Eighty years of home made Happy Holiday cards

When the children got too old to be posed as manger characters, Shirley Mayhew had their photos taken at the beach at Menemsha. Back in 1995, when this was taken, the beach was empty in the summer. — courtesy Shirley Mayhew

The Wortman Collection

Christmas time was always a happy time in the Wortman family. Dad always made a Christmas card that he sent to his friends. These cards were not ordinary. They were large, approximately 11″ by 17″ in size, and personalized to each family. He would send out about 250 cards each year, and it was quite the production. First, Dad would draw the card and have it printed. He would then put each person’s name on the card and sometimes in two places. Mom would address the labels, and I would have the job of rolling the cards and putting them in their mailing tubes. Many who received them would have them framed, and to this day I sometimes find them still hanging on the walls of friends’ houses. The sight always brings back such fond memories.

One of the joys of sending cards is receiving cards. Dad had many friends who were artists, and we would receive many cards from them. Cards would arrive from Thomas Hart Benton, Walt Disney, Edward Hopper, Peter Arno, James Cagney, and Reginald Marsh, just to name a few. When Dad died in September of 1958, no card was sent that year. The following year, Mom and I decided to continue the tradition. We would find a cartoon that Dad had drawn and put a new caption on it for Christmas. We continued this until 1965. At that point Mom decided that she would have to stop. The tradition ended then, but now I am glad to have a place where again I can share them and they can be enjoyed.

-Denys Wortman is the son of well known painter, cartoonist and illustrator Denys Wortman, who lived much of the year on Hines Point in Vineyard Haven, where he entertained friends and artists such as Thomas Hart Benton. The full collection can be seen on his website, at dwortman.com/xmascardsf.

The Mayhew/Whiting/Murphy Collection

I started taking these Christmas photos when I started having babies, in the early fifties. Polly Murphy then asked me to do the same for her children. So we would dress them up as the three kings, or angels, or shepherds each year until they were old enough to object. I also did some for Polly’s sister, Barbara Scannell, and a couple for Jane Whiting. I think we then took our prototypes to Mosher’s Photo who made them up into Christmas cards. Barbara and Jane usually included their family of animals as well as their children. Chris Murphy was the first to rebel, as he was the oldest. Later on, the Murphys began to use reproductions of Stan’s paintings for Christmas cards, and I began to include my whole family in mine. We began posing on Menemsha Beach in the summer. You can see how things have changed. The card from 1995, there were no other people on the beach, in the middle of summer. You couldn’t do that any more.

-Shirley Mayhew is the widow of John Mayhew of West Tisbury, and the mother of Sarah, Deborah, and Jack. She has saved cards that she produced and cards the family received from other Island families.

The Mayhew and Murphy families were friends in West Tisbury starting in the late 1940’s. Shirley agreed to photograph us children for Polly’s [Murphy] Christmas cards every year while we were small enough to be wrangled into it. It started as The Manger Tableaux, sometimes in an actual barn like the Whiting’s, the four of us kids as Mary, Joseph, an angel, and the new baby — David Murphy — as Jesus. One year we were the Wisemen, one year we were shepherds and angels, photographed out at Quenames farm with some non-agreeable sheep. Polly loved costume and pageantry and stage. She dressed us up and got us to the location. There was lots of hay. It was usually cold. Shirley brought her equipment and her patience, and took lots of pictures, always in black and white, and sometimes quite elegant; then my mom had to choose one and have (Mosher’s I think) make it up, and then torture herself by trying to get it all in the mail before Christmas. As we got older and didn’t fit into the Manger roles anymore, I remember one card with our heads sticking through thick pine boughs arranged on a wooden clothes horse. Itchy and irritating, but Shirley made it look like we were having fun. I believe the last one we did together was “Angels on Snowshoes.” Teenagers by now, we were reluctant and sarcastic, and possibly uncooperative — I imagine Shirley and Polly agreed they had come to the end of their collaboration. This must have been the start of when Polly talked my father into drawing/printing a card each Christmas, but that’s another story.

-Laura Murphy

I always enjoyed the whole thing. They represented the family as they were at that time. I’d have to wrestle a calk of stand in my skates. Shirley was always a competent photographer, and several times took photos in our barn. It’s always lucky that someone’s mother had a camera…

-Allen Whiting

The MV Museum Collection

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has an extensive collection of Christmas cards, including elaborate Victorian greetings from the turn of the (last) century, a handmade series done by Guy Harold Smith that date from the 1950s and ’60s, and several images from the Norton family collection, which show the spirit of the Great Depression and World War Two eras.

Visit the museum to see more cards.