Sunday, January 26, 2020

Joanne (Eschrich) Wright

While Christians agree that the purpose of Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus, the holiday’s secular traditions are recognized in a variety of ways around the world. In many countries, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, or Father Christmas – not Santa Claus – represents the season’s spirit of goodwill.

Keepsake Artist Joanne Eschrich’s parents were born in the Azorean Islands of Portugal. As Joanne grew up, expensive gifts weren’t the focus of her family’s holiday. “Christmas was all about the nativity for us,” she says. “And beyond that, it was all about the meaning of generosity and peace. We were told about St. Nicholas, who lived a long time ago and helped poor children.”

When asked to design an ornament series to honor that uplifting spirit of Christmas, Joanne turned to old-world traditions to create Father Christmas, a series introduced in 2004 with an ornament entitled Peace.

Father Christmas
1st in the series.

“I wanted this one to be special and different than the normal, typical Santas out there,” recalled Joanne. “The first thought and question I gave myself was ‘What makes him special?’ and ‘What story or message did I want him to convey?’ After three days of concepting, it came to me just before going to bed one night. ‘A worldly Father Christmas’ type of Santa, that would bring a special message to anyone who picked him up!”

After returning to the office, she headed to the Hallmark Archives to look for inspiration. “I was inspired by the old nostalgic Christmas cards and concepted from them.” She then began working with Senior Editor Strategist Mike Brush (who was there from the beginning) and Senior Editor Lindsay Evans. “They have both been instrumental in the development of Father Christmas throughout the years.”

Each ornament in the series brings an inspiring message written on a scroll that Father Christmas carries in a bag, along with symbols reflecting the message. In selling her idea for the series to Keepsake management, Joanne researched and drew concepts for ten ornaments, each with its own message, icons, and color scheme. “Once the message is established I think of the colors and icons that best portray that message. For example, The Father Christmas of Peace (2004) was the message that started the series off, so I gathered soft whites in fabrics and ribbons and sculpted dove charms and white peace lillies for him to hold. The design and message work hand in hand throughout the sculpting and painting process.”

Father Christmas
1st in the series.

Joanne sculpts her characters individually in wax, giving each a unique sense of vitality and appearance of movement. All prototypes were painted and assembled by hand. After completing several ornaments in the series, she started to look for inspiration in new ways.

“I am always inspired each year by friends, family and fans, who have thoughts and stories surrounding each one. They’re usually inspirations or requests surrounding color themes both present and future. I always try to keep a balance or alternate colors from one year to the next,” she says.

“For Father Christmas 2019, I felt that it was time to come back to the original message of Peace and that the use of green, representing Earth, was important to the ‘World Peace” message.”

Father Christmas
18th in the series.

And there’s another family connection for Joanne – many of the bags holding Father Christmas’ messages were created by her mother, Leona. A professional seamstress, Joanne’s mother not only sewed the bags for early ornament prototypes but she also helped Joanne design the rich fabric coats that each Father Christmas wears. Joanne is clearly grateful for her mother’s help. “She’s turning 90 this coming year, but I still run my ideas by my mom,” she smiles.

In terms of popularity, Joanne says Father Christmas has been the high point of her Keepsake career, which began in 1996. ““I started Father Christmas 16 years ago, and I’m working on #18 for 2021 already!” she says. “I’ve signed more of these ornaments than anything else I’ve done so far.”

For that she can give partial credit to her family heritage. But the attraction of such enduring ideals as Peace, Harmony, and Wonder also help make Father Christmas a welcome holiday messenger.

“There’s no better feeling than to see Father Christmas in the hands of those who really appreciate him,” she says.