Thomas Nast: Morristown’s Master of Political Artistry

With our Presidential campaign season in full swing, we are reminded that Korn Hynes’ home base of Morristown, NJ was also home to one of history’s most influential political illustrators, Thomas Nast (1840–1902). Nast lived in Villa Fontana at 50 Macculloch Avenue (below left) from 1872 to 1892, and in the heart of Morristown, created some of the most potent everlasting imagery in American political discourse.

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Nast’s long tenure as a Harper’s Weekly cartoonist from 1859 to 1886 produced many iconic moments. Taking down “Boss” Tweed’s Tammany Hall with a devastating illustration of the “Tammany Tiger” (above right) cemented his reputation in 1871, but Nast’s most enduring work came in 1874 with his association of the elephant with the Republican Party. In his initial cartoon, the elephant represented Republican voters, but eventually the elephant transitioned into the symbol for the party itself.

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Nast did not create the Democratic Party’s donkey, Uncle Sam or Columbia (the female personification of American values), but his visual depictions and critiques of American politics using these images became the basis for how we see ourselves and our political personalities today.

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Over Nast’s 20-year residency at Villa Fontana, the house became a nexus for Morristown’s artistic community and hosted visitors of global renown including Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain. Now a National Historic landmark, the house is privately owned and restored.

Nast’s influence extended beyond his political work, too. In 1881 he created the modern version of Santa Claus.

Thomas Nast is testament to the power of creativity – one drawing can change the world. And to think he happened right in our backyard.


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