Unique Christmas Card Collage Designed by John Cage

Executed by Paul and Ethel Hultberg for Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc.

(November 2019)

In 1956, John Cage and Merce Cunningham were fundraising for a dance recital in Rockland County, NY. 

Along with John’s and Merce’s close friends since 1948, enamel artist, Paul Hultberg and his artist wife, Ethel Hultberg, they approached Jack Lenor Larsen to help fund the performance. Interior designer Barbara Dorn had introduced Cage to Larsen in 1952 and around the same time Paul Hultberg had been hired to produce some textile designs for Larsen.

As a way of contributing to the recital, Jack Larsen commissioned John Cage to design the 1956 Xmas card for his company. At that time, Cage and the Hultbergs were living in the Gate Hill Artists’ Cooperative in Stony Point, NY (comprised primarily by former Black Mountain College residents).

Cage took breakfast with the Hultbergs most mornings at their kitchen table, where Cage proposed making an unfolding card on newsprint that would fit into a lightweight elegant box that could be mailed out to Jack’s clients and friends. 

Cage designed the card, chose the letter shapes and sizes and decided on the placement and composition. Paul Hultberg supplied the letters according to Cage’s specifications, and he and Ethel cut everything out and pasted it up at their kitchen table. The resulting collage was 70” long and 12” wide. The original collage was taken to local commercial printer to be printed, folded and mailed in a lightweight box to Jack’s friends and clients. 

According to the John Cage Trust, “On Dec. 14, 1956, John Cage submitted an invoice to Jack Lenor Larsen related to his work for Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc., an exciting upstart textile firm in New York City. The total amount was $9.77, reimbursement being requested for the cost of newspapers ($3.60), paper-fasteners ($5.67), and "Mother's" paper bags ($.50).  For Cage, the work had been a pleasure, and in his brief letter he expressed the hope that Larsen would call on him again.  As he added at the close, he was again near ‘financial zero,’ and trusted that Larsen would expedite payment of his invoice.”

Larsen was pleased with the card and asked Cage to design another Xmas card in 1957, which he did. It was the beginning of a 40 year long professional relationship during which Cage was Larsen’s artistic director.

Cage gave the Hultbergs the original collage, the only known copy, that is going to be displayed by Moderne Gallery at The Salon.