Emory colleagues Kathryn Dixson and Gretchen Warner have a gift for making material from the archives more eye-catching than a Macy’s store window on 34th Street. They design and mount exhibits in Emory’s Rose Library and Schatten Gallery, and for the last couple of years they have graciously added to their work the display case on the first floor of the Administration Building.
Two weeks ago, in time for the holidays, Kathy and Gretchen created a display of the beautiful Christmas cards that Emory philanthropist Robert Woodruff used to send. In case you can’t get to the Administration Building, I share parts of the display here.
Beginning in 1924, the year after Woodruff became president of the Coca-Cola Company, he and his wife, Nell Hodgson Woodruff, sent annual Christmas cards.
Initially graced with holiday images, the cards soon featured photos of Ichauway, the South Georgia plantation the Woodruffs bought in 1929 as a vacation refuge and bird-hunting retreat.
In 1941, however, the Woodruffs began a new and magnificent holiday tradition featuring the commissioned paintings of Ichauway’s birds by Italian-born artist Athos Menaboni. By the time of Robert Woodruff’s death, in 1985, Menaboni’s paintings would grace the front of 44 Woodruff Christmas cards. A number of reproductions of these paintings are housed along with Menaboni’s papers in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory. The cards themselves are among the Robert W. Woodruff papers in the Rose Library.
The card for 1968 bore only Robert’s name on the inside. His beloved Nell had died in January of that year, less than a year after Emory named its school of nursing in her honor. The couple of green-winged teal shown in the card poignantly suggest the long flight of life that Robert and Nell had shared, for more than 55 years.
The last Woodruff/Menaboni card appeared in 1984, featuring the great blue heron.
Woodruff died on March 7, 1985, and Menaboni lived another five years, dying on July 18, 1990, at the age of 94.
In the spirit of beauty and grace reflected in the Menaboni cards sent by the Woodruffs, I take the occasion to wish you a merry Christmas and a peaceful, happy new year.