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Hirohito and ‘ennui in Valhalla’

Rebecca Aubin, second from left, head of education at the New Mexico Museum of Art, shows a collection of Christmas cards to Susan Breyer, left, Consuelo Bokum, second from right, Bernique Gliden, right, Jim Derryberry and others at the museum’s library. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Most Santa Feans know Will Shuster as the father of Zozobra. But how many people realize he was part of a close-knit circle of artists who exchanged handmade holiday cards during the first half of the 20th century?

A New Year’s card from Shuster and his wife sent in 1944 shows a photograph of the artist inside a head of Zozobra that looks like Japanese Emperor Hirohito. The card would be deemed politically incorrect by today’s standards, but we must remember that the U.S. was at war with Japan at the time.

A holiday card created by Zozobra founder Will Shuster. (Monica Gagnier/Albuquerque Journal)

Shuster’s Hirohito card is one of about 200 in an album once owned by Santa Fe socialite and author Elizabeth Willis DeHuff that was bequeathed to the New Mexico Museum of Art. The album was on display at an open house held in the museum’s library on Dec. 4.

“Most people know we have art by Santa Fe painters, such as Will Shuster and Gustave Baumann, but few know that we have their correspondence and other personal papers in our archives that are available to researchers and anyone who wants to look at them,” said Christian Waguespack, curator of 20th century art at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Greeting cards by artists such as Shuster, Baumann, Olive Rush, Josef Bakos and Gerald Cassidy were saved by DeHuff, who carefully mounted them in the album that spans from 1915 to 1946. Visitors to the open house could not touch the album and cards themselves, but Rebecca Aubin, the museum’s head of education, turned the pages with gloved hands.

Some of the wittier selections in DeHuff’s collection are from Baumann and his wife Jane. Proving that freezing pipes have been a problem in Santa Fe for a long time, one holiday card sent to DeHuff by the Baumanns reads, “Sing this to any tune. That will thaw frozen pipes. We’ve got to have more water in the river. I want to go askating in July.”

Another card from the Baumanns to DeHuff and her husband John David DeHuff was supposed to go out during the Yuletide season, but was never sent. “Ennui in Valhalla. The Baumanns sent no Christmas card. Ground Hog and St. Patricks Day Greetings.”

Many of the cards in the album, which was donated to the museum by the DeHuffs’ daughter, feature woodblock prints. Baumann, who studied art in Munich, was particularly fond of woodblock printing, Waguespack said.

A scrapbook of Christmas cards sent to Elizabeth Willis DeHuff and her husband from 1915 to 1946 was on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art’s library on Dec. 4. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Photography is also quite popular among the Christmas cards sent to the DeHuffs. Today’s generation is sometimes criticized for “oversharing” on social media, but the holiday cards sent to the DeHuffs have photographs of everything from a living room to a Paris vacation. “It almost seems like some of these people were using their cards to brag,” observed librarian and archivist Sophie Friedman.

Not all of the cards in the DeHuff collection were produced by hand. One sent to the family by artist Bakos is a print of his painting of a Spanish-style church against the mountains simply called “Southwest.”

Perusing the album is a reminder that the artists’ colony in Santa Fe wasn’t completely insulated from world problems, such as the Great Depression. A card sent to the DeHuffs by artist Cassidy and his wife Ina in 1932 reads “A lean year but fat wishes.”

One reason Elizabeth Willis DeHuff’s album ends in 1946 is that was the year she left Santa Fe after her husband died the previous year. Before her death in 1983, she wrote several books using Native American folklore and themes, including “Blue-Wings-Flying” and “TayTay’s Tales.”

DeHuff’s scrapbook represents just a fraction of the New Mexico Museum of Art’s collection of greeting cards, but it provides a snapshot of the close ties among the City Different’s artists.

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