The year was 1939. I was 22 years old. For my mother and me, it was the eighth year of the Great Depression.
It was in late spring of that year when my mother and I descended on my mother’s mother, Nannie Herman, in Monroe, New York – without a penny to our names. Shortly after arriving in Monroe, I received a phone call from Hilbert I. Trackman, a New York lawyer I had met back in Hollywood in 1936. He offered me a job working on his yacht for $25.00 a month. So for three months I lived on the yacht 24 hours a day, mostly polishing brass, wiping the mahogany decks and woodwork, and washing dishes. After the first month, I was severely scolded for wearing out the chamois in such a short time.
In my spare time, I came up with the idea that if I designed Christmas Cards, cut the designs out of linoleum and printed them I could get orders immediately. I began by selling a custom design to each buyer with no extra cost for the design.
After three months of working on the yacht (card 42) I received a check for $75. The first thing I did was to bring my mother back from Monroe, New York. We ended up in a $15 a month shack in Glenwood Landing, Long Island.
I quickly got orders for Christmas Cards. Fifteen dollars a hundred, printed on rice paper and mounted on French fold deckled edge sheets with envelopes to match. One order came from Lawrence Tibbett, the great opera and concert singer, for 1000 cards on double size folders for which I received $25 per hundred (cards 10 & 11). My mother and I worked fourteen hours a day hand printing, without the aid of a press, and mounting the cards all through October, November and December. By the time Christmas had arrived we had earned enough money to drive to Hempstead, Long Island to the factory outlet store, and there we gave ourselves $2 to spend on anything we wanted. Such a splurge of spending had never before occurred with me and certainly not with my mother in the last eight years.
I had charged so little for the hand printed cards, and the paper and envelopes were so expensive that by the end of January we had nothing left.
At that time Lawrence Tibbet offered to pay me $25 dollars a week to chop down trees on his Connecticut estate and pile the firewood next to the house. Evenings I spent designing Christmas cards. (Cards 23 and 25 are of his Connecticut home.)
At that time, a California greeting card company, Chrysons, contacted me and ordered eight Christmas designs (Cards 21, 22 & 24). I charged them eight dollars a piece. Later, I found out I could have charged sixty dollars each.
Mixed in with all these goings on, I had my third New York exhibit at the Charles Morgan Gallery. I was twenty-three years old. The New YorkMetropolitan Museum came and purchased one of my watercolors for their permanent collection. Then, at the same time, an old friend of my mother and father, Robert Monroe, saw my Christmas Cards and said, “Let’s start a Christmas Card Company called Monroe and Earle.” Bob bought a Chandler Price foot peddle 8 x 12 printing press for around one thousand dollars and we rented a corner of a print shop in Stamford, Connecticut. My mother went back to Hollywood.
Lawrence Tibbett gave me a loan of $25 a week, half of which I sent to my mother. At the same time one of my best friends from California, Everett Ball, joined us, and together we printed thousands of cards sometimes working 36 hours without sleep during the final months before Christmas. The next year, after separating from Bob Monroe, Everett Ball and I started a new company called Earle and ball that lasted until I was drafted into the Navy in October of 1943.
During my 27 months in the Navy I managed to design a number of cards for a new company run by Edna Markoe. I left the Navy at the end of December of 1945. I remained with Edna until the fall of 1947 when I signed a contract with the American Artists Group from New York City. From 1948 to 1976 The American Artists Group published over 60 of my designs under the name of The Irene Dash Greeting Card Company. Irene Dash is the daughter of American Artists Group founder Samuel Golden.
Each year they selected 25 of the approximately 35 original designs I submitted and distributed them in a special exclusive catalogue through 3000 outlets across the United States as Earle Christmas Prints – Yuletide Greetings created by Eyvind Earle. Since 1974 I have created one new design each year for my wife, Joan, and myself. The cards are silk-screened in my own studio.
I never planned to be involved with Christmas card designing. It simply happened as a means of survival. Somehow, the designs pour out of me with almost no effort at all. I was never critical of my own work, I simply turn out one or two or even more designs in one day. For one thing, to me every day is Christmas. Every creation is divine. Cover the ugliest run down shacks with snow, and they become a magic vision of purity. Every mother with her child is a Madonna.
So here are over 800 designs created during the 57 year period between 1938 and 1995. Many early designs are lost, but by far the majority are included here.”
– Eyvind Earle 1996
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