The Art of the Mascot

Wise Owl, circa 1900s-1910s<br />

Wise Owl, circa 1900s-1910s.

As mascots grew in popularity, artists, sculptors, designers, and even illustrators began to inspire the creation of specific mascots and even make them themselves. The more elaborate mascots were likely reserved for special events or parades and were not meant for the everyday automobile. Some mascots were directly inspired by artists’ representations of society and social trends.

Saint George and the Dragon, circa 1920s

The legend of Saint George and the Dragon has influenced artists for centuries, including Carl Kauba. His sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon that has been repurposed as an automotive mascot is unique and shows that mascots could be, and were, true works of art. 

Vienna, Austria, circa 1900<br />

Vienna, Austria, circa 1900, from Wikimedia Commons.

Carl Kauba (1865-1922), also known as Carl Thenn, was a sculptor born in Vienna, Austria. Between 1895 and 1912, his intricate polychrome bronze sculptures were imported into the United States. Interestingly, Kauba’s works focused on the American West and Native Americans even though most scholars believe that he never traveled to the United States, or if he did it was only for a short time. He was inspired by the stories and accounts of others and would rely on artifacts to create his bronzes. Using various patinas on a single statue, Kauba was able to add color to his bronzes which created a unique depth to his pieces. 

Many art critics believe that his portrayals of the American West and Native Americans put him in the same category as distinguished Western artists Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell.

Saint George and the Dragon, circa 1920s<br />

Saint George and the Dragon, circa 1920s.

The intricately detailed automotive mascot Saint George and the Dragon clearly shows the skill and artistic vision that Kauba was able to render using bronze. The mascot depicts a fully dressed knight with a flowing cape riding an armored horse rearing over a writhing dragon. The knight wields a sword in his right hand and holds the horse’s reins in his left. The dragon, pierced through by a lance, opens its mouth wide exposing its teeth and long tongue. With his notable skill, Kauba was able to capture the famous legend of Saint George and the dragon.

Best-known as the patron saint of England (as well as Portugal, Georgia, Lithuania, and Greece), Saint George may be one of Christianity’s most famous saints. The story of Saint George is shrouded in myth and legend making it difficult to determine true historical fact. Some scholars suggest that he never truly existed or that he is a Christianized version of an even older pagan myth. Nevertheless, the story of Saint George is a story that has been told for centuries.

Legenda Aurea, circa 1290, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence<br />

Legenda Aurea, circa 1290, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, from Wikimedia Commons.

In 1260, the Legenda Aurea was written by Jacobus da Varagine as a collection of the legendary stories about the lives of saints of the medieval church. Over 200 years later, in 1483, it was translated into English by William Caxton. With this English translation, Caxton’s The Golden Legend and the story of Saint George achieved mass circulation.

George is believed to have lived during the late 3rd century CE and was born in Cappadocia, current day Turkey, to Christian parents. He soon became a soldier in the Roman army and rose to the rank of Tribune. One day, he came to the city of Silene in Libya, “[a]nd by this city was a stagne or a pond like a sea, herein was a dragon which envenomed all the country.”

Saint George combattant le dragon, 1509-1510<br />

Saint George combattant le dragon, 1509-1510, by Michel Colombe, from Wikimedia Commons.

To prevent the dragon from harming anyone, the people of Silene gave the dragon two sheep a day to feed him. Soon this wasn’t enough, and the people of Silene started to give the dragon one person, chosen by lot, and one sheep. The lot soon fell to the king’s daughter, and even though the king begged his people for her life, she was still to be sacrificed like all of the others to the dragon.

Saint George Killing the Dragon, 1501-1504<br />

Saint George Killing the Dragon, 1501-1504 by Albrecht Dürer, from Wikimedia Commons.

She was taken to the dragon, and as she waited George passed by and asked her what was going on. As she told him what was happening, “the dragon appeared and came running to them, and Saint George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground.”

George asked the princess for her belt which he put around the dragon’s neck, and the dragon followed them to the city “as it had been a meek beast and debonair.” As they led the dragon back to the city, it terrified the people of Silene. George offered to then kill the dragon if they converted to Christianity and be baptized.

After the king consented, all 15,000 people were baptized, “and Saint George slew the dragon and smote off his head, and commanded that he should be thrown in the fields.” The king then built a church where the dragon died, and from its altar a spring flowed that was able to cure all disease.

Saint George Battles the Dragon,  1606-1608<br />

Saint George Battles the Dragon, 1606-1608 by Peter Paul Rubens, from Wikimedia Commons.

After killing the dragon, The Golden Legend goes on to detail the martyrdom of Saint George. Saint George objected to the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian and resigned from the Roman military. He was soon imprisoned and tortured, his captors trying to force him to renounce his faith. Saint George prayed and kept his faith, but he was beheaded.

Carl Kauba was able to capture the legendary story of Saint George and the Dragon in his sculpture. Through his mastery of bronze, he was able to create an exceedingly elegant and well-crafted piece of art that was turned into an automotive mascot.

Gibson Girl, circa 1910s<br />

Gibson Girl, circa 1910s.

Gibson Girl, circa 1910s

The Gibson Girl mascot depicts a young, statuesque, narrow-waisted feminine figure draped in a long gown with upswept hair revealing the long line of her neck. She elegantly tilts her wide-brim hat to the right as if adjusting it to block the sun. The appropriately named Gibson Girl mascot clearly references the Gibson Girl illustrations by artist Charles Dana Gibson.

Charles Dana Gibson, date unknown<br />

Charles Dana Gibson, date unknown, Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Dana Gibson (September 14, 1867 – December 23, 1944) was an American artist best known for his creation of the Gibson Girl illustrations. Charles was born into a wealthy New England family, and when he was a boy he would watch his father cut silhouettes. He soon began cutting silhouettes himself, and by the time he was 14 he gained an apprenticeship as a sculptor. Soon realizing his skill did not lie in three-dimensional work, he turned to pen-and-ink illustrations and cartoons.

 A "Gibson Girl" portrait by Charles Dana Gibson, circa 1891<br />

A "Gibson Girl" portrait by Charles Dana Gibson, circa 1891. This iconic image was selected by the U.S. Post Office for a 32 cent postage stamp first released on February 3, 1998, from Wikimedia Commons.

In 1886, when Charles was 19, he sold his first illustration to Life magazine, after having been rejected by almost every other magazine company in New York. His interests and artistic focus were in portraying high society characters and poking fun at their idiosyncrasies. His assignments with Life began to increase, and he took the opportunity to study in Paris, which greatly improved his artistic skill.

With the incorporation of Charles’ first drawing in the March 25th, 1886 issue, Life saw circulation increase. It was clear that it was Charles’ drawings that were selling magazines, as his monthly salary increased from $33 to $185. Charles’ illustrations were widely known and were sought after not only for their content but due to the quality of the drawing. He was known to create his detailed drawings on a large scale, and then reduce them in size for publishing, which allowed for greater and finer detail in his works.

"Love in a Garden" by Charles Dana Gibson, 1901<br />

"Love in a Garden" by Charles Dana Gibson, 1901, from Wikimedia Commons.

In 1890, Charles started drawing the Gibson Girl which not only skyrocketed his career, but also created national sensation and changed the way America viewed and thought about women. By the 1890s, women were pushing for progressive sociopolitical change and reform, and the image of women as more independent, well-read, athletic, free-spirited, working, educated and attending college took hold. But as progressive reform grew, two cultural images evolved - the New Woman and the Gibson Girl.

The New Woman and the Gibson Girl are very similar but with some stark differences in their portrayals and public perception. Unlike the New Woman, the Gibson Girl was not a suffragette and would not be found challenging politics. She was depicted as a sweeter, more docile New Woman, who had attitude but was above all beautiful and anonymous. Some scholars believe The Gibson Girl was seen as not assuming traditionally masculine roles or challenging and disrupting social order, unlike the New Woman; however, she simultaneously undermined and supported social change for women.

"The Weaker Sex, II" by Charles Dana Gibson, 1903<br />

"The Weaker Sex, II" by Charles Dana Gibson, 1903. Drawing shows four "Gibson Girls" observing a diminutive man through a magnifying glass; one woman is about to poke the man with a hat pin, from Wikimedia Commons.

The popularity of the Gibson Girl grew and soon became the image of the ideal American woman. She was an upper-class woman dressed in the latest fashions, embraced the outdoors, and enjoyed singing or playing the violin. The depiction of the Gibson Girl as a tall and slender woman with a tiny waist who has her hair styled off her neck in a contemporary bouffant or chignon transformed the standard of beauty. The Gibson Girl was a marketing tool that had immense power both over the fashion industry and general society, as images of her were found on dishes, pillows, shoes, and even wallpaper. 

"Picturesque America, Anywhere Along the Coast" by Charles Dana Gibson, circa 1900<br />

"Picturesque America, Anywhere Along the Coast" by Charles Dana Gibson, circa 1900, from Wikimedia Commons.

The accurate design of the Gibson Girl automotive mascot emphasizes the popularity of Charles Dana Gibson’s illustrations and the popularity of the Gibson Girl ideal. With the start of World War I, the Gibson Girl’s popularity declined, allowing the iconic flapper image to prosper in the 1920s.

Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, circa 1480-1490 by Hieronymus Bosch<br />

Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, circa 1480-1490 by Hieronymus Bosch, from Wikimedia Commons.

Saint Christopher with Child, circa 1920s and Saint Christopher I, circa 1890s

Saint Christopher is considered to be the patron saint of travelers and transportation, which made his depiction a popular subject for automotive mascots. He became a symbol of protection for automobile drivers, and with his well-known story has become a popular Christian saint. While there are no primary sources that reference Saint Christopher, the stories and traditions about him have continued throughout history.

One of the most popular accounts of the story of Saint Christopher comes from William Caxton’s The Golden Legend, which was a translation of Jacobus da Varagine’s Legenda Aurea (1260), a collection of the legendary lives of saints of the medieval church.

According to The Golden Legend, Saint Christopher may have been named Reprobus and was extremely tall, strong, and had a “fearsome face.” He wanted to serve the most powerful king in the world, supposedly his local king of Canaan. As Christopher was doing his duty, he saw the king cross himself at the mention of the devil. 

When Christopher asked the king why he crossed himself, the king answered, “Always when I hear the devil named, I fear that he should have power over me, and I garnish me with this sign that he grieve ne annoy me.”

Saint Christopher, color lithograph, date unknown<br />

Saint Christopher, color lithograph, date unknown, from Wikimedia Commons.

After learning that the king feared the devil, Christopher left the king in search of this more powerful king. Christopher then came across a group of cruel knights who called themselves the devil, and Christopher began to serve them. Later, when the group came to a cross, the man who called himself the devil avoided the cross. When Christopher questioned the man’s fear of the cross, the man said, “There was a man called Christ which was hanged on the cross, and when I see his sign I am sore afraid and flee from it wheresoever I see it.”

Christopher left the man who called himself the devil and went in search of this king called Christ. During his travels in search for Christ, Christopher met a hermit who taught him about Christianity. When Christopher asked the hermit how best to serve Christ, the hermit suggested prayer and fasting. Christopher, a large man who was more often hungry than not, objected. The hermit then suggested that Christopher help people across a nearby river where many people had died trying to cross.

Saint Christopher from Buxheim on the Upper Rhine woodcut print, 1423<br />

Saint Christopher from Buxheim on the Upper Rhine woodcut print, 1423, from Wikimedia Commons.

Christopher began his service and using his size and strength helped many people across the river. One day, a child approached the river and asked Christopher to help him. Christopher put the child on his shoulders and began to make his way across the river. Soon, the river rose, and the child became extremely heavy. Once Christopher got the child to the other side of the river, he asked the child why he was so heavy. According to The Golden Legend, the child then explained that he was Christ, and when Christopher had carried him he was also carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. After the child vanished, Christopher began traveling and spreading the word of Christ.

He arrived in Lycia and witnessed the persecution of Christians and tried to comfort them in their martyrdom. Later, after several attempts were made on Christopher’s life, and after they failed, he was beheaded and martyred in 251 CE.

Saint Christopher with Child, circa 1920s<br />

Saint Christopher with Child, circa 1920s.

As Saint Christopher’s story spread over time, many versions of Saint Christopher were created for automotive mascots such as Saint Christopher with Child, circa 1920s.

Another example of Saint Christopher as a mascot was created in the 1890s by Charles Sykes for Lord Montagu of Beaulieu for his 1899 Daimler.

John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, Second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, circa 1915<br />

John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, Second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, circa 1915, from Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Robinson Sykes (December 18, 1875 – June 6, 1950) was the English sculptor who is also known for his subsequent design of the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot for Rolls-Royce. 

Lord Montagu, also known as John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, Second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, was a British politician. With his love for motorsports and motorcars, he was possibly the first to drive a gasoline-powered vehicle into the House of Commons yard.

Saint Christopher I, circa 1890s<br />

Saint Christopher I, circa 1890s.

The Saint Christopher I mascot Sykes made for Lord Montagu depicts Saint Christopher as a bearded monk-like figure in a long-hooded robe, with his left hand shading his eyes and his right hand holding the top of a staff. Possibly depicting Saint Christopher as he traveled spreading the word of Christ and Christianity.

To this day, Saint Christopher is thought to protect motorists. Many modern drivers will have a Saint Christopher coin, charm, or even statuette in their car in the hopes he will look over them.

The Art of the Mascot