Posts Tagged ‘Santa Claus’

Came across this old piece, an early attempt from 1994 before I was showing my work in public. It’s painted in way, a direction I never followed much further but it is a piece that always makes me stop.  Don’t know where it came from or why I painted it. Don’t know why I gave him some sort of seaman’s cap and striped shirt. I loosely refer to this as the Sea Dog.

I don’t think there was a narrative at all. It just came. But after 24 years or so, it has developed a story, of a sort, for me. I see him as sailor in an exotic South Seas port city on a misty and mysterious night. A scuffle, a knife fight and a man falls down dead on the dark, wet streets. He flees the port and begins on building a new life with a new identity.

For a minute this morning, I saw him as a young Santa.

Maybe that’s Santa’s backstory? A murderous sailor redeemed?

I don’t know about that. But, hey, you never know.

That brings me to a Christmas song. Well, kind of a Christmas song, one that’s keeping in the spirit of a Killer Kringle. It’s from  John Prine, and it’s Christmas in Prison. It’s been a favorite of mine for decades so I was surprised that I haven’t played it here yet, after ten years of this blog.

Well, today’s the day. Give a listen and don’t mind the subject or title too much. It’s actually a beautiful song. It could be Santa singing, in different circumstances.

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St. Nicholas Face ReconstructionWe call him Santa Claus mainly but sometimes we still refer to him as old St. Nick or St. Nicholas,  who was actually a 4th century Greek who served as a bishop in Constantine’s church of that time.  Called Nicholas the Wonderworker and sainted in the church,  his fame spread throughout Europe through  the ages and evolved in story and form into the jolly, bearded fellow that we call Santa Claus today.

His bones are buried in the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy.  During repairs made in the 1950’s, his bones were temporarily removed during which time they were measured and photographed with great precision.

In 2005, it was determined that a reconstruction of old St. Nick’s face might be made using today’s cutting edge forensic technology.  An excerpt from an article from the St. Nicholas Center, which is a fascinating site on the history and legend of  St. Nick evolution into Santa Claus, describes the process:

The current professor of forensic pathology at the University of Bari,  Francesco Introna, knew advancements in diagnostic technique could yield much more from the data gathered in the 1950s. So he engaged an expert facial anthropologist, Caroline Wilkinson, at the University of Manchester in England, to construct a model of the saint’s head from the earlier measurements. 

Using this data, the medical artist used state-of-the-art computer software to develop the model of St. Nicholas. The virtual clay was sculpted on screen using a special tool that allows one to “feel” the clay as it is molded. Dr. Wilkinson says, “In theory you could do the same thing with real clay, but it’s much easier, far less time-consuming and more reliable to do it on a computer.” 

After inferring the size and shape of facial muscles—there are around twenty-six—from the skull data, the muscles are pinned onto the virtual skull, stretched into position, and covered with a layer of “skin.” “The muscles connect in the same place on everyone, but because skulls vary in shape, a different face develops,” Wilkinson comments. The tangents from different parts of the nasal cavity determine the length of a nose. This was difficult because St. Nicholas’ nose had been badly broken. “It must have been a very hefty blow because it’s the nasal bones between the eyes that are broken,” she continued. 

“We used clay on the screen that you can feel but not physically touch. It was very exciting. We did not have the physical skull, so we had to recreate it from two-dimensional data. We are bound to have lost some of the level of detail you would get by working from photographs, but we believe this is the closest we are ever going to get to him,” Wilkinson concluded. 

Next the three-dimensional image went to Image Foundry Studios where a digital artist added detail and color to the model. This gave it Greek Mediterranean olive-toned skin, brown eyes, and grey hair and beard, trimmed in 4th century fashion. 

The result of the project is the image of a Greek man, living in Asia Minor (part of the Greek Byzantine Empire), about 60-years old, 5-feet 6-inches tall, who had a heavy jaw and a broken nose.

So, there we have the face of our Santa Claus.  It doesn’t seem so really different from the evolved version although that broken nose makes me wonder who popped Santa. Disgruntled elf?  Or maybe just a mishap with a reindeer.  Even the best forensics won’t tell us that tale.

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Santa? Is That You?

Here’s another photo from Square America.  Santa’s a little scary here.  Reminds me of a segment from a movie from the early 70’s, the  original Tales From the Crypt, where a homocidal maniac escapes from a prison for the criminally insane. It is, of course, Christma Eve.  He ends up, now somehow dressed up as Santa (and looking very much like this guy shown here, if my memory serves me well) at the home of a character (played by Joan Collins) who has just murdered her own wealthy husband.  Hijinks ensue.

Santa can be a scary or at least strange guy for a lot of people.  My strangest memory with Santa came many years ago when Cheri and I were very young and took a trip to the Adirondacks.  There is a famous little tourist spot  that I don’t want to name but let’s just say it features Santa in his work environment as he prepares for Christmas.  There are reindeer and elves.  Your normal stuff.

Anyway, it was between seasons there in the fall.  The summer campers and hikers were gone and the winter skiers and snowmobilers weren’t due for a month or so.  So when we pulled into this park there were very few people there.  In fact, none.  We were it. 

We wandered around for while.  Fed the reindeer.  Can’t remember what else there was there actually.  I wish I had the condition I mentioned in yesterday’s post so I could tell you.  But as we strolled we caught of a glimpse of a man in a red suit and a white beard.  It was him.  The man.  Santa.

We approached and realized he was leaning against a building.  Smoking a cigarette. 

Looking back, I knew he viewed us as adults well past believing in Santa, which was true.  But we were still young and relatively unjaded, wanting to at least maintain the facade of the myth. At least wanted this guy to play his part.   And here was Santa sucking on a Marlboro.  I think he flicked the butt on the ground and crushed it with his black Santa boots.

We talked for a while and he was kind of matter of fact about everything.  Even a little crusty.  No ho-ho-hos here.  He told us they were thinking about relocating this North Pole workshop down the mountain further where the main road passed.  As he explained, “That’s where the money is.” 

However disappointed we were, we laughed all the way down the mountain road and to this day we both chuckle whenever we hear the term that’s where the money is and think of our smoky Santa.

Maybe it was this guy.  I can’t be sure.

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