Holiday Greeting Cards from Alexander Calder and Ad Reinhardt

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Claes Oldenburg's card to Samuel Wagstaff, sent around 1965.
Photo: via Claes Oldenburg: Archives of American Art.
Chicago artist Don Baum created this collage as a surrealist interpretation of religious imagery by putting a Byzantine-style Virgin and Child in a bird’s nest.
Photo: via Don Baum Estate/Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago; Archives of American Art.
Artist Saul Steinberg sent this card to curator Dorothy Miller in 1945.
Photo: via The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society, New York; Archives of American Art.
Alexander Calder’s 1929 New Year’s card was signed with his nickname, ‘Sandy.’ At the time he was receiving acclaim in Paris for 'Cirque Calder' (1926-1931), a working model circus constructed mainly of wood and wire.
Photo: via Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society, New York; Archives of American Art.
Elsa Schmid’s 1959 Christmas card to curator Dorothy Miller is a photograph of miniature ceramic mosaic tiles arranged to look like a tree.
Photo: via Archives of American Art.
Known for his large, black abstract paintings, Ad Reinhardt shows another skillset here—illustration. At the top is a portrait of himself as a sign painter, the way he started out. On the lower left his first wife toils over a stove, and on the lower right his son Jeb is ‘slaying Goliath.’
Photo: via Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society, New York; Archives of American Art.
Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi sent this hand-colored print in 1959.
Photo: via Archives of American Art.
Artist Kay Sage sent this holiday card to Eleanor Howland Bunce in 1958.
Photo: via Estate of Kay Sage/Artists Rights Society, New York; Archives of American Art.
Artist Julia Thecla sent this hand-painted holiday card to Katharine Kuh, a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago. 'Julia was a little bit reclusive and one of the ways she communicated was through holiday cards,' says curator Mary Savig. 'She loved Christmas.'
Photo: via Archives of American Art.
Philip Guston send this card to Dorothy Miller in the early 1970s. The estate of Philip Guston ARCHIVES OF AMERICAN ART, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION


Ever wonder what sort of holiday greeting cards famous artists have sent to family, friends and colleagues at holiday times past? The Morgan Library‘s current exhibition “Handmade: Artists’ Holiday Cards from the Archives of American Art,” on view through January 4, contains some remarkable holiday cards created by 60 modern and contemporary artists known for more high-brow fare. Among the stellar artists represented in the show by intimate—and often hilarious—holiday messages are Claes Oldenburg, Helen Frankenthaler, Milton Avery, Alexander Calder, Ad Reinhardt, and Saul Steinberg.

Dating from the 1920s to the 1990s, the cards were chosen from among 20 million items in 6,000 artist collections at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. “The cards are often in keeping with the artists’ familiar styles, though a few represent creative departures,” exhibition curator Mary Savig told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re a little bit more personal and are sent directly to someone else,” Savig explained. “They were really just meant for a few people to see.”

Some of the entries are jokey, such as Claes Oldenburg’s pig drawing with the wacky caption, “Sappy Goo Year.” Others are avant-garde in spirit, such as painter Kay Sage’s “Merry Xmas, Happy 1959,” in typewritten rows of letters like a work of concrete poetry.

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