Sundblom's Sarasota Circle

This may not look anything like a Sundblom Santa, but you could say that Haddon Sundblom had a hand in its creation.


It was painted by Thornton Utz, and Utz was another of Haddon Sundblom's many apprentices during the early days of his career.


Utz was a long way and many years from Sunny's Chicago studio when he painted this piece for the December 1958 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.


He was living in Sarasota, Florida where he had moved his family, alongside his close friend, Al Buell, who was yet another Sundblom Circle alumnus. Below, an Al Buell illustration for Cosmo.


Sunny was said to be not much of a teacher from an academic perspective. Rather than explain the problems he saw in his proteg├ęs' efforts he more typically repainted them himself. So apprentices like Utz and Buell learned mostly by intently watching the master's every brush stroke.

When Sundblom was asked what he thought of how his Circle had migrated to New York and all across America, he said, "How does one estimate the influence of a studio whose known alumni include a goodly number of top illustrators, gallery painters and art directors, a few ad executives, copy writers, a plumbing contractor, a politician, a millinery tycoon, a policeman, a top lightweight boxer, a world champion pistol shot, two ministers of the gospel, plus three hundred or more hopefuls of whose fate we know nothing?"

Presented with a partial list of names that included Utz and Buell - and all of yesterday's artists - Sundblom said (I assume somewhat facetiously), "I could add many more names to your list, but I hesitate because, while I'm sure that most of the alumni remember us kindly, there are no doubt some who, after years of progressive mental and spiritual enlightenment, might on the basis of guilt by association, want to invoke the Fifth Amendment."


Among those not mentioned is Ben Stahl, another member of "The Sarasota Sundblom Circle" (A phrase I'm christening today). Stahl had arrived, portfolio in hand, at Stevens, Sundblom and Stult in 1932, a Depression year. He was put immediately on the payroll. Despite the times, the studio was said to be bustling and "thronged with talent" and, like so many before and after him, Stahl learned his trade at Sundblom's easel.


And just to demonstrate once again how many talents were developed in Sunny's studio, while Stahl was there painting, "Stan Ekman..."


"... and Ward Brackett were there, developing rapidly..."


"... and young Coby Whitmore was there, running errands."


On Monday: even MORE Sundblom Circle apprentices.

* Many thanks to Steve Scott for the Al Buell scan in today's post.

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