Sunday, December 23, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Newcomer on block calls Santa display art, but Bremerton neighbors repulsed

Seattle Times staff reporter

It's not so much the Santa impaled on the cross in front of Art Conrad's Bremerton home, it's the headless Santa that sings carols on his front porch that has neighbors crying humbug.

"It's horrible and gruesome," said Vickie Marquina, who lives near Conrad on Olympic Avenue. "It's offensive, and Santa with no head is just horrid."

Conrad, 52, who just moved into the house, said his Santa-on-a-cross is his personal protest against the commercialization of Christmas.

The headless Santa on his porch is the unfortunate result: He needed a Santa head for his cross display, so he pilfered it from his singing Santa.

Basically, said Conrad, who works in real estate, his display is art, and the fact that it hasn't been greeted with universal warmth is a sign of good art.

"It's perhaps a little controversial," Conrad acknowledged. "My intent is no religious connotation."

Conrad isn't anti-Christmas, but to him the holiday is a celebration of family. "That's how I've always celebrated it," he said. "We always treasured Christmas. It's a time we all got together."

But the commercialization of Christmas, with displays appearing before Halloween, drove Conrad to erect his unusual display.

"Santa has been co-opted by our corporations as a symbol of consumerism. Every year Christmas comes earlier and earlier," he said.

To build his 15-foot-tall Santa-on-a-cross, Conrad used an old Santa costume his cousin used to wear, but it obviously didn't have a head. So he had to take it off his animated Santa.

He said he'd been planning to do the display for several years, but didn't pull it off until this year. He's taken pictures of his display and is using it in his Christmas cards, with such messages as "Santa died for your MasterCard" and "Have a slightly demented Christmas."

"My whole intent is some of the cards from Hallmark don't speak to Christmas for me," he said.

Neighbors such as Marquina aren't taken with Conrad's unusual display. "It's the most repulsive thing I've ever seen," said another neighbor, Louise Nelson. "I'm not proud of it at all."

Conrad, who has no children, knows his display isn't setting well with some neighbors, but said he quizzed kids getting off a school bus who told him they thought his Santa was "cool."

His display has nothing to do with religion, he said, and he's not a religious person.

Conrad also said he was trying to use his display to criticize political correctness that he said is being shoved down people's throats.

"People are afraid of taking any steps outside the bounds for fear of being politically incorrect," Conrad said. "I fear we're in a state of fear."

Will this become an annual tradition for Conrad? Not likely, he said.

"Like [environmental sculptor] Christo, once you do an installation you don't do it again. This is my year for this. I don't see the need to do it again."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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