Norman Rockwell may have been the illustrator of all things Americana, but even he could feel the sting of rejection.
In the early 1930s, Coca-Cola, which many credit with creating our modern vision of Santa, was working with then-little known artist Haddon Sundblom on a series of paintings of Old Saint Nick for advertisements. Then in 1935 Rockwell, widely regarded for capturing a slice of America on canvas, pitched his version of Old Saint Nick as a possible alternative.
It didn’t make the cut.
“No one knows why Coke chose not to use Rockwell’s Santa,” said Ted Ryan, manager of Coca-Cola Archives. “It’s a mystery masked in an enigma.”
Rockwell actually did three paintings for Coca-Cola during that period that are missing today.
Last year, the company last year went on “Antiques Roadshow” in hopes of finding the missing artwork, valued at about $500,000 a piece, but had no luck finding them. Ryan said the company received several responses about the pieces, but each was a calendar or in-store display made from the paintings and not the original work.
Ryan declined to disclose the value of the Rockwell Santa, but said Coca-Cola acquired it from a private collector in New York City.
Rockwell’s Santa, as well as several other pieces the illustrator did for the company between 1928 and 1935, are on display in a new year-long exhibit at the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta.
The exhibit also features advertisements created from the three paintings Rockwell did for Coca-Cola.