Christmas of Cool: The Peter Norton Family Christmas Art Project

The Peter Norton Family Christmas Art Project is the epitome of cool. Beyond the beauty, the process and its production benefits many people in very interesting ways.
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The Peter Norton Family Christmas Art Project is the epitome of cool. Beyond the beauty, the process and its production benefits many people in very interesting ways. Their family holiday project sets a beautiful example, one that should inspire like-minded endeavors.

Every year since 1988, the Norton Family sends a limited edition gift to a wide list of friends. The beautifully packaged object has been commissioned by an artist. Over the years, the item has been a porcelain ashtray, a printed fan, a woven blanket, a lifesaver, a dollhouse and a crazy coffee cup. It is always unique, beautiful and fascinating.

It's also exciting. On a warm mid-December day in 2000, I was standing in a long line at Terminal Annex, the old W.P.A. post office in Los Angeles. I was holding a yellow card that had been placed in my P.O. Box. It was marked for an over-sized parcel. I knew what it had to be and I was excited. It just had to be the Norton Family gift. What would I get this year? My anticipation volcanized with the intensity of a five-year-old kid. The year before, we were given a choice of a Vic Muniz ashtray or porcelain plate. Naturally, Santa gave me the ashtray.

The postal clerk took my yellow card and sauntered to the back room. She returned with a very tall and very unusual box. The people in the long line behind me murmured with curiosity. The white cardboard box was a beautifully constructed pyramid, about three feet tall. Casually, I held it high so everyone could see. 2010-12-10-murakami2.jpg

I raced home, breaking the speed limit, running the stop signs.

Back in the studio, I carefully opened the pyramid without damaging the box, the container being a work of art unto itself. The shipping label featured a starburst design in subtle colors.

Carefully I opened the box, to reveal, a dazzling sculpture, by the superstar artist Takashi Murakami! Amazing. Ecstatic. Life can be swell!

The recipient of such a gift is also blessed with a sense of wonder and delight. This is not an unsentimental gift card or a corporate tchotchke. This clever item was made just for you and a few others. It has no practical value or function other than to delight or stimulate. The object quickly becomes a cherished possession.

The gift recipient is not the only one to be pleased. The sponsors of an art project have created a very unique and beautiful gesture. They must feel triumphant. And they had fun too, watching, fostering and participating in the design and manufacture process. They have created a circle of very cool and capable people to adventure with. The artist has received a great honor and a stipend. The project favors the gallerist who nurtures the event. Various manufacturers, fabricators and assemblers provide the elements and parts. The art project generates economic activity. Truckers, messengers and utilities provide services. A number of these art works are donated to non-profit institutions to be used as fundraisers. Many benefit from such an art project. This beau geste casts a very wide net.

The Peter Norton Family Christmas Art Project is brilliant to behold. It creates an outstanding cycle of activity. Much can be written about each object d'art, from the artistic inspiration to the battles between the creative process and the demands of manufacturing. How do they do that?

Over a series of articles, we will dissect the many steps, turns and issues of an art project. Many more great families can embrace a similar and wholly unique directive. An art project is not exclusive to Christmas. Every museum, institution and corporation can foster a project. In an effort to encourage others to launch their own annual or biannual effort, we will reveal the process. What does it cost? Who does what? How and why? The world needs your participation. After all, couldn't everyday be like Christmas?

Look for Parts II through VII coming in 2011.

Takashi Murakami and the Peter Norton Family Christmas Art Project

Christmas of Cool: The Inspiration of the Peter Norton Family Christmas Art Project

GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based artist and writer. His visual and literary works can be found at He has a long history as a fabricator. His Disneyesque conceptual piece, the Fellowship of Fortuna begins at

Photos by Gordy Grundy

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