Yes Virginia, there is a man who created Santa Claus (the "modern" Santa Claus we all know and love, that is)*. His name was Haddon Sundblom and you're looking at him, circa the mid- 1950s.
"Sunny", as he was known by friends, family, clients and his many, many apprentices, was a prolific, iconic Chicago illustrator with a "mercurial temperament and occasional immovability" but also "a heart of gold."
Around 1925, Sundblom painted his first Santa Claus illustration for Coca-Cola's Christmas advertising campaign. He claimed to have been partially inspired by J.C. Leyendecker's work, but over the next 40 years the image of Santa that became imprinted in the minds of one and all as the quintessential version of Saint Nicholas was one hundred percent Sundblom's version.
Recently, while surfing around on Flickr, I found a Sundblom Santa ad I'd never seen before - one designed specifically for the times - December 1943 - and WWII. (Thanks to Paul Malon for allowing me to use his scan here today.)
Also on Flickr, I found this interesting online advertising campaign from 2007/08 called "The Coca-Cola Art Gallery" which contains over 150 Coke ads - "a collection of images that has been designed by leading artists and designers. They have all depicted their own interpretation of ‘The Coke Side of Life’ philosophy."
"‘Coca-Cola’ has always had a strong artistic heritage having been famously interpreted by artists such as Haddon Sundblom, Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol who have all reflected the social and cultural attitudes of the time," says the preamble on the campaign's profile page.
It's interesting to see how Sundblom's Santa, originally created in oil paints nearly a hundred years ago, lives on in the digital age - "remixed" by 21st century graphic artists - to great effect.
You can read the story of Haddon Sundblom's Coca-Cola Santa in greater detail at Coca-Cola Art.com
The "Countdown to Christmas" begins once again on Today's Inspiration. There'll be more from Haddon "Sunny" Sundblom... tomorrow.
* Charley Parker has an interesting post on his excellent blog, Lines and Colors, that traces the development of the 'modern' image of Santa Claus. I maintain my opinion, however, that its Sundblom's Coca-Cola Santa that became the definitive image of Santa Claus that continues to be the template for virtually all Santa imagery in popular culture today.
* My Haddon Sundblom Flickr set.