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Thomas Nast and Santa Claus
In the mid 19th century American illustrator, political cartoonist and Morristown resident Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was responsible for creating the Victorian image of Santa Claus that we still use today. This side to Nast’s work is markedly different from the world of political cartoons that he is most famous for. Tales of Saint Nicholas heard during his childhood in Germany provided the adult Nast with the inspiration for his Santa Claus drawings. Originally drawing Santa as an elfish figure wearing a brown fur suit, Nast’s Santa grew in size and the suit evolved into the red coat that resembles the image of the jolly old man that is ubiquitous today. Nast drew for illustrated books published by McLoughlin Brothers including A Visit From St. Nicholas and Santa Claus and His Works and provided Harper’s Weekly with annual Christmas drawings until 1886. Additionally, this Christmas themed work allowed Nast to utilize the Morristown neighborhood in which he lived as a backdrop to magical drawings that celebrated the holiday.
Thomas Nast and Christmas in Morristown:
Nast moved to Morristown in 1872 and used views of the town frequently in his Christmas drawings, especially the spires of the town’s churches. In the latter part of the 19th century, there were no less than seven churches within a few blocks of Nast’s Morristown home. In the following drawing, the spires of (from left to right) Assumption Church, the Morristown Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, St. Peter’s Church and the current Presbyterian Parish House can be seen.
Following is a list of just a few of the works that contain Nast Christmas themed illustrations from our collection as well as some of the books that document the history of Christmas art traditions.
Christmas Books With Nast Illustrations:
A Thomas Nast Christmas Compendium. Nast, Thomas HM9 Nast Nas
Thomas Nast’s Christmas Drawings for the Human Race. Nast, Thomas HM9 Nast Tho
Christmas Drawings of Thomas Nast. Glover, William HM9 Nast Glo
A Child’s Christmas Cookbook. HM9 Nast Chi
Dickens’ Christmas story of Goblins Who Stole a Sexton. Dickens, Charles HM9 Nast Dic
Visit of St. Nicholas, Illustrated by Thomas Nast. Moore, Clement Clarke
HM9 Nast Vis
Santa Claus and his works. Webster, George HM9 Nast Web
For those wanting to explore the Christmas drawings of Thomas Nast further, Dover Publications still has in print Thomas Nast’s Christmas Drawings which includes 66 holiday drawings.
Christmas Traditions History:
History of the Christmas card. Buday, Gyorgy HM9 Nast Bud
Inventing Christmas: how our holiday came to be. Elliott, Jock HM9 Nast Ell
Thomas Nast: The man who drew Santa Claus. Rae, John HM9 Nast Rae
Christmas in America: a history. Restad, Penne L. HM9 Nast Res
In this 1888 edition of Santa Claus and His Works Nast appears to have drawn a home resembling Villa Fontana, his residence in Morristown.