There are countless portraits of Kriss Kringle, more each Christmas, but only one artist has earned the moniker of “The Santa Painter.”
Billy Keen's portfolio includes 44 images of Santa Claus – he's been capturing the Jolly Old Elf in paint since 1974 – and they're on display in Overton now through a temporary loan to the Queen Price Garden Club.
“His Santa paintings are not for sale as each one represents something special that happened in Mr. Keen’s life during the year,” according to the organization's Christmas Tour chair, Carolyn Browder..
The art exhibit is open to the public through Jan. 4 during regular hours at Overton's McMillan Memorial Library. Admission is free, and donations are accepted.
“Queen Price Garden Club of Overton’s annual Christmas Tour is the club’s only means of funding scholarships to high school seniors each year,” Browder said, grateful to Keen for loaning his 'Visions of Santa' exhibit as the tour's 2017 headliner. “I found Mr. Keen, quite by accident, while looking through a 2013 issue of 'The Cottage Journal,' contacted him, and he agreed to bring his collection to Overton for the garden club’s 2017 Christmas Tour.”
Special displays were built for the exhibition, handmade by local students among numerous other contributions this year.
“Overton High School agriculture students took on the task of building and installing display units, West Rusk High School culinary arts classes catered the ‘opening night event,' Overton Beta Club students helped decorate downtown Overton,” Browder said, “art students were on hand to assist in installing the collection and residents at the Billy Moore Correctional Unit in Overton constructed an array of holiday figures featured throughout Overton’s main street.
“Others were generous with materials, money and labor. The garden club ladies raised funds necessary to bring 'Visions of Santa' here, and they provided the physical labor to decorate Overton as it has never been before.”
Keen's other artwork – available for purchase – is on display in galleries and museums throughout Texas and New Mexico in addition to various publications and television programs.
“He is very much interested in helping groups like ours,” Browder said, “and fostering our youth and their education.”