Angels: My Quest to Paint a Masculine Angel at Hallmark

It’s the Christmas season, so what could be more appropriate than a story about angels and Hallmark? Okay…I’ll admit I can think of a couple of things, but I thought that was a pretty Christmassy opening sentence.

For me, as a Bible-lover, working on Hallmark holiday product was like walking a tightrope over a yawning vat of pink cotton candy and glitter. On one hand I was excited to be a part of contributing to the shaping of American popular culture in some small way. But on the other hand, it was like trying to deliver a healthy meal as a burger-flipper at McDonalds.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, you might assume that the Bible and Hallmark would go together like a hand and glove. But as a Hallmark artist who often submitted ideas for religious product, I learned that it was almost impossible to find a “nice,” Hallmark sentiment in the Bible. Even though Jesus was all about love and light, He did not seem to have the greeting card industry in mind when proclaiming His message.

It’s way easier to find statements by Jesus that do not work as greeting card sentiments:

To Our Wonderful Son,
“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Matt 18:9)

Congratulations on Your Promotion!
“Truly, I tell you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:23)

It was in a Hallmark store at headquarters that I once saw the worst example ever of a Bible verse twisted into a commercial greeting card sentiment. There was a bookmark with an illustration of a smiling little girl gardening. The bookmark said, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees.” The Bible reference for this gentle environmental sentiment was Revelation 7:3. Wait a minute…Revelation? I had to look that up. Here’s the context:

“Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God’ Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel…”

This passage is describing the apocalypse during the end times destruction of the earth. It immediately follows the opening of the seven seals that include the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” who destroy a fourth of the earth by sword, famine, plague, and death. In the next chapter seven more angels are given trumpets, the first of which introduces the burning up of a third of the earth and trees, and then it gets more horrible from there.

Which brings me back to the subject of angels in the Bible.

They’re not the pastel, Disney-princess-like characters that appear on Hallmark cards. In the New Testament, whenever there is a waking interaction between a human being and an angel, the angel’s first words usually are, “Do not be afraid.” Or, sometimes they have to instruct people not to worship them.  Apparently there is something so imposing about an angelic appearance as to inspire fear and worship.

We see this in the Christmas story when the herald angel appears to the shepherds in the fields. It says the sight of this angel filled them with fear. The book of Hebrews says angelic messengers are like fire and wind (Heb 1:7,14.) Often they are simply described as men with an “appearance like lightning” (Matt 28:2-5.) Never are wings or halos mentioned, and never are angels described as women. In one instance, Jesus seems to indicate that angels are androgynous (Matt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35,36.)

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“Annunciation” – Advent Calendar Stencil, Scott Freeman
Here I experimented with making an angel’s hair resemble flame.

Wings and halos seem like reasonable visual symbols for depicting spirit-beings of light. It doesn’t put my shorts in a twist if somebody wants to depict angels that way. But to depict angels as fragile, placid women from a Jane Austin novel seems to me to mess with the substance of what is depicted in the Bible. As a Hallmark artist, I figured that if I noticed this, then Hallmark’s religious consumer probably noticed it as well. Since Christmas is, after all, a Christian holiday, I thought these consumers might appreciate Christmas cards depicting angels more in fidelity to what the scriptures actually describe.

So I submitted a couple of Christmas card ideas depicting more masculine angels.
I know…I’m such a radical.

I didn’t make them hulking, sweaty warriors with AK-47s, or have them smoking cigars. I simply leaned them away from the popular archetypal Hallmark girly-angel. In other words they didn’t look like Bob Haas angels. You may rightly ask, “Who is Bob Haas?” If you were a Hallmark artist in the 80s & 90s, you knew who Bob Haas was, even if you had never actually seen or touched him. Bob Haas was one of a handful of artists who dwelt at the misty pinnacle of Hallmark’s elaborate hierarchical creative pecking order. In the world of Hallmark artistdom, Bob Haas bore the title of Sr. Master Designer. This was similar to being knighted. In layman’s terms this meant that Bob had made boatloads of money for Hallmark. He was a legendary greeting card artist.

Bob Haas was known for his angels. In fact Bob practically was an angel. Bob was especially known for his popular Christmas angels. He produced a whole series of them while I was at Hallmark. If you are reading this in America, there is a good chance you’ve received a Christmas card bearing one of Bob’s angels. I just got another one last Christmas. You can see it below. You’ll notice it is very girly.

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Why am I going on about Bob Haas? Well, it turns out that both of my masculinized angel card submissions were accepted for production. Guess who my manager picked to shepherd me through the creation of these 2 projects? That is correct – Bob Haas – the King of girly angels; the very guy whose work I was specifically hoping to not resemble. Why did I need to be shepherded? Because at the time I was a mere Redesign Artist 2, well below the halfway point on the hierarchical Hallmark pecking order. Newer Hallmark artists were mentored by seasoned Hallmark artists so that we would not commit greeting card sins. I got the distinct impression that I was supposed to consider it an honor to be mentored by Bob Haas. Silently, I determined to do my very best to treat him as a full equal. Cheerfully, I set out on this adventure, to boldy go where no Hallmarker had gone before; to plunge fearlessly into the crucible of wussy Hallmark angeldom and face the King of girly angels himself.

I must say that my story would be more entertaining if the girly angel King had turned out to be a butthead. Or if he had insisted on making me put mascara, nail polish, and print dresses on my manly angels. But in fact, I ended up liking Bob Haas. He turned out to be an interesting and reasonable person, as well as a knowledgeable artist with a very cool library. It was indeed an honor to work with him.

Happily, my angels ended up going into production (mostly) unneutered. Large, sparkly, greeting card snowflakes began to fall lightly as I saw three ships come sailing in. On Christmas day, bells chimed as I carved the roast beast and everyone joined hands and sang together joyfully in the town square. The Mouse King was dead at last. God blessed us, everyone. It was a wonderful life, and the best Christmas ever. And my angels got their wings. The end.

Manly Angels

Here are the 2 angels as they appeared as finished, boxed Christmas card product…

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This Christmas card was created on my own time, without a Hallmark mentor. There is quite a bit of theology in the angel’s robe. Take a shot at deciphering it and I’ll tell you if you missed anything…

All Hallmark images are reproduced without permission, for educational purposes. Hallmark: Please do not sue me.

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11 comments on “Angels: My Quest to Paint a Masculine Angel at Hallmark

  1. Awesome. Angels do get misrepresented from time to time. 🙂 I especially like how, as part of the finale, you packed in some narrative {& titles} from Christmas classics. Worked well.

  2. Gary Alsum says:

    Hey Scott, if my theology is right in this area I don’t think an angel can be neutered…You probably know what passage I’m thinking of. (once again good article.)

  3. I have to repost this comment from my Facebook thread because it made me laugh:

    Claire Pepperd:
    This is perhaps the best piece I have read in a long time. It HAS always bothered me but since Fra Angelico girly-fied Gabriel and the trend never lapsed, I gave up hope. You now have me sifting through old Christmas cards looking at angels. Hence, I am covered in glitter

  4. Marsha says:

    This is good writing. I probably would have bought the girlified yet beautiful angels, but I LOVE the non-Hallmark angel you created.

  5. Thank you, Marsha, for your encouraging words.

  6. Sharon says:

    I really like the two masculine angels you created. Where can I buy them?

    • Thanks Sharon, I’m glad you like them. I created them when I worked at Hallmark, so Hallmark owns the rights. They were available as boxed Christmas cards sometime in the 90’s, but are no longer available unless Hallmark should decide to reprint them. I left Hallmark about 13 years ago.
      Maybe I’ll make my own some day and offer them online…

  7. Sue Conrad says:

    Bob is my brother and I believe he would like your story. He’s no longer at Hallmark but his angel cards live on. Thank you

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