Old World Santas Tell a Story

Linda Cowell’s favorite part of creating her Old World Santas isn’t molding the faces or posing the bodies. It’s selecting the props and fabric that will tell the story of each one.

By Karen Cernich

Photography by Colin Miller/Strauss Peyton


     “There’s always a story,” Cowell says. Nicknamed “the Santa Lady,” Cowell has been creating these heirloom-quality pieces for 25 years. Her Santas, which feature vintage fabrics and old-fashioned toys like jacks and tops, evoke feelings of nostalgia and visions of a grandfather who carries candy in his pocket. Cowell draws on memories of growing up in Europe, where her father was stationed in the military, and her love of German Christmas traditions to create her Santas.

    “I absolutely love the simplicity of Christmas there,” she remarks. From a workshop in her O’Fallon home, Cowell spends her summers creating the components she’ll need to craft each one-of-a-kind Santa. “I’ll spend a couple of days just molding and making faces, then a couple of days painting, staining and sealing faces, so when I need one, they are ready,” Cowell says. “Same thing with the bodies. I cut out and sew a bunch, make the wire armatures and stuff them. I make a whole bunch of socks and mittens and coats.”

    “I have bins and pull whatever size body I need, and after I dress him in his black pants, then I glue the boots on.” Once the head and coat are in place, she can begin creating each Santa’s story. “That’s when the fun starts,” Cowell says. “I’ll see a picture in my mind . . . and it starts coming together.” “I’m one of those people who has to see my options to create, so when I’m working there is stuff everywhere as I’m matching fabric with props. Is he a hunter? Is he a wildlife lover? Is he a toy repairman?”

    For custom orders, Cowell interviews clients to gather information and has them fill a box with meaningful fabrics and items to incorporate into the design. Afterward, Cowell takes time to think about the Santa she could create, even praying about it before moving forward. “You really do get a piece of my heart when you buy one of my Santas,” she says.

    Most of Cowell’s Santas, which typically range from 14 to 22 inches, are positioned on a base. She likes to use vintage pieces, such as antique silverware boxes or suitcases that she finds in second-hand stores. For Cowell, who has a degree in counseling, transforming discarded items into heirlooms is rewarding.

    “I have a real heart for broken and hurting people, so I like finding something that has been thrown away and turning it into something of incredible worth,” she says. “I’ll find a 1920s suitcase with a burn hole, and my husband can put a piece of wood under the hole, stain it, then I put the Santa on top, and now this old suitcase is a treasure. I bring out its worth.” And its beauty. For more information, visit lindacowelloriginals.com.