by Cynthia Close
Massachusetts born Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) was a lithographer who went into the printing business as a very young man to support his family. He initially found success printing illustrations of newsworthy stories, often catastrophes, building collapses, and disasters, like the fires that swept through New York City in the 19th century. In 1857, he partnered with James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) who was largely responsible for modernizing the company. It was Ives who shifted the themes of the images and aesthetic direction of the artists that were selected for publication. They advertised themselves as “Publishers of Cheap and Popular Prints” producing over 7,500 hand-colored lithographs during their 72 years of operation.
Many of the Currier and Ives genre scenes found their way to greeting cards and are still popular today. James Ives looked for artwork that would evoke feelings of nostalgia for an idealized version of the past. Charles Parsons (1821-1910), an American painter/lithographer created Central Park in Winter, the Skating Pond, in 1862. This classic view of throngs of well-dressed men, women, and children in their winter attire enjoying a day on the skating pond in the heart of New York City presents a joyful version of a genteel winter sport. Currier and Ives employed or licensed the artwork of many important artists of the day like the prominent Hudson River School painter George Inness (1825-1894) and the German/American editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) who many consider the “Father of the American Cartoon.” The generic New England snow scenes by American landscape painter George Henry Durrie were particularly popular. Durrie’s 1867 print Home to Thanksgiving became one of Currier and Ives best-selling prints for the holidays and is still in demand today.