Mr. Christmas added to Christmas displays at visitor center

Published 12:02 am Thursday, December 6, 2018


NATCHEZ — The classic International Paper Company Christmas displays at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, 640 S. Canal St., Natchez, has a new addition, and it’s not one of the original pieces created by Lanus Hammack between 1955 and 1973.

Instead, the latest addition is an image of Hammack, the artist himself, created by Burnley Cook. a local restoration enthusiast who restored the works created by Hammack.

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Each year, Cook arranges the display of the restored hand-painted, wooden Christmas decorations that adorned the International Paper Company property from 1955 until the energy crisis ended the tradition in 1973. Several of the decorations were refurbished by International paper employees and displayed during the holidays from 1993 until the plant closed in 2003.

Cook said he created the portrait of Hammack to pay tribute to the artist, and to properly credit Hammack for creating the decorations.

“So many people say, ‘Oh, we love what you did,’” Cook said, “and I try to explain to them, I’m just redoing what he had already done.”

Cook said he personally painted the portrait of Hammack and tried to emulate Hammack’s style in the painting, which is a bust of Hammack’s head and shoulders with elves standing on Hammack’s shoulders.

Cook said he created the portrait working from a picture of Hammack that appeared in The Natchez Democrat.

Also a part of the tribute display, which Cook said he positioned near the beginning of the exhibit, is a sign painted in red calligraphic script, that reads: “These displays are dedicated to the memory of Lanus hammock, ‘Mr. Christmas,’ and to his helpers at the International Paper Mill. His original designs — as presented here — brought so much happiness to so many children of all ages.”

Cook said he was fortunate to have befriended Hammack in the last few years of Hammack’s life before he died in 2013 at the age of 90 and that Hammack saw the restored Christmas decorations displayed at the visitor center.

“He did get to see what he did at visitors center,” Cook said. “He was all smiles; looked at everything. …

“I wanted to make sure his name was attached to this.”