The Santa Claus
figures that fill Beverly Cole’s Edmond home aren’t the obligatory red-suited,
chubby characters that line the shelves of every store, gas station and mega
retailer each year. They aren’t clothed in cheap red felt with fake fur trim
and scratchy synthetic beards.
Cole’s lavishly outfitted Santas sport a worldly elegance,
each lovingly crafted of the finest materials into an individual work of art.
The ‘Woodsy Santa’ that adorns her front dining room stands three and a half
feet tall. His beard is freshly washed angora wool that cascades down a
ceramic, hand-painted face like a furry waterfall.
Woodsy Santa’s cape is made of lush Turkish and Israeli
fabric with real fur cuffs, soft and white as a bunny’s belly. Accenting the
shoulders of his cape are authentic pheasant pelts from a local pheasant hunter
who dried the pelts for a year in preparation for use.
Rustic refinement comes to life in every detail, right down
to the genuine leather bag carried on Woodsy Santa’s back. Sprigs of greenery
and winter plants finish the natural and Victorian look of Old St. Nick.
And that Santa took about three weeks to complete, from head
to feet. He was donated—at a value of between $1,000 to $3000—to the Angels
Foster OKC organization, one of three charities Cole donates to each year. “I
started making Santas 12 years ago. I also make a ‘Whimsy Santa,’ which is all
pink and purple with a princess look, guy-themed Santas, you name it,” said Cole.
“I like them to be elegant looking.”
What started as a hobby for Cole is now a world of art. That
art is selling in boutique stores in Oklahoma City and also places like Dallas
and Wichita. Elegant Santas are in demand.
The Magic of Christmas
“I love Christmas. I love Santas. I decided about 12 years
ago that I was going to try to make a Santa,” said Cole, who designed
children’s clothing when her own kids were little. “I just love to decorate.
When I tried to make my first Santa, it was awful looking. My mom told me once
to keep the first one so I could see how far I’ve come.”
She’s come far. Her Santas and Three Wise Men creations are
in sought after, selling in stores like Trios in Wichita, Kansas, Margo’s in
Utica Square in Tulsa, Madison’s in Dallas, and On a Whim on the Classen Curve
in Oklahoma City. Only one store per city carries the one-of-a-kind creations,
adding exclusivity. “Each Santa is different because they are all hand-made and
designed by me,” Cole said.
Sold under the label “Beverly Cole Creations,” the Santas
are part of a seasonal offering by Cole. In spring, she makes and sells
Victorian lady Easter bunnies and elaborately-decorated ceramic eggs covered in
tulle ribbon, sparkling beads and jewels. In the fall, whimsical witches are the
order. Christmas belongs to the Santa Clauses and Three Wise Men as well as
Victorian-themed Christmas stockings. “I make about 20 to 30 Santas a year,
each original, no two alike,” she said. “I do five or so witches a year and,
depending on demand, 12 to 15 Easter bunnies.”
The price tag may top $1,000 for the Santas, but the
creations take hours of labor. The faces are ceramic and are poured from an
original mold to be fired in a kiln. Although Cole used to paint each face
herself, she eventually hired an artist for the faces. Her husband Adrian
builds the base of the Santas. “I put the head and hands on, pad the frame and
then start looking at fabrics,” she said. “I always have an idea in my head of
what I want it to look like, but it kind of creates itself.”
Cole works in groups of three. From the pouring of the heads
to the last bead takes approximately a week. Once the frame and head are
attached, she can create a Santa in about 30 hours. She sews and designs the
clothing from treasures found at thrift stores and garage sales—fur coats,
leather jackets and even prom dresses. Other fabrics come from her world
travels. Everywhere she goes, she’s looking for her next Santa creation. “I try
to use a lot of different fabrics with lots of trim, beads, bells and
ornaments,” Cole said. “We go to Hong Kong once every two years, buying a lotof specialty beads.”
Those who buy the custom-created Santas have homes large
enough to display it. “If you walk intoa home that has a life-sized Santa, no one will say, ‘I have
one of those too,’” Cole laughed. “Hours of work goes into each one. I design
them so people will say, ‘Oh, that’s a work of art.’”
To Cole, what she does goes beyond a hobby. It is art to
her, and she approaches each creation from that unique perspective. “My dream
is that the Santa is a piece of art in your home that you cherish,” Cole said.
Her art is being noticed. Cole created the Centennial Santa
for Oklahoma’s Centennial Celebration, a Santa for the Oklahoma City National Memorial
and 25 commissioned Santa Clauses for former governors and notables. Her Santas
have been featured in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
And although she is “absolutely the worst” at marketing, the
creations continue to be in high demand. “I just love doing this. I love to
create something that people cherish.”
reach Cole or order one of Cole’s creations, call 405-833-9367.