The traditional holiday tale of Santa Claus’ arrival on Christmas Eve is retold with the new A Visit from St. Nick block of four stamps issued with plenty of time before the holiday (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Technical details and purchasing information for A Visit from St. Nick are available from here.
The first-class domestic Forever stamps, printed in books of 20, tell the celebrated story of that special annual visit that brings joy and happiness to children, no matter whether the visitor is known as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, St. Nick or one of several other names.
The stamps were officially issued October 7 at the Celebration Room of Santa’s Lodge, which was a last-minute change due to expected inclement weather from the post office in Santa Claus, Indiana. Illustrator Brad Woodard, of Boise, Idaho, created the stamp images. Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps.
We won’t review the whole Santa Claus legend and mythology this year, but the stamps certainly stay true to the important iconic American poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The poem was at first published anonymously in 1823 and also is known as “The Night Before Christmas” and “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Classics language professor Clement Clarke Moore finally claimed authorship in 1837, though there has been scholarly disagreement that Moore was the author.
Be that as it may, the poem – here illustrated in part on the new U.S. Christmas stamps – did much to shape our modern mythology of the holiday.
The poem has St. Nicholas making his journey in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer, each of them carefully called by name. Dressed in fur — with twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks and dimples — St. Nick visits each home to fill children’s stockings with presents.
Santa Claus was portrayed in all manner of guises during the 19th century: thin, fat, old or young; an elf or a human; and clothed in anything from long robes to a one-piece undergarment called a union suit, in colors of blue, red, green or purple. Even as illustrators popularized visual images of Santa, they were rarely consistent. However, cartoonist Thomas Nast’s portrait of the white-bearded Santa in his red suit would emerge as the version we are most familiar with today.
The A Visit from St. Nick stamps feature four jovial designs. Woodard created his images by first sketching then digitizing them. He worked in a palette of original colors of dark blue, red, green, pink and gold/brown.
Those of us who collect Christmas items recognize Santa Claus, Indiana, from three previous first day ceremonies: the 1963 National Christmas Tree and White House stamp (figure 3); the 20¢ Santa Claus of 1983; and the four 19th-Century Santas in 2001.
The tale of Santa Claus, Indiana, is told in the December issue of The American Philatelist by Wayne Youngblood on page 1121.
Figure 3.The first day ceremony for the National Christmas Tree and White House stamp of 1963 – which was the second Christmas stamp from the U.S. – was held in Santa Claus, Indiana. The green cachet sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce shows the Santa Claus Post Office and a Christmas tree in the background. The cover is signed by stamp designer Norman Todhunter, who modified Lily Spandorf’s artwork.
Brad Woodard – Stamp Artist
When did you start working on these stamps?
I started working on these back in August of 2016.
Are these your first stamps?
Yes, these are my first stamps, but I have worked on a couple different stamp collecting booklets for the USPS.
How did you get involved with this project?
Mike Ryan reached out to me and said I would be a great fit for this project.
What was the original concept of the project? Was it always Visit from St. Nick, or something else? Did Greg Breeding offer suggestions?
Initially, the brief was to make a series of eight (or more) stamps in a booklet that would span the entire Night Before Christmas poem. I don’t believe I received direction form Greg directly.
In brief, what process did you use to create these artworks?
I started with a few rounds of sketches trying to decide on what parts of the poem we could visualize that would both showcase important parts and would be visually interesting. Once we nailed down the sketches I did some style exploration to decide on a style. My idea was to take a more modern, graphic take on the old poem, using some less traditional Christmas colors (like pink) and simplifying shapes. All of this was done on the computer in Photoshop.
These colors are so bold and clear. Did the palette stay the same from the beginning? Did you go through the process with these colors?
Yes. I feel like early on I figured out the color palette and we just ran with that. I remember being nervous to pitch the pink being included, but it felt like a neat way to make these Christmas stamps stand out and feel more modern.
I am particularly drawn to the stockings. Why three? Why green, which is a bit unusual color when portrayed in popular artwork.
Thanks! I picked three stockings because the poem doesn’t say specifically how many kids there are, and I always wanted three kids (and now I do!) I chose green for the stockings because I needed them to recede into the background a bit so that Santa’s legs would be more the focal point.
Now, Santa’s boots. They look a bit small (along with his glove) in the first stamp, but are more prominent when going down the chimney. Was that style boot – with a heel, a big rounded upturned toe – in the artwork from the start?
I believe so! You caught me being a little inconsistent I admit. Though I added more detail to the boot in the chimney stamp because it was more the focal point.
Who came up with the idea of the wink in stamp three? Is it a direct nod to “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore?
I believe I was the one who added the wink in a nod to the poem. I also originally had him with a pipe and smoke, that is also from the story, but the higher-ups decided it should go.
I imagine the iconic scene in the final stamp was a natural, but how did you choose the number of reindeer?
I was just trying to fit in as many reindeer as I could for such a tiny space. It helped to make them angling upward as well. But yeah, the rest of the reindeer are out of the pic so I tried my best to fit what I could.
Love the stars – did the number (or density) of those change much during the creative process?
Not that I can remember. I was just happy to fit them in because it made it feel more like Christmas. That and I could fit both stars and snowflakes in at the same time.
Did the art director have to crop or manipulate much from your designs or are what is seen on the stamps pretty much it?
No, I believe this is pretty much it. I mean, I remember pitching ideas and the art director wanting to simplify a bit for sure. But when it came down to layout in digital, these were pretty much it.
Is there anything else interesting you’d like to add about these stamps?
It’s interesting looking back at these stamps that I created so long ago. I am still very proud of how it turned out, but my style has changed since these were made and it is an interesting window into my past creatively. Luckily, these still hold up and I love that each stamp has a different dominant color from the overall palette. Looking at them now, I remember drawing other things like sugar plums and mice, but the feedback was to make Santa the focus. So we found ways to make him the focus in each stamp. It was an interesting challenge, but also a lot of fun.