Thomas Nast (/næst/; German: [nast]; September 27, 1840 – December 7, 1902) was a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist often considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon". He was a critic of Democratic Representative "Boss" Tweed and the Tammany Hall Democratic party political machine. Among his notable works were the creation of the modern version of Santa Claus (based on the traditional German figures of Sankt Nikolaus and Weihnachtsmann) and the political symbol of the elephant for the Republican Party (GOP). Contrary to popular belief, Nast did not create Uncle Sam (the male personification of the United States Federal Government), Columbia (the female personification of American values), or the Democratic donkey, though he did popularize these symbols through his artwork. Nast was associated with the magazine Harper's Weekly from 1859 to 1860 and from 1862 until 1886.
Nast's cartoons frequently had numerous sidebars and panels with intricate subplots to the main cartoon. A Sunday feature could provide hours of entertainment and highlight social causes. After 1870, Nast favored simpler compositions featuring a strong central image. He based his likenesses on photographs.
In the early part of his career, Nast used a brush and ink wash technique to draw tonal renderings onto the wood blocks that would be carved into printing blocks by staff engravers. The bold cross-hatching that characterized Nast's mature style resulted from a change in his method that began with a cartoon of June 26, 1869, which Nast drew onto the wood block using a pencil, so that the engraver was guided by Nast's linework. This change of style was influenced by the work of the English illustrator John Tenniel.
A recurring theme in Nast's cartoons is racism and anti-Catholicism. Nast was baptized a Catholic at the Saint Maria Catholic Church in Landau, and for a time received Catholic education in New York City. When Nast converted to Protestantism remains unclear, but his conversion was likely formalized upon his marriage in 1861. (The family were practicing Episcopalians at St. Peter's in Morristown.) Nast considered the Catholic Church to be a threat to American values. According to his biographer, Fiona Deans Halloran, Nast was "intensely opposed to the encroachment of Catholic ideas into public education". When Tammany Hall proposed a new tax to support parochial Catholic schools, he was outraged. His savage 1871 cartoon "The American River Ganges", depicts Catholic bishops, guided by Rome, as crocodiles moving in to attack American school children as Irish politicians prevent their escape. He portrayed public support for religious education as a threat to democratic government. The authoritarian papacy in Rome, ignorant Irish Americans, and corrupt politicians at Tammany Hall figured prominently in his work. Nast favored nonsectarian public education that mitigated differences of religion and ethnicity. However, in 1871 Nast and Harper's Weekly supported the Republican-dominated board of education in Long Island in requiring students to hear passages from the King James Bible, and his educational cartoons sought to raise anti-Catholic and anti-Irish fervor among Republicans and independents.
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