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Santa Claus

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Origin United States
Period 19th Century
Materials Carved and polychrome-painted white pine.
Dimensions
W. 11.75 in; H. 22.5 in; Diam. 11.875 in;
W. 29.85 cm; H. 57.15 cm; Diam. 30.16 cm;
Condition Excellent.
Creation Date Last quarter of the 19th Century.
Description Photography courtesy, Sotheby’s.

Provenance: Sotheby’s sale 5376, October, 1985, lot 14; Ralph Esmerian sale, January 2014, lot 635; David Schorsch-Eileen M. Smiles; Allan Katz Americana.

Illustrated in Stacy Hollander, American Radiance. The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (Abrams, 2001), page 356, item #320. Described on page 546 as follows:

This stocky Santa Claus presents a late-nineteenth century image of the venerable character that can be compared with the well known carving of Santa by Samuel Robb (circa 1923). In the early nineteenth century Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, as he was better known in New York at that time, was usually portrayed as a small, gnome-like figure rather than the rotund, jovial fellow of the present day. The modern conception began to emerge in 1862, when Thomas Nast created the first of his famous Santa illustrations for Harper’s Weekly.

In this case, Santa Claus is represented with both old and new features. His full face and long, flowing white beard fit Nast’s model, while the proportions of his body in relation to the relatively large head recall earlier images. The fur-trimmed jacket and hat have persisted, yet the backpack, which is filled with candy canes and doll-like stick figures, has been replaced with a sack of gifts carried over his shoulder. His expressionless face, on the other hand has never been typical. Instead of displaying Santa’s legendary jolly demeanor, this figure has the solemn air of a religious icon.

I have always felt this Santa Claus was made in a carving trade shop and not as an individual expression by a folk artist. It carries the traditional hole at the very top of its head, which is typically how both small and large logs would have been initially turned and shaped on a lathe as the first step in the carving process. The original boards that surround the base are also typical of a shop-made figure.
Styles / Movements Americana, Folk Art
Book References Stacy Hollander, American Radiance. The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (Abrams, 2001), page 356, item #320.
Incollect Reference Number 102159
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