To children and adults across the world, Santa Claus has become a symbol of kindness and the holiday spirit. For an artist, re-creating Santa, the most iconic Christmas character of all, is a huge responsibility. It is a responsibility that Kittredge artist Tom Newsom takes seriously.
Perched at an easel in his studio that overlooks Bear Creek, Newsom paints Santa lounging on a sailboat, tying fishing flies at his kitchen table and riding a motorcycle down Main Street. In the 30 years that Newsom has been painting Santa, he has shown us a different side of the jolly old elf. Although Santa is primarily known for his gift-giving adventures, Newsom offers people some insight about the man inside the bright red suit.
Newsom began his career as an illustrator in a highly unlikely place. Enrolled in an engineering program at the University of Texas at Arlington, Newsom gave in to the pull of his creative side and admitted that he wanted to be an artist. He enrolled at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and earned a degree in illustration.
After spending summers doing portraits at a local amusement park, Newsom found representation with a New York agent and began supporting himself full-time with his illustration work. At the same time, Newsom married his sweetheart, Carol, an artist in her own right, and the two have shared a studio for almost 40 years.
“Back in the 1970s after I got hooked up with my agent, I started doing nostalgic illustrations in a Norman Rockwell style. I’ve always admired Rockwell’s work. I did a few Santa Claus illustrations in that nostalgic vein, and it just took off from there,” says Newsom.
Newsom drew inspiration for his Santa Claus from the work of Haddon Sundblom. Sundblom worked for the Coca-Cola Co. from the 1920s through the 1960s. He is credited with creating the image that many now think of as the “traditional” Santa. Sundblom’s annual paintings transformed Santa to a plump-bellied man with a ruddy, sympathetic face and a jovial air.
“I am drawn to the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, which is my favorite style,” says Newsom. “Sundblom had such a nice painterly style when he portrayed the jolly old elf with the fluffy beard. I still like to look at his work today.”
In recent years, Newsom has contracted with Barton Cotton Card Co. in Baltimore. For Barton, Newsom creates Santa Claus images for such diverse organizations as the Audubon Society, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Railroad Museum.
“I’m painting one for a fly-fisherman’s association. Santa is surrounded by kittens and puppies while he’s tying flies at his kitchen table. Each painting presents new challenges. For this one I had to research the different types of fishing flies. In one where Santa is delivering a vintage motorcycle, I had to do extensive research to make sure the Harley in the painting is accurate,” says Newsom.
Regardless of the subject, it’s obvious that all of Newsom’s paintings are created with much love and many hours of work. The detail that Newsom obtains using gouache, an opaque watercolor-type paint, is stunning. When one sees that glimmer in Santa’s eye as he learns about boat riggings or bird watching, one wonders if perhaps Newsom has that same glimmer as he take Santa’s journeys right along with him.
Tom and Carol Newsom will be the featured artists at the Wild Eye Gallery in November. The Newsoms will be at the Wild Eye for this month’s Last Friday Gallery Walk on Nov. 28. The Wild Eye will have Tom’s illustrations in original and print form for sale. Also available will be boxes of holiday cards filled with Newsom’s Santa images. Art lovers might also appreciate Carol’s watercolor landscapes and Tom’s painstakingly crafted landscapes in oil. For more information, visit www.thewildeye.com or www.newsomart.com.
Sara Miller, a freelance writer and a resident of Evergreen, lives with her husband, two children and a dog.