Take a close look at the face of the man in the picture above. Do you recognize him? Look again. You have seen his face more times than you can count, but you probabaly don’t know the story behind the most-famous self portrait in history.
Haddon Sundblom was excited about his assignment. The commercial artist was tasked with creating a holiday advertisement, and he could almost picture the finished product in his head. All he needed was a model to help him with the facial features. Fortunately, he had just the man for the job.
Lou Prentiss was not a professional model by any means. He was a salesman, but when Haddon thought about the kind of face that should grace the character in his advertisement, it was Lou whom he thought of. He contacted his acquaintance and talked him into agreeing to participate in the project. Sure enough, Lou’s face was perfect. When Haddon submitted the finished product, the company executives were ecstatic.
Haddon’s impact on the advertising and art world would be noteworthy even without this particular assignment. He was the artist who created Coca-Cola’s mascot Sprite Boy, the character who showed up in Coke’s advertisements throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1942, Haddon created a well-regarded recruitment poster for the U.S. Marine Corps. It depicts a Marine sergeant standing at ease with a headline that reads, “Ready — Join U.S. Marines Land Sea Air.”
You no doubt have seen his work on your breakfast table. In 1957, Quaker Oats wanted to update its logo. It was Haddon Sundblom who created the iconic Quaker Oats Man who adorned its products for much of the company’s history.
It would be this new project, however, that would earn the artist immortality. The project for which he used Lou Prentiss was a big success. It was so popular, in fact, that he was asked to use the same character the next year. And the next. And the next. Each time, Lou Prentiss graciously agreed to sit as a model for a new painting.
Tragedy struck when Lou passed away. Not only was it a loss for his friends and family, but it threatened to bring an end to Haddon’s biggest advertising success. As good of an artist as he was, Haddon could not recreate Lou’s facial features from memory. The spark that was necessary to bring life to his paintings required him to have a live model.
With the deadline approaching for that year’s version of his character, Haddon turned in desperation to the face he knew better than anyone else’s. He looked in the mirror.
You may not have known the name Haddon Sundblom before now, but you are certainly familiar with his work. Perhaps you remember his Marine Corps poster or the Quaker Oats Man. There is no question, however, about whether you are familiar with his most famous work. And although you may not have known his name before now, you undoubtedly have seen his face without even knowing it.
You can tell Sundblom enjoyed his work. It showed in his face. His eyes, how they twinkled. His dimples, so merry. His cheeks were like roses. His nose… Well, you get the idea.
His most successful project was the Christmas advertisement for Coca-Cola. In 1931 and for the next 33 years he painted the image that has become the most-recognizable modern depiction of Santa Claus. After Lou Prentiss’ death, the face that beamed holiday cheer to millions of people was that of the artist.
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As of this writing, it is the middle of summer in our part of the world, but Christmas is just around the corner. That is if you define “just around the corner” as 160 days from now. We know the names of the reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.…
Categories: Accomplishments and Records, Art, Careers, History, Holidays, Personal Descriptions and Insults
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