Ho Ho How many?

Willis' collection of vintage light-up Empire Plastics Santas

Willis’ collection of vintage light-up Empire Plastics Santas.

It’s a chilly December night in Portland, Oregon. On the corner of Sixth and East Burnside, up the street from the hipster hangout, Rontoms, a group of Portlanders stand on the sidewalk in front of the window of an office building, staring. Then the comments start. “Isn’t that cool?” “How clever is that?” “How many Santas do you need? ”

150 of them, actually.

For the past two holiday seasons, Portland creative Chris Willis, ’94 Graphic Design, has filled unleased commercial office spaces with his collect ion of vintage light-up Empire Plastics Santas. One look at the glowing apple-cheeked icons makes the nostalgia kick in for those of a certain age. For Willis, they conjure up the warm and welcoming memories of his grandmother’s house during the holidays. As the comments viewers leave behind reveal, the glowing collection evokes similar responses for some. For others, the terra-cotta warrior meets atomic-era kitsch has a different effect: “creepy,” several commenters note. Willis’ take on it? “It’s just fun, nothing more.”

What do you think?

—Peter Caravalho

Originally printed in Washington Square Winter 2012-13

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