What do Norman Rockwell, Saul Steinberg, Grandma Moses and Winston Churchill all have in common?
Believe it or not, in each case, their art found its way onto Hallmark greeting cards.
Today we were in Kansas City (go Royals!!) and we just had to see the Hallmark Visitors’ Center. It is in the middle of the city, in the middle of what is called Crown Center – the privately financed city-within-a-city developed by Hallmark – and in the middle of the Hallmark building.
The tour gives a lovely history of greeting card evolution, thanks to the foresight of the company founder, J.C. Hall. In January 1910 at the age of 18, he dropped out of high school in Nebraska, crammed two shoeboxes full of imported postcards, and boarded a train for Kansas City, Mo. At first, he called on drugstores, bookstores and gift shops, wholesaling products created and manufactured by others.
As business picked up, he ventured to the towns served by the railroads running in all directions from the Midwestern rail center and they opened a specialty store in downtown Kansas City, dealing in post cards, gifts, books and stationery. In 1915, he and his partner brothers floated a loan and bought an engraving firm, setting the stage for the creation of the first original Hallmark card designs.
It’s now run by the third generation of Halls and the company is known for its emphasis on quality and its mission enhancing people’s emotional connections. (Believe me, even those old television commercials can still make you sob out loud.) They are also extremely philanthropic and all-around good citizens who never abandoned Kansas City. Have to admire that!
And yes, the four artists I named all had their work on Hallmark cards.
The first three I get – though Grandma Moses was a bit of a surprise. (Mr. Hall visited her three times!) But Winston Churchill?? Evidently Donald Hall became close with him and owned a collection of the paintings Winnie would do to relax. In return, he seemed to send some Kansas City steaks the Churchills’ way on occasion. Sounds fair.
They have some lovely displays as they trace their development over 100 years. We remember some of those cards!
Hallmark cards – just a part of the American fabric that is worthy of success and admiration.