The Santa Clause Story!

The Santa Clause Story!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Santa Claus Story

By December 1984, the Johnson family Christmas traditions were well established.  Come Christmas Eve, Fulton and Ruth and all four of their children were excited to be gathered in the Rustburg home for two days of festivities.  The two older children had spouses and there were two grandchildren, aged three and one. 

Three year-old, Adam, would turn four on Christmas Day.  In addition to the traditional exchange of gifts and bountiful food, the Johnson Family Christmas routine would include plenty of laughter and fun with old home movies, friendly poker games, cheese gravy for breakfast, and Adam’s birthday celebration.  The fact that the first grandchild was born on Christmas day seemed to be icing on the cake to a family that already embraced Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year.   

The basement of the home was mostly dedicated to Ruth’s in-home nursery school business.  Stocked with toys and art supplies, it was a favorite place for the grandchildren to play.  On Christmas Eve 1984, Adam came up the steps with a creation to share.  He had drawn what he announced was a Santa Claus on the corner of a large sheet of paper.  As proud grandmother’s do, Ruth cut around his crayon artwork and hung it on the kitchen cabinet door.  After the holidays, she put the picture away with other decorations. 

When the family arrived for the 1985 holiday/birthday celebration, Ruth shared the drawing from last year and asked Adam if he’d like to draw a Santa Claus this year, too.  This is simply how a routine of drawing Santas on Christmas Eve began.   

By the time Adam was in elementary school, he had developed an interest in drawing and he was pretty good at it.  Since there was a collection of Adam’s Santa drawings, Fulton and Ruth would ask him to draw a new one each year.  There were years when, although he liked to draw, Santa Claus was not his subject of choice.  However, he was happy to comply and by the age of nine, his Santas began to reflect the interests of a boy his age (1989 – Mario Bros., 1990 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 1994 – Rolling Stones).  The whole family was still gathering in Rustburg each year with additional spouses and grandchildren arriving along the way.  The unveiling of “this year’s Santa Claus” was as much a part of the family’s fun as poker and cheese gravy. 

Adam’s interest and talent grew and in high school reached a new level as he took classes and was inspired by an exuberant and enthusiastic art teacher.  After high school graduation, he chose to pursue a Fine Arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.  His Santa drawings had shown a good progression of skill and by 2000, Ruth and Fulton used his 1999 Santa drawing for their annual Christmas card.  They now had eight grandchildren and the annual Christmas gatherings had grown to be epic events.  One living room wall was dedicated to the framed Santa Claus pictures that hung year round.  The annual unveiling of the Santa (usually the paint was still wet) had become a part of the Christmas anticipation. 

During his college years, the Santa Clauses began to show an obvious reflection of Adam’s acquisition of illustration skills and they became paintings as he moved from crayon to pencil and ink to oils.  After college graduation, he continued his growth in illustration.  He began a career in sales but his true love was always art and he found the time to build his portfolio and occasionally show his work and/or produce pieces for charity or causes.  Some Santa’s were serious and reflective (2002, 2003 and 2007).  Others demonstrated his latest interest in a new technique or style or the influence of other artists. 

In 2009, Adam and his wife brought the first great grandchild (Calan) to Fulton and Ruth.  That Christmas, the Santa Claus was standing over a baby crib.  Thus began a stream of Santa’s that incorporated family events.   Calan was recognizing roosters in his picture books and he and Ruth would delight in singing “cock-a-doodle- doo!”  That year, Adam painted a primitive Santa sitting upon a rooster. 

In 2012, Ruth and Fulton were preparing to relocate to the Summit, a retirement community, and thus it would be the last “Rustburg Christmas.”  That year, Santa was secondary in the painting as he stood atop the home where Adam had spent every Christmas and birthday of his life.  The Santa collection was moved to the family room at the Summit cottage.  It no longer takes up a wall, but instead occupies most of the available space on all four walls. 

The location of the Christmas celebrations changed after that year, but not the family gatherings and not the production of the Christmas Eve Santas.  In 2014, Santa sat at the table in Rustburg playing poker.  Santa’s face was that of Fulton who had passed that year, but the memory of his Christmas Eve poker games with the children and grandchildren lives as illustrated in that painting.  The 2015 Santa is an aging Santa (looking a lot like an aged Adam) who sits in a studio painting.  Adam had recently taken on illustration as his full time job and the painting depicts his hope to grow old while happily painting. 

Adam reflects that “Christmas has always been a wonderful, nostalgic time for me.  Besides being my birthday, I’ve had so much attention and love from my grandparents and I got to spend the night with them and the entire family was there.  The Santa Claus picture became a way for me to contribute to the fun and family.  Furthermore, it was a way to curb the anxiousness while waiting for Christmas morning.  Over the years when I needed to focus on a job that supported my family and me, I didn’t pick up the paint brush as often as I would have liked.  Maintaining the Santa collection always kept me connected to my art.  I’m especially thankful for that.” 

Besides bringing much pleasure to Ruth, visitors to her home are entertained by the collection and the powerful family message it conveys.  The story of how a child’s crayon drawings for his grandparents grew to a priceless one of a kind collection of love and cherished family memories lives on the walls of Ruth’s home at the Summit.  Enjoy!

By Patty Johnson, January 2016

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