saving was cards. Cards she received, cards she sent to the kids and me that I saved. Cards we gave to her. She always loved Christmas Cards she gave them to her friends at work and the neighbors down the street.
The Musical Instruments card she would be especially pleased with I think. I painted that from a photo Christmas Card of hers that I have cherished. It has been a labor of love painting the traditional Puerto Rico images. I appreciate the kind responses to the videos and paintings (cards). Isabel played the piano and loved music.
The Dancing Children painting was inspired by my grandchildren. Sofia danced in school productions and in her Dance School recitals. I remember, and have the video of, Audri dancing at about 2 years old in the living room and Isabel clapping saying, “Mira …Look, she’s an artist,”
Isabel loved poinsettias and each year I bought quite a few to line our walkway and on the patio next to her rocking chair. The Poinsettia card was also the ‘First Day of Christmas’ painting in my little video series on youTube. Thanks for watching the daily videos I posted as I painted myself through the holiday season. ( Links are below if you want to check them out)
I started the series off with the VISIT by the Magi, another typical Puerto Rico Christmas card although, ‘We Three Kings’ is a favorite Christmas song in many traditions all over the world. These three wisemen; Gaspar (or Caspar), Melchior, and Balthasar grace the nativity sets of many homes in many nations including our home.
The medieval written legends report that one of the three kings who paid homage to the Christ Child in Bethlehem was from Africa. But it would take nearly 1,000 years for European artists to begin representing one that in the nativity
The name Gaspar comes from Persian and means something like "treasure keeper" or "treasurer". Gaspar is depicted in images as an African with dark skin color and presents myrrh as a gift. Myrrh is a symbol for humanity and is in some interpretations also associated with the later suffering of Jesus.
Melchior is a Jewish name and stands for "King of Light". He has European characteristics and brings gold as a gift. Gold is considered the most precious commodity worthy of a king, the Son of God. King of Nubia
The name Balthasar also comes from Hebrew and means "God save his life" or "God will help"". Translations of the name from Ancient Syrian also read "God save the king. It is associated with an Asian origin. He carries incense, which is considered a divine symbol.
The last painting was another Los Reyes Magos painting. It is my 12 day of Christmas Painting revealed on the day of The Three Kings as many call it A huge celebration in Puerto Rico that almost equals Christmas Day in festivities, celebration, family gatherings, gift giving all with plenty of music.
In Puerto Rico the town of Juana Diaz is known as where the Kings come from, of course on horseback as there are no camels in Puerto Rico. That very small town on the south side of the island is where Isabel was born in 1915 and her family hailed from until she left in 1931 or so to pursue her nursing education and career in San Juan area.
On January 6, 1884, the town of Juana Díaz celebrated its first Fiesta de Reyes. Since then, and for 129 consecutive years, this town has continued with great splendor the celebration of this festivity, the only one of its kind in Puerto Rico and America. Father Valentín Echevarría, a Spanish priest, is considered the founder. inThere are two museums in Juana Diaz devoted to the event. During the first week of the year, the Three Kings of Juana Díaz (depicted by actors wearing colorful ancient robes and sporting thick beards) go on tour in their traditional Three Kings National Caravan, visiting all of the towns of Puerto Rico and bringing gifts for the children.
This is a Christian holiday commemorating the Three Wisemen, also known as the Three Kings, the Biblical Magi, and in Spanish los Tres Reyes Magos, who visited baby Jesus with offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
IN PUERTO RICO the three kings and art and sculpture are not set aside after Christmas. The paintings, wooden sculptures and artisan pieces can be seen on the walls of homes and museums and galleries. They are a national icon along with the flag and the coquis proudly exhibited all year through.
You can watch the 12 days of Christmas Videos on my you tube channel for more stories.
I was curious about Christmas Cards and how they came to be a thing. It has been written down that a Sir Henry Cole created the first Christmas card, originating in England in 1843.
That winter, Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who helped organize the Great Exhibition and develop the Victoria and Albert Museum, decided he was too busy to write individual Christmas greetings to his family, friends and business colleagues. He asked his friend, the painter John Callcott Horsley, to design a card with an image and brief greeting that he could mail instead.
Horsley designed a triptych, with the two side panels depicting good deeds (clothing the naked and feeding the hungry) and the center panel showing a family Christmas party. The inclusion of booze at this party got Cole and Horsley an earful from the British Temperance Movement. At the bottom of the center panel was the inscription "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You."
The card was lithographed on 5 1/8" X 3 1/4" stiff cardboard in dark sepia and then colored by hand. An edition of 1,000 cards was printed and sold at Felix Summerly's Treasure House in London for a shilling each. Of those cards, twelve exist today in private collections, including the one Cole sent to his grandmother.
According to an article in the Smithsonian magazine titled, “The History of the Christmas Card, “Borne out of having too little time, the holiday greeting has boomed into a major industry” published December 9, 2015, During the holiday season of 1843, those friends were causing Cole much anxiety.
The problem were their letters: An old custom in England, the Christmas and New Year’s letter had received a new impetus with the recent expansion of the British postal system and the introduction of the “Penny Post,” allowing the sender to send a letter or card anywhere in the country by affixing a penny stamp to the correspondence.
Now, everybody was sending letters. Sir Cole—best remembered today as the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London—was an enthusiastic supporter of the new postal system, and he enjoyed being the 1840s equivalent of an A-Lister, but he was a busy man. As he watched the stacks of unanswered correspondence he fretted over what to do. “In Victorian England, it was considered impolite not to answer mail,” says Ace Collins, author of Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. “He had to figure out a way to respond to all of these people.”
Cole hit on an ingenious idea. As mentioned before he approached an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, and asked him to design an idea that Cole had sketched out in his mind. Cole then took Horsley’s illustration—a triptych showing a family at table celebrating the holiday flanked by images of people helping the poor—and had a thousand copies made by a London printer. It was the first Christmas card.
While Cole and Horsley get the credit for the first, it took several decades for the Christmas card to really catch on, both in Great Britain and the United States.
Louis Prang created the first American Christmas cards at his Roxbury factory in 1874 using high quality lithographs.
Louis Prang, was a Prussian immigrant with a print shop near Boston, is credited with creating the first Christmas card originating in the United States in 1875. It was very different from Cole and Horsley’s of 30 years prior, in that it didn’t even contain a Christmas or holiday image. The card was a painting of a flower, and it read “Merry Christmas.” This more artistic, subtle approach would categorize this first generation of American Christmas cards. “They were vivid, beautiful reproductions,” says Collins. “There were very few nativity scenes or depictions of holiday celebrations. You were typically looking at animals, nature, scenes that could have taken place in October or February.”
Appreciation of the quality and the artistry of the cards grew in the late 1800s, spurred in part by competitions organized by card publishers, with cash prizes offered for the best designs. People soon collected Christmas cards like they would butterflies or coins, and the new crop each season were reviewed in newspapers, like books or films today.
In 1894, prominent British arts writer Gleeson White devoted an entire issue of his influential magazine, The Studio, to a study of Christmas cards. While he found the varied designs interesting, he was not impressed by the written sentiments. “It’s obvious that for the sake of their literature no collection would be worth making,” he sniffed. (White’s comments are included as part of an online exhibit of Victorian Christmas cards from Indiana University’s Lilly Library)
“In the manufacture of Victorian Christmas cards,” wrote George Buday in his 1968 book, The History of the Christmas Card, “we witness the emergence of a form of popular art, accommodated to the transitory conditions of society and its production methods.”
The modern Christmas card industry arguably began in 1915, when a Kansas City-based fledgling postcard printing company started by Joyce Hall, later to be joined by his brothers Rollie and William, published its first holiday card. The Hall Brothers company (which, a decade later, change its name to Hallmark), soon adapted a new format for the cards—4 inches wide, 6 inches high, folded once, and inserted in an envelope.
“They discovered that people didn’t have enough room to write everything they wanted to say on a post card,” says Steve Doyal, vice president of public affairs for Hallmark, “but they didn’t want to write a whole letter.”
“In this new “book” format—which remains the industry standard—colorful Christmas cards with red-suited Santas and brilliant stars of Bethlehem, and cheerful, if soon clichéd, messages inside, became enormously popular in the 1930s-1950s. As hunger for cards grew, Hallmark and its competitors reached out for new ideas to sell them. Commissioning famous artists to design them was one way: Hence, the creation of cards by Salvador Dali, Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell, who designed a series of Christmas cards for Hallmark (the Rockwell cards are still reprinted every few years). (The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art has a fascinating collection of more personal Christmas cards sent by artists including Alexander Calder.) Henry Cole’s first card was a convenient way for him to speak to his many friends and associates without having to draft long, personalized responses to each. Yet, there are also accounts of Cole selling at least some of the cards for a shilling apiece at his art gallery in London, possibly for charity. Maybe Sir Cole was not only a pioneer of the Christmas card, but prescient in his recognition of another aspect of our celebration of Christmas,” according to John Hanc a New York-based writer, a long time Smithsonian contributor. He also writes regularly for the New York Times, Newsday, and Brain & Life magazine who I have referenced in this article.
I join in carrying on the long tradition ART speaking about Life in Christmas Cards. I hope my simple paintings might brighten your day and spread kindness to you and whomever you may share them with this season or any day of the year.
Thanks for visiting the shop and watching the short 1-3 minute video stories about this and that. However you can, take time to communicate with one another. You have the power to make someone’s day a little brighter.
Happy New Year. Love and Kindness,
LINKS TO VIDEOS:
Episode 9 (VISIT FROM THE MAGI PAINT PROCESS)
Episode 10 (PUERTO RICO JIBARO DANCE PAINT PROCESS)
Episode 11: POINSETTIA STORY Story
Episode 12: 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
Episode 13: FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS (GOLDEN HILLS)
Episode 14: SIXTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS
Episode 15: Honoring Santa on Christmas Eve (7th Day of Christmas)
Episode 16: HONORING FARM WORKERS
Episode 17: 9th DAY OF CHRISTMAS - NINE SURFERS SURFING
Episode 18: 10th Day of CHRISTMAS - ART at SANTA PAULA ART MUSEUM Episode 19: 11th day of CHRISTMAS - MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS OF PUERTO RICO