As chief illustrator of The Saturday Evening Post for forty-seven years, Norman Rockwell painted three hundred and eighteen covers. Only twenty-five of those covers, created from 1919-1943, were designed for the Post's December issues including Christmas: Santa Reading Mail, which was published on December 21, 1935.
Artists and writers in America have long portrayed a variety of images of Santa Claus. Many of these were influenced by the 1823 publication of Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" now widely known as "The Night Before Christmas." By the end of the 1920s, the classic American Santa portrayed as a jolly old man in a red suit was omnipresent in the work of the most popular illustrators, including N. C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell.
In Christmas: Santa Reading Mail Rockwell depicts Santa Claus hard at work seated at an old carved wooden desk with his feather quill in hand, reading a child's letter by candlelight, recording Christmas wishes in his ledger. An overstuffed brown leather United States mail bag sits at his feet, a humorous tribute to the stoic American Postal Service. A golden halo sitting atop Santa's head is a reference to the traditional 19th century Germanic image of Sankt Niklaus (St Nicholas), and surely the "St. Nicholas" of his childhood portrayed in Moore's poem.
Rockwell's own Christmas spirit was never more in evidence than during the holiday season of 1935 when he and his family were living on Lord Kitchener Road in New Rochelle, New York. That year Rockwell learned that his neighbors' seven year old son had contracted a case of scarlet fever. "Despite the fact that our house was quarantined, Mr. Rockwell came across the street carrying the 1935 Christmas cover he had painted for The Saturday Evening Post, and he told my father that he wanted me to have it hoping that it would make me feel better and speed my recovery. The painting has been treasured by me ever since" (Letter from the owner, March 2007).
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