An Iowa State Professor’s Holiday Tradition


The end of the year, and the holidays that come at this time of year, are definitely upon us.  And winter and the snow that comes with it are here as well.  In honor of the first day of winter (December 21), pictured above is one of my favorite Iowa State winter campus photographs – a horse drawn sleigh in front of Catt Hall (formerly Agricultural Hall and then Botany Hall) and the old greenhouses.

As you may have noticed, we have taken a bit of a break here on the Departmental blog to catch up on things.  However, it seemed fitting to highlight one of our collections during this holiday season.  There are a number to choose from.  Winterfest was celebrated here on campus earlier this December, and hopefully there will be a blog post on this in future years.  Earl Stout, featured in an earlier blog post, probably has some Iowa related sayings and proverbs in his collection.  In fact, many collections here at Iowa State probably have at least one reference to the end of the year and the holidays that come at this time.

Since it is now so close to Christmas, I thought I would highlight one of our University Archives collections of an Iowa State Professor of Textiles and Clothing, Donna Danielson.  Every year, beginning in 1961, Professor Danielson created her own Christmas cards.  In fact, her tradition was inspired by several Iowa State professors she had studied under.   Danielson received her B.S. (1957) and M.S. (1961) from Iowa State University in applied art.  In 1964, Danielson joined the Iowa State University faculty as Assistant Professor of Textiles and Clothing.  She was promoted to Associate Professor (1971) and Professor (1976), and retired from Iowa State in 1991.

Danielson in front of the bookshelf showcasing the Christmas cards she created.

Danielson describes her experiences of creating Christmas cards in a talk, “Variation on a Poem by Phyllis McGinley: Lady Selecting Her Christmas Card Theme,” which is included in the collection of her papers.  The majority of the small collection, however, contains the Christmas cards she created for each year from 1961 to 2001.  The collection includes her first Christmas card from 1961, which, as she describes in her talk, were created individually “using pen and brush-applied white ink on a textured blue surface…the form, that is the lettering itself, was a reflection of my personal and professional interest in lettering and calligraphy.”  As I looked through her Christmas cards, I found myself glancing at her lettering and calligraphy just as much as the illustrations.  She even has a wonderfully clear handwriting style in her everyday handwriting, found on the forms in the biographical files in her collection.

The inside of her first Christmas card from 1961, with the simple message “Christmas Greetings.”

Her cards all have an illustration paired with a saying or verse…however, soon after her first year she no longer created each card individually, but had them printed instead!  We even have one of the printing blocks (shown below), used for her 1963 Christmas cards, in the artifact collection.

As she explained in her talk, most of the verses and sayings she used on her Christmas cards were not written by her.  However, when creating her 1980 Christmas card with her selected theme of Norwegian Christmas cookies and other baked goods, she could not find an appropriate verse, song, poem or saying and so she created her own.

The outside of Danielson’s 1980 Christmas card, with its Norwegian Christmas cookies and other baked goods.  The illustration includes the first line, in Norwegian, of the verse she wrote for the card.

The inside of Danielson’s 1980 Christmas card, containing the verse (in both Norwegian and English) she created to go with the theme.

Other Christmas cards and records related to holiday and winter related festivities can be found here in the Special Collections Department, although this is the only collection we have that is centered around one artist’s Christmas card creations.  Danielson’s papers are preserved in an archival box and archival folders in our storage area.  However, Christmas cards are now being created electronically, such as this year’s card from President Geoffroy.  These electronic cards from President Geoffroy will be in our Web Archive, such as last year’s from 2009.

If you are interested in finding out more about Donna Danielson and her Christmas cards, please take a look at the finding aid of her collection, available online, or come visit us in the Special Collections Department!  Please note, however, that Parks Library, including the Special Collections Department, will be closed for a portion of winter break (from Thursday, December 23, 2010, through Sunday, January 2, 2011).

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