Artist Jack Sorenson spends most of the year in the Christmas spirit, painting his popular cowboy Santa scenes.
The Christmas spirit fills Western artist Jack Sorenson’s studio in September and lasts through February. It might be 80-plus degrees outside his studio in Amarillo, Texas, but that doesn’t stop his wife, Jeanne, from hanging holiday decorations, turning on Christmas music and turning up the air conditioner. It’s all a ploy to get her husband in the mood to paint for the holiday season.
In the fall, Sorenson begins creating Christmas paintings that tell stories about the Western lifestyle and sometimes include cowboy Santa Claus characters. Some of the paintings are sent to Leanin’ Tree, a Colorado-based greeting card company that has printed 108 of his paintings on cards. Two or three paintings go to Joe Wade Fine Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they are quickly sold to avid collectors on a waiting list for one of Sorenson’s holiday paintings. The past four years, the artist has created a painting for Boot Barn’s annual holiday campaign, which is due in February or March. Painting images of Christmas at least half of the year doesn’t bother Sorenson, however.
“I love Christmas; I’m a nut for it and always have been,” he says. “I think I’ve done more Christmas paintings than any other living Western artist because I paint for these companies and have become known for my cowboy Santas. I’ve been doing them so long I’ve gone through four different Santa models.”
Sorenson just finished the 70th Christmas painting he’s done since becoming a fulltime artist in 1974, and 24 of those include a cowboy Santa.
“I used to draw original Christmas cards for my friends and family, about 10 of them each year,” he says. “That’s when I started doing the cowboy Santa. I’d never seen a realistic painting of a cowboy Santa, just cartoons.”
Sorenson never wanted to paint the mystical Santa Claus, but rather a cowboy that looked like him so the viewer can decide if it’s an ordinary man delivering gifts, or if it’s really the jolly man himself.
Western Horseman has featured Sorenson’s work on its covers a dozen times starting in 1994. Half of those covers were Christmas paintings for December issues. One of his motivations for painting Christmas scenes was the cover of the December 1956 issue of Western Horseman with George Phippen’s painting The Boss Has a Young’un.
“I thought it was the perfect Christmas painting because it had the spirit of the cowboy and Christmas in it,” Sorenson recalled in an interview for the December 2014 issue with is painting A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer on the cover. “I’m always striving to do a Christmas painting as iconic as Phippen’s.”
Sorenson’s love for Christmas started when he was a child growing up in Canyon, Texas.
“It was my job as a kid to cut down the Christmas tree and help my mom decorate it,” he recalls. “After we’d trim the cedar trees we’d make wreathes, and I can remember the smell filling the house. We were pretty poor and didn’t get a lot of [gifts], except all sorts of candy in our stockings at Christmas.”
This Christmas, Sorenson is receiving a custom hat with the 6-inch crown he wears. He and his wife will also be surrounded by their children and grandchildren.
“We like to play games and have the fireplace going,” he says. “My wife makes a feast and if it’s not too muddy we ride horses into Palo Duro Canyon with the grandkids.”
Riding horses and being around ranches his entire life has given Sorenson plenty of ideas for holiday paintings.
“My blessing is I’m never at a loss for ideas,” he says. “I have 25 paintings sketched out, and by the time I get those done I’ll have that many new ones. There are a million storylines, and my job is to encapsulate them into one image. The simpler the image the more powerful it becomes. I have people tell me they remember a painting from years ago. They usually can’t remember the actual painting, but they remember the story.”
When it comes to stories of Santa Claus, Sorenson remains a child at heart.
“Of course I believe in Santa Claus,” he says. “He’s been very good to me.”