John Falter: Reflections of America: A Career That Included 129 Saturday Evening Post Covers Qualifies This Prolific Artist to Be Immortalized in the American Illustrators Hall of Fame

By Pettinga, Steve; Stoddard, Maynard Good | The Saturday Evening Post, May-June 1991 | Go to article overview

John Falter: Reflections of America: A Career That Included 129 Saturday Evening Post Covers Qualifies This Prolific Artist to Be Immortalized in the American Illustrators Hall of Fame


Pettinga, Steve, Stoddard, Maynard Good, The Saturday Evening Post


"You won't be an artist until you've put a cover on The Saturday Evening Post," George H. Falter told his son, John, not realizing that challenge would become one of the most important moments in the youong man's life. By focusing his energies on this cherished goal, John Falter would succeed in painting more than 120 covers for the magazine that his father regarded as the ultimate publication in its field.

Today, it is with much pride that we celebrate John Falter and place his work in the Illustrators Hall of Fame, now housed in our SatEvePost headquarters in Indianapolis.

John Philip Falter, born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska in 1910, began sketching at the age of two, on a chalk board supplied by his mother. His first commission came from a local soda shop that paid the budding artist in chocolate milk shakes for a well-executed mural. Falter continued to draw, sketch and paint at an inspired pace for the rest of his life, completing, by his own estimate, more than 5,000 paintings, some of which hang in eminent museums throughout America.

This output is not at all surprising considering that Falter awoke every morning at 3 o'clock to concentrate on the work in progress, and that he painted until 5:30 p.m. six days a week.

Natural ability and desire were not enough for John Falter. He began his formal art training at the Kansas City Art Institute, graduating at age 20, and continued his studies at New York Art Student's Art League and the Grand Central School of Art before feeling qualified to tackle the "big time."

At first the big time was not all that big. His work appeared in minor "pulp" magazines, small book illustrations, and a few advertisements, but John Falter's talent soon landed him assignments at such prestigious magazines as Liberty, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, Life, and Look.

With the onset of World War II, the artist interrupted his career to enlist in the Navy. From chief boatswain's mate he was soon promoted to lieutenant on special art assignment. As such, he designed over 300 posters and other materials for the Navy's recruiting program. While still in service uniform he landed a contract with Esquire calling for 12 illustrations honoring the American soldiers. At the same time, he succeeded in adding The Saturday Evening Post to his cover assignments.

His first Post cover, January 16, 1943, was a portrait of who else but Benjamin Franklin. Falter took the assignment very seriously. A thorough researcher, he first read Carl Van Doren's biography of Franklin. In depicting his famous subject as Commissioner to France, Falter later explained that he wanted Franklin to be "as human as Willkie, as alive as Roosevelt, and as much a part of things today as any man we have living. It is a mistake to try to push such men back into a period."

Falter's work soon evolved into a style and character that would delight Post readers for the next 19 years. Tragicomic elements of everyday life in America, a minor broken rule, simple pleasures, beautiful renderings of rural and urban scenes, all done with true artistic passion, became Falter's hallmark.

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