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The Man Next Door

Compiled by DjF du Marais

1923 - Haddon Sundblom's original record card from the American Academy of Art

Haddon Hubbard Sundblom make a Coca-Cola Santa

Publication unknown Illustrated by Haddon Sundblom Year unknown


addon Sundblom was born in June, 1899 in

Muskegon, Michigan, the youngest of ten children. His mother died when he was 13 years old.

Young Haddon dropped out of school and began working to help support the family. "... and I've been working ever since," he once joked to an interviewer.

Being an 8th Grade drop-out didn't deter Sundblom from getting a proper education. In the June '56 issue of American Artist, he tells Frederic Whitaker, "A wise guy once said, 'All that Sunny knows he learned at his mother's knee... and other low joints,' which is untrue."

In fact Sundblom went to great lengths to continue educating himself.

He continuously attended night school "studying something or other," as he put it, including three years of Architecture at Austin High and Armour Tech, three years of Commerce via a correspondence course from the Alexander Hamilton Institute, four years of night classes at the Chicago Art Institute and then another three-and-a-half years at the American Academy of Art.

But perhaps even more important was Sundblom's on-thejob education. He told Whitaker, In 1920 I got a job with the Charles Everett Johnson Studio [in Chicago] as an apprentice. They boasted a galaxy of stars. I ran errands, washed brushes, etc. for Mac Barclay, Andy Loomis, Will Foster, Frank Snapp, Harry Timmins, Maurice Logan, Roy Illustrated by Haddon Sundblom

Spreter, Vaughn Flannery and Walter Stocklin, to mention just a few. One was bound to learn something in that kind of company!

The Country Gentleman - 1928

Evening by the Fire - 1930

Family in Field - 1929

Baby's First Christmas - 1929

Lucky Strike - 1933

Buying Flowers - 1930

Pine Tree, vintage golf advertising illustration

A couple

1934 - New Years Comic Art


n a June 1956 article on Haddon Sundblom in American Artist








Sundblom's work so universally appealing. Whitaker writes about "... the sunlight glow that pervades all his work - that lucency which aroused the expressed envy even of that other giant of illustration, Norman Rockwell."

"Technically," writes Whitaker, "his paintings are always sunny. They and their characters and settings breath an air of refinement."

"They are romantic, idealistic, melodious, wholesome, healthy, pleasing. They look good. His men are men, his women desirable, his children adorable. He gives the human race cause for selfrespect."

"Never do his compositions ever suggest anything sordid or depressing, either in color or in subject matter. They have what people like!"

"One might suggest," Whitaker concludes, "that the advocates of the mud-and-misery school of painting could learn much from contemplating the results."

1947 - Original of a Coke


here 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





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.

1947 - Snowman, ad illustration

Haddon Sundblom ‘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 :

and in french, here :



Coca-Cola Art Christmas Santa


o doubt, with so many steady advertising accounts - Coke, Palmolive Soap, Colgate Toothpaste, Maxwell House Coffee,

Aunt Jemima Pancakes, just to name a few - Sunny had his hands full all of the time with tremendously lucrative work. Fans of the genre, like myself, would certainly love it if there were more Haddon Sundblom pin-up pieces like this

You're looking at Haddon Sundblom's last Santa (or should I say... 'Santa's little helper'...?) In fact, this was Sunny's last commercial assignment, painted when he was 71 years old, for the cover of that other Chicago institution, Playboy magazine.

You'd think that Playboy and Haddon Sundblom would have had a long, ongoing working relationship, but I checked with Aaron Baker, the curator of paintings for Playboy Enterprises Inc. Aaron wrote back, "Our art director, Art Paul, wanted a sexy take on Sundblom's classic







knowledge, he did not do any other work for us."

Sundblom seems like a natural for the pin-up genre. In the book, "The Great American Pin-Up", co-author Charles Martignette wrote about how, during and after WWII, many American companies employed pin-ups in their ad

Naughty Santa, Playboy cover, December 1972


"Coca-Cola was the largest of such companies to feature pin-ups prominently," wrote Martignette. And of course Haddon Sundblom was one of Coke's most prolific illustrators. Between Sunny and his many talented apprentices, Coca-Cola had a ready stable of some of the finest illustrators of the genre at their disposal.

Santa and Coca Cola

National Geographic-1939

The Saturday Evening Post – December 1957

Santa and the New Refrigerator

Haddon Sundblom

Commercial Art

White Cross Nurse

Sundblom illustration for a beer company

Sundblom illustration for a beer company

Tenderness mother and child

Natural loveliness


long with his night school art lessons and his early

days as a commercial art studio apprentice, the young Haddon Sundblom had some other extremely important influences that informed his painting technique.

Among others, Howard Pyle, John Singer Sargent, Robert Henri, Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla were all practitioners of a kind of painting adapted from the Impressionists called "alla prima" or "first stroke," The technique involved "laying down the fewest strokes in the quickest time to sufficiently describe moving targets," as Roger T. Reed explains in a fascinating, informative article on Sundblom at the Illustration House website.

Sundblom acknowedged Zorn as his principle influence but in his June '56 article in American Artist, author Frederic Whitaker writes, "There never could have been such a Sundblom had there never been a Howard Pyle, for the Pyle concept is easily seen in the Whitaker further credits Sorolla for "[unlocking] for Sunny the secret of the sun-lit glow that pervades all his work."

Other painter/illustrators who Sundblom acknowledged as being an influence on his style include J.C. Leyendecker, Pruett Carter and Walter Biggs.

Never say die

Haddon Sundblom "The best outfit from New York to the Pacific Coast."


n 1925 Haddon Sundblom's apprenticeship

ended when he left the Charles Everett Johnson Studio to form Stevens, Sundblom and Henry with new business partners Howard Stevens and Edwin Henry. Coca-Cola became on of the new studio's first clients - and, in tandem with his early work on that account, Haddon Sundblom became an "important illustrator. Speaking about the early days of the studio, Sundblom said, "Ed Henry was one of the first to leave for New York in the great exodus of the twenties. Steve and I continued to operate here in Chicago. The Depression hit us like a ton













Naturally, I'm prejudiced, but a lot of people thought it was the best outfit from New York to the Pacific Coast A man - Vanity - 1943

From the very beginning our studio had a

We had in our gang authorities on every subject under the sun and,

special fascination for screwballs (the high-IQ

being extroverts, they were always ready and eager to prove it. Our

type, of course) from all over the country. We

studio was a 'Bughouse square' version of Benjamin Franklin's

had some sane people too, however, but we

'Junto.' We learned a little about the fine arts and quite a bit about all

found out in the stormy struggle to succeed it

the other arts.

helped to be a little nuts. To expound on anything to that bunch of sharpies one had to know his subject or else. The 'technique of thinking' (low animal cunning) became synonymous with survival.

Haddon Sundblom



the Chicago Pin-Up Artists

n the book, The Great American Pin-Up, co-authors Charles Martignette and Louis Meisel credit Haddon Sundblom with

being "recognized today as the inspiration behind the best pin-up and glamor artists from the 1930s through the 1960s." Certainly Sundblom's Circle of apprentices are responsible for some of the most gorgeous interpretations of the female form. Below, a couple of the most famous pin-up artists of that group: Gil Elvgren and Joyce Ballantyne. As you can see from this ad below, taken from the 1946 New York Art Directors Annual, Elvgren, Ballantyne and several other Sundblom Circle artists were represented by Stevens Gross Studios.

This is where things get a bit confusing for me. The 1956 American Artist article on Haddon Sundblom describes Earl Gross as a "direct offspring of the Sundblom personality" - and Sundblom himself









Stevens, Edwin Henry and I started our own





Sundblom & Henry." So how and when did Stevens Gross come about? In another book, "The Elvgren Collection," author Marianne Ohl Phillips writes that Gil Elvgren joined Stevens Gross at age 22 and subsequently became a protegĂŠ




suggesting that Sunny was among the artists in Stevens Gross' stable. Very confusing... Another Sundblom Circle artist, Chuck Showalter, joined Sundblom's studio in 1946 when it was known as "Sundblom and Anderson." Within 8 months of his joining the studio changed to "Sundblom, Johnston and White." Showalter reported that Sunny left the studio in 1956 to partner with a former apprentice, Harry Ekman (below). Here are a few more lovely ladies by some of the seemingly countless Sundblom Circle alumni: Al Moore, Euclid Shook,Freeman Elliot, Ward Brackett, Al Buel, Coby Whitmore, who by the mid-1940s had migrated to New York and became a star at the Charles E. Cooper studio.

Haddon Sundblom : Original pin up illustration for the Shaw-Barton Calendar Company, Coshocton, Ohio, circa 1950s

Al More- Miss January, Ballyhoo Calendar illustration, 1953

Freeman Elliott - Pin-Up with Sun Hat

Gil Elvgren – Tail Wind

Al Buel - Ready to Take Off

Joyce Ballantyne - Spilled Ink

Ward Brackett

Haddon Sundblom


Publication unknown


Haddon Sundblom


Publication unknown


Haddon Sundblom


Coca-Cola Girls

Coca Cola Advertisement Illustration

Haddon Sundblom


Coca-Cola Girls

Coca-Cola ad illustration, c. 1940

Coca Cola Advertisement Illustration - Saturday Evening Post

Haddon Sundblom

Illustration Magazine

Portrait of a Society Lady

Cashmere Bouquet Soap ad illustration, c. 1949

Cashmere Bouquet Soap ad illustration, c. 1949

Cashmere Bouquet Soap ad illustration, c. 1949

Cashmere Bouquet Soap ad illustration, c. 1949

Portrait of a Brunette

Haddon Sundblom  

Great Chicago Illustrator

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