By Emily Finan
Known as the Patriotic Santa, this cotton textile held in the collection was designed by Edward Peck in 1868 and printed by Oriental Print Works of Warwick, Rhode Island, a company founded by Alfred Augustus Reed and Edward D. Boit that operated from around 1857 to 1883.
Appearing in the central foreground in a snowy woodland, Santa Claus wears a fur trimmed coat and fur hat. His right arm overflows with toys including a hobby horse, two dolls, a drum, a bell, a quadrupedal stuffed animal, horns, and a pinwheel; in his left arm, he carries a sled inscribed “Oriental Print Works” and an American Flag from which the illustration derives its title.
Framing Santa are four vignettes illustrating Peck’s interpretation of Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” which inspired the print as a whole. Quotes from the poem inscribed below Santa’s feet—“His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry”—guide Peck’s depiction along with editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast’s contemporary portrayal of Santa in Harper’s Weekly as a jolly, rotund figure which marked a shift from earlier depictions of Santa with a stern disposition. Peck’s curious portrayal of Santa through a patriotic lens can also be attributed to Nast’s influence. As a supporter of the Union, Nast’s illustrations also served as Civil War propaganda, exemplified by his 1881 Merry Old Santa Claus portrait. Donning a dress sword and belt buckle that refer to the Army and a pocket watch set at ten to midnight, Nast’s Santa serves as a critique of United States Senate’s inaction on paying members of the military fair wages. Though not as pointed, Nast’s imagery manifests in Peck’s print through the inclusion of a similar dress sword, pocket watch, flag, and red, white, and blue motif.
In the top left vignette, Santa is riding his sleigh pulled by reindeer who are slipping out of frame under a starry sky along with the words “Santa Claus is coming.” In the top right, titled “with compliments of Santa Claus,” Santa stands on a roof and delivers presents down a chimney. On the bottom left, “All the stockings in the house were hung to be filled by Santa Claus” is written within a scene of three children hanging stockings from the mantle of a fireplace in preparation. On the bottom right, three children play with their new toys—a drum and rocking horse—around their parents’ bed, illustrated by the quote “Santa Claus gave all these toys because we were good girls and boys.”
Displayed in a variety of manners—as a banner, a handkerchief, a scarf, a table cover, a decorative textile hanging—additional examples of this print can be found in other museum collections, such as the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. [https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18669979/] Another edition, now in the collection of New York Historical Society, was designed by Peck as a make-your-own Santa Claus doll; the same patriotic Santa is printed with its reverse on one textile which allowed users to cut each out and sew them together to fashion a doll. [https://emuseum.nyhistory.org/objects/6630/santa-claus-doll?ctx=35019b47c703c699e3e4137815d21bc7d7ee13cc&idx=15]
We wish you a very happy holiday!
This blog has been written by various affiliates of the Huntington Historical Society.