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He's got an 84-year-old Rudolph relic

Pine Knot subscriber Billy Anderson shared his own piece of Christmas history: an original "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" book. Handed down to him by his grandmother, Claudia Johnson, the book was definitely read and loved over the years.

The cute rhyming underdog (or is that under-reindeer?) story was written by Montgomery Ward advertising copywriter Robert Lewis May in 1939, because officials at the department store chain wanted to attract customers by giving away a free Christmas story. Ward came up with Rudolph, and Montgomery Ward gave away 2.4 million copies of May's book the first year.

One of those books now belongs to Anderson.

Like May - a writer who dreamed of writing the great American novel, according to numerous stories - Anderson has learned how to make a living from his craft as a "diversified" commercial artist. He wraps up a 40-year career at Northern Printery at the end of the month when the printery closes, then can be found at CreativEdge Designs in Carlton.

"I used to love looking at my grandma's comics," said Anderson, who owns many art books. "I would look at how things were drawn - I'd be looking 'oh, that's how he draws their eyes, nose, whatever' - and that's how I became a man of a thousand faces."

The same original Rudolph book in good condition might garner close to $1,000 on Ebay, but Anderson's slightly waterstained copy would likely fetch closer to a couple hundred dollars. He said he loves the book for what it is, not for its potential value.

He said his grandparents lived the generous Christmas spirit. His grandfather was the head locomotive engineer at the roundhouse in Cloquet.

"Grandpa would take all the hobos and bring them to Grandma's house for meals and Christmases and things like that," Anderson said of their home at "the top of Third Street" in Cloquet. Anderson lives on 14th Street; he calls his home "Anderson's Art Farm."

"It's just a little hobby farm, and I do a little bit of everything," he said.

The artist is also a talented whittler, and brought more than a dozen Santa Christmas ornaments he's carved and painted over the years. Each carving takes a few hours, so he doesn't sell them.

He shows how a branch on a piece of driftwood inspired a nose. Most of his carvings are made from basswood because it doesn't have grain, making it easier to carve.

The Santa figures come out at Christmas time, along with the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer book, bringing more Christmas cheer to the art farm.

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