Waiting for Santa

I like photographs a lot. Sometimes they give me information I can't find anywhere else. Other times, I see glimpses into artistic sensitivity and expertise. But the images I find most memorable are ones that open doors into the personality of the photographer, giving me a sense of what it might have been like to know him in person.

The creator of the photograph at left, which is taken from a postcard, was V. Covert Martin, a native of Stockton and for many years a noted local photographer. One of Martin's grandfathers, Joseph Harrison Tan, arrived in Stockton in 1850. The family prospered. Three and one-half decades later, Martin was born to a daughter of Tan in a house at the corner of Main and Grant Streets. After a brief apprenticeship in Nevada City, Martin returned to Stockton, worked for photographer Charles W. Logan, and eventually set up his own studio. Early in the twentieth century, he became the official photographer for the Stockton Record.

Years ago, a friend of the Museum donated a small collection of Christmas cards that Martin and his wife created and sent out to acquaintances over the years. The donor apparently belonged to that circle. Each of these cards is unique, not only for breaking staid and often boring greeting card conventions, but also for revealing a delightful, light-hearted, and self-deprecating sense of humor.

The photograph above, which seems to date from the 1930s, epitomizes these qualities. Can you imagine a grown man and woman eagerly waiting for Santa at the bottom of their chimney? The thought honestly hadn't entered my mind before seeing this card. But now that it has engaged my imagination, I can also envision Martin and his wife setting out milk and cookies for Santa, then curling up on the sofa and waiting into the early hours of the morning.

Martin retired in 1938 due to ill health and died in 1962 at the age of seventy-seven. His legacy has endured not only in Stockton Record photographs and portraits from his studio, but also in a delightful book titled Stockton Album Through the Years (1959), a photographic recollection of the city that Martin loved.

In addition, there are those Christmas cards. I suspect that Martin never intended them to be seen as major accomplishments. But in my view bringing light-hearted cheer during the Holiday season may be one of the best legacies anybody can leave—especially in world all too often marred by hatred and senseless violence.

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