As I have matured in years and in my faith, I no longer believe that things happen by coincidence. I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, and if we let Him guide and direct us, we will encounter people and places and circumstances that can literally change our lives.
Such a thing happened to me in 1998 when I was visiting the Southeastern Wildlife Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. I was working for a printing firm at the time and we were specializing in producing limited-edition fine-art reproductions for artists. I had admired the work of wildlife artist Ralph J. McDonald for a number of years, and he happened to be exhibiting his work at the exhibition.
Ralph and I struck up a conversation and he commented, "Hey, you look just like Santa Claus! You would make a perfect model for my annual Santa Claus painting. Would you be interested?" Well, this was like asking a kid if he wanted a piece of candy! My wife tells me my head swelled two hat sizes over the offer as I quickly replied that I would be interested.
Sure enough, in July of that same year Ralph invited me to his Gallatin, TN home where we spent the entire weekend visiting and photographing me in my various Santa Claus outfits and talking about possible subjects for his paintings. He and his wife were gracious hosts and a friendship began that we still enjoy today, more than twenty-five annual Christmas paintings later.
Here is the first image that was released of me as Ralph's Santa model. It is called "The Christmas Story." Ralph's previous experience as an illustrator for Sunday school literature gave him the perfect training for including the Nativity scene in the painting, "the Real meaning of Christmas," and his skill and reputation as a wildlife artist enabled him to authentically depict the animals of the forest that Santa was telling "The Christmas Story" too. But I will tell you a little "insider's secret." It was close to 90 degrees and I was sitting on the edge of his pool in his backyard, sweltering in the heat. The rest of the composition came from the artist's imagination.
You can purchase reproductions of this painting as well as other images by Ralph McDonald and other artists i am privileged to work with on my website at www.cliffkringle.com. I am blessed to be able to collaborate with such talented individuals as together we spread the Good News of the "Christ"mas season.