Photo Essays

When Artists Make Holiday Cards

There are few small pleasures more delightful than opening the mailbox to find a holiday card from a friend.

Miné Okubo, "To Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi" (1959), Hand-colored print, Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi papers, 1937–2004, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Miné Okubo, “To Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi” (1959), Hand-colored print, Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi papers, 1937–2004, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

There are few small pleasures more delightful than opening the mailbox to find a holiday card from a friend. It doesn’t matter if it was mass produced in a factory and sold in bulk at Costco; it still has an inexplicable ability to make us feel appreciated. Send a homemade card, though, and chances are pretty good this pack rat will never throw it away.

That’s what makes perusing the unusual cards in Handmade: Artists’ Holiday Cards from the Archives of American Art at the Morgan Library such a joy. Drawing from the Smithsonian’s collection, the show includes 60 examples of cards made by artists like Helen Frankenthaler, Ad Reinhardt and Philip Guston. Each reflects the unique personality of its maker. Claes Oldenburg’s playful 1965 card to curator Samuel Wagstaff depicts a fat pig spouting the gobbled greeting “Macky Exmouse,” while Julia Thecla’s undated card to Katherine Kuh features a fuzzy snowman offering up “a year’s supply of happiness” — proof that a little creativity mixed with thoughtfulness can go a very long way.

Ad Reinhardt, "Unsent" (c. 1945), Relief print, Ad Reinhardt papers, 1927–1968, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © 2014 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society (ARS). New York
Ad Reinhardt, “Unsent” (c. 1945), Relief print, Ad Reinhardt papers, 1927–1968, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © 2014 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Philip Guston, "To Dorothy Miller" (c. 1972), Watercolor, Dorothy C. Miller papers, ca. 1912–92, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © 2014 The Estate of Philip Guston
Philip Guston, “To Dorothy Miller” (c. 1972), Watercolor, Dorothy C. Miller papers, c. 1912–92, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © 2014 The Estate of Philip Guston
Alexander Calder, "Halo Everybody Handmade holiday card, unsent" (1929), Relief print, Alexander Calder papers, 1926–1967, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © 2014 Calder Foundation, New York/ Artists Rights Society (ARS). New York
Alexander Calder, “Halo Everybody Handmade holiday card, unsent” (1929), Relief print, Alexander Calder papers, 1926–1967, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © 2014 Calder Foundation, New York/ Artists Rights Society (ARS). New York
Claes Oldenburg, "To Samuel Wagstaff" (c. 1965), Photomechanical reproduction of a drawing, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1932–85, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution © Claes Oldenburg
Claes Oldenburg, “To Samuel Wagstaff” (c. 1965), Photomechanical reproduction of a drawing, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1932–85, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution © Claes Oldenburg
Don Baum, "To Kathleen Blackshear" (c. 1965), Collage of clippings and ink, Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears papers, 1920–90, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution [4] Nickolas Muray (1892–1965) Unsent, 1941 Photographs adhered to paper Nickolas Muray papers, 1911–78 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives, Courtesy Smithsonian Museum of Art Courtesy of the Don Baum estate and the Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
Don Baum, “To Kathleen Blackshear” (c. 1965), Collage of clippings and ink, Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears papers, 1920 -90, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Saul Steinberg, "To Dorothy Miller" (1945), Ink on paper, Dorothy C. Miller papers, c. 1912–1992, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © The Saul Steinberg Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Saul Steinberg, “To Dorothy Miller” (1945), Ink on paper, Dorothy C. Miller papers, c. 1912–1992, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © The Saul Steinberg Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Kay Sage, "Holiday card to Eleanor Howland Bunce" (1958), Typescript, Eleanor Howland Bunce papers, 1935–1982, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © 2014 Estate of Kay Sage / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Kay Sage, “Holiday card to Eleanor Howland Bunce” (1958), Typescript, Eleanor Howland Bunce papers, 1935–1982, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, © 2014 Estate of Kay Sage / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Julia Thecla, "Holiday card to Katharine Kuh" (undated), Mixed media collage, Katharine Kuh papers, 1908–94, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Julia Thecla, “Holiday card to Katharine Kuh” (undated), Mixed media collage, Katharine Kuh papers, 1908–94, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Elsa Schmid, "To Dorothy Miller" (1959), Photograph adhered to paper, Dorothy C. Miller papers, c. 1912, 1992 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Elsa Schmid, “To Dorothy Miller” (1959), Photograph adhered to paper, Dorothy C. Miller papers, c. 1912, 1992 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Henry Pearson, "To Dorothy Miller" 1968), Screen print, Dorothy C. Miller papers, 1912–1992, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Henry Pearson, “To Dorothy Miller” (1968), Screen print, Dorothy C. Miller papers, 1912–1992, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
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