‘An Illustrated Christmas’ celebrates St. Nick in print

By December 20, 2010

MERRY OLD SANTA CLAUS is Thomas Nast’s most famous cartoon. Created for Harper’s Weekly in 1881, it helped to change the image of Saint Nicholas from that of a thin, serious bishop to one of a rotund, jolly old elf.

MERRY OLD SANTA CLAUS is Thomas Nast’s most famous cartoon. Created for Harper’s Weekly in 1881, it helped to change the image of Saint Nicholas from that of a thin, serious bishop to one of a rotund, jolly old elf.

For many Christmas is over on Dec. 26. Time to take down the tree, take back the gifts one didn’t want, move on to the next holiday.

How sad. How cold. How unseasonal, because the true Christmas season actually doesn’t start until Dec. 25. What we had from Nov. 28 on has traditionally always been known as “Advent” for thousands of years. Christmas is actually celebrated for 12 days in much of Europe, and concludes on Jan. 6 with Epiphany. It’s a huge, warm celebration.

At the Folsom History Museum there is an exhibit that, like the reformed Scrooge, keeps Christmas in its heart long beyond Dec. 25. Until Feb. 7, actually.

“An Illustrated Christmas” is an exhibit from the remarkable personal collection of El Dorado Hills resident and internationally known curator, designer and artist Dolph Gotelli. It features print images from the era of the Industrial Revolution, from 1860 to 1900, that shaped the modern image of Christmas.

Gotelli, a professor emeritus at UC Davis, has spent the better part of his lifetime collecting items that relating to the subjects of Christmas, holiday rituals and Santa Claus/St. Nicholas.

He is regarded as an international expert and gives lectures on these subjects. As a curator and exhibition designer, Gotelli designs and installs major displays in retail settings as well as museums. Past projects include retail settings for Neiman Marcus (Dallas) and Macy’s (San Francisco), and museum exhibits for the Museum of Arts and Design (New York), the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum and the Canadian Craft Museum (Vancouver, BC).

The collection on exhibit brings us an idealized world of Christmas and a simpler age. I was surprised at how much time it took to go through the exhibit. This is a visually rich experience. You may want to come more than once.

The collection is arranged by theme: Many Faces of Santa, Rituals, Childhood Books, Victorian Scrap, Magazine Covers, Politics, Santa as Salesman, Holiday Textiles, Advertisements, Fantasy, Holiday Wall Art and Christmas Memories.

There is an entire section devoted to the work of Victorian political artist Thomas Nast (1840–1902). Known as the “Father of the American Cartoon,” the German-born Nast gave the American political parties the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey – and he created the “modern day” image of Santa Claus that we know today.

In 1863, taking a break from his usual work of political cartooning for Harper’s Weekly magazine, Nast created a an image of Santa entitled “A Christmas Furlough.” This image was so popular that he created his most famous image, “Merry Old Santa Claus” for the magazine in 1881. That image is on display at the museum.

Gotelli believes it is important to share collections so that others can enjoy them. The Folsom History Museum partnered with a number of prominent businesses, Rotarians and private citizens who share that vision.

Here is your opportunity to slow down after the hectic holiday season, and — like the aforementioned Scrooge — keep the beauty and peace of Christmas in your heart “all the days of the year.”

“An Illustrated Christmas” runs through Feb. 7. The Folsom History Museum is located at 828 Sutter St. in Old Town Folsom. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for youth and free for kids under the age of 12. Call (916) 985-2707 or visit folsomhistorymuseum.org for more information.

Send your event for consideration in Susan’s column to [email protected]

Susan Laird


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