The Nativity by Salvador Dalí for Hallmark

Salvador Dalí’s Christmas Cards for Hallmark

This time last year, my wife and I were gearing up to travel to Spain for Christmas. We spent the holiday with Jorge Suquet, one of my closest friends — and onetime guest on my podcast — and his wonderful family. We learned all about so many of their holiday traditions (for one thing, Spaniards celebrate Christmas on the Epiphany), and I shared one of my favorite Spanish-American holiday traditions: the Salvador Dalí collection at Hallmark.

Yes, Hallmark. My mother is a Kansas Citian. My parents met in Kansas City. My whole family is in one way or another tied to Kansas City. If you’re an artist in Kansas City, at one point in time or another there’s a good chance for part of your career you were under the employ of Hallmark. When purchasing greeting cards, Hallmark has always been the brand of choice in our family, and according to the Washington Post, for a time in the mid-century, the brand, “began reproducing the paintings and designs of contemporary artists on its Christmas cards in the late 1940s, an initiative that was led by company founder Joyce Clyde Hall. The art of Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe all took a turn on Hallmark’s Christmas cards.” According to Atlas Obscura, Hall wrote in his autobiography that, “through the ‘unsophisticated art’ of greeting cards, the world’s greatest masters were shown to millions of people who might otherwise not have been exposed to them.”

In 1948, it was Dalí’s turn. Before the Spanish surrealist showed up on greeting card shelves across the country, he had several stipulations. He demanded a $15,000 cash advance for 10 designs. Hallmark wasn’t allowed to weigh in on the subject nor the medium, there was no deadline and he was to receive no royalties. When all was said and done, Dalí’s contributions were deemed too avant-garde for the traditional Hallmark customer and only two of his works were ever released to the public. Though not best sellers, Dalí was hired again in 1959 by Hallmark to design a new set of greeting cards. He painted images for Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day. Of these newer images, only three were ever printed.

The silver lining? The company’s visitor center still has their Dalís on display for all to see. Two of Dali’s works for the series, “Christmas Tree of Butterflies” and “Easter Angel” are on permanent display at the Hallmark Visitor Center. On several occasions throughout the years when in town at the holidays to visit my family, in addition to visiting the Country Club Plaza to see the lights while downing handfuls of cinnamon popcorn (the best, trust me) from an oversized tin from Topsy’s, I made sure to stop by and see Hallmark’s admittedly impressive collection (If art’s your thing, and you’re in Kansas City, you shouldn’t miss the Nelson-Adkins).

According to Hallmark, around the time of his collaboration, Dalí had recently converted to Catholicism. His devotional images of Madonna and Child, Three Wise Men and an angel carry a singular theme: emergence. It can be seen in the caterpillar that becomes the butterfly where as Hallmark states, “out of this death [we] emerge — beautiful, free, no longer earthbound.” I challenge you to find that level of depth in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

Dalí must have been inspired by his Hallmark commissions, because for years afterwards, he continued to create Christmas-themed works like the one below.

The Hallmark Visitors Center is located at 2450 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, Missouri. It’s located on the east side of the Crown Center Complex (a fun place for little kids, with nice dining options and an ice skating rink at the holidays). From Crown Center’s parking garage, 2450 Grand Blvd., take the elevator to the third level of the Crown Center Shops.  The Visitors Center is free and three-hour parking is free with validation.