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The Art of Halloween: An Interview with Lisa Morton

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Halloween

When we think of Halloween, most of us go immediately to the visuals: candlelit jack-o'-lanterns, shimmering ghosts, black-hatted witches. Given the importance of images to the holiday, it makes sense that Halloween would have a long and interesting association with art. We went to expert Lisa Morton to ask - Lisa is the author of The Halloween Encyclopedia and Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, as well as a collector of Halloween art.

So was there a lot of Halloween-inspired art prior to the 20th century?
Surprisingly, no. The only famous work in oil is Daniel Maclise's "Snap-Apple Night", a charming 1833 painting of an Irish Halloween party. Later in the 19th century, as printing technologies improved and magazines became popular, there were more illustrated articles on the holiday so there are many engravings, but really Halloween art didn't bloom until the 20th century.

What happened then?
During the first three decades of that century, telephones were still not in popular use and people communicated via postcards. Postcards were a huge industry then, and holidays were especially popular subjects. There were around 3,000 distinct Halloween postcards produced during this time, and they're all very collectible now. Some cards - especially those produced by the John Winsch Company - command hundreds of dollars. There are also certain postcard artists who developed their own followings: Ellen Clapsaddle, for example, produced glowing portraits of children and anthropomorphized vegetables, and Bernhardt Wall, known as "the Postcard King", excelled at whimsical scenes of grinning jack-o'-lanterns.

Bernhardt Wall "Witch-Chase" Halloween postcard

I've seen some of those images re-purposed in recent art.
Yes! Halloween art is a whole cottage industry now. It has its own yearly show - Halloween and Vine, which happens every autumn in Petaluma, California - and its own cult artists, many of whom produce new art with a definite retro vibe. My personal favorites are Greg Chapman, Sam Heimer, and Matthew Kirscht, but there's also a sculptor named Jason McKittrick whose company Cryptocurium produces beautiful little figurines (including the perfectly named "Jacklings"!).

Do you have a personal all-time favorite work of Halloween art?
It's hard to choose! But I think I'd have to have a two-way tie, between a somewhat surreal 1912 postcard of white-robed pumpkin people riding flying black cats, and the wicked little jack-o'-lantern that I commissioned from the afore-mentioned Mr. Chapman as my personal Halloween logo, and which I loved so much that it became my first tattoo (on my right wrist).

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Daniel Maclise, Halloween art, Halloween postcards, Lisa Morton
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