Local artist creates pastoral White House scene for Christmas card


John Hutton, Professor of Art at Salem College, holds the holiday card he was commissioned to create by the White House Historical Association. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

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Forget reindeer at Christmas.

Former President Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep that grazed on the White House’s lawn.

John Hutton, 53, an associate professor of art history at Salem College and professional illustrator, captured that peaceful image on this year’s White House Historical Association’s Christmas card. It’s the second year in a row that Hutton has been picked to create the illustration for the card.

This year’s watercolor card features a serene, pastoral scene on the front lawn of the White House on Christmas in 1913.

All the details of the painting are historically accurate, from the elm tree Wilson planted in the front lawn to signify hope as Europe teetered on the edge of World War I, to the little sheep looking out into the snowy landscape.

And the sheep served a practical purpose, Hutton said.

“When I was doing my research, I found out that Wilson was famous for having a flock of sheep on the grounds of the White House and I think it was because he wanted to save money on gardening expenses,” he said.

Hutton said he found original photos of Wilson planting the elm tree – apparently to replace President Grover Cleveland’s elm tree that had died – and included a cartoon drawing of the planting ceremony on back of card.

“I’m an art historian and so I like art and history,” Hutton said. “So, when I do my art, I often do art that often has history in it.”

Hutton is also the author and illustrator of an alphabetical history of the White House, “The White House ABC: A Presidential Alphabet,” which can be found on the White House Historical Association’s website.

The WHHA, chartered in 1961, is a nonprofit historical and educational organization that works to preserve the White House and record its history. It releases a new ornament and Christmas card each year.

The card Hutton illustrated last year featured President William Howard Taft driving the first White House automobile in 1909.

“John Hutton is a gifted artist with a unique talent for creating fun, yet respectful and historically accurate illustrations of people and events in American History,” said Marcia Anderson, vice president of publications for the WHHA.

Hutton has been illustrating books since the 1990s and mostly works for Thornwillow Press, Ltd., collaborating with its president and publisher, Luke Pontifell, on projects including books and stationary.

Hutton also illustrated the Sister Maus book series, about an 18th century Moravian mouse that lives in Sisters House, the oldest building on Salem’s campus, for Salem Academy and College.

Pontifell said Hutton has illustrated many of Thornwillow’s handmade, limited edition books, including a the soon-to-be-released third volume in a series of fairytales and myths, “The Seven Towers of Wonder,” compiled and retold by Bill Gordh.

Pontifell said Hutton’s historical research really shines through in his artwork.

“He brings a scholarship and understanding of history to his artwork and his elegant designs,” he said.

“With the holiday card for example, all of the historically accurate details are fabulous, because it’s not just a cute picture. It’s a beautiful, elegant design that is also is historically accurate and historically informed.”

Hutton said he hopes the cards can bring people joy during the holiday season.

“It’s one of the happiest times of the year for most people, so it’s nice to think of the White House in positive way,” he said.

“I would love people to think positively of how interesting the history is of the White House, whether or not they agree with the politics involved. It is a fascinating place.”

By Carson Capshaw-Mack/Winston-Salem Journal

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