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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.

"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. "It has to be a love affair every time," Falter said. "If you aren't in love with what you are trying to put on canvas, you better quit."

A unique style emerges from John Falter's paintings. His masterful treatment of light stems from his love of the outdoors and his practical knowledge of nature's many moods. It is interesting to note that the artist always painted from the south--that is, in viewing a Falter scene, you are always looking north. Falter later described his painting technique. He began with the most distant objects and then traveled with his brush toward himself, filling in the painting as he went.

By the late '40s, Falter began to loosen up, including some of his own at-home experiences as his cover subjects. He especially relished the whimsical, unpredictable crises that families with small children found themselves in all too often.

The boy on the roof of the garage about to trust his life or limb to a rotar blade was, for example, a recollection from his own childhood. Another was of a boy in his father's U.S. Navy officer's cap cruising his submarine in the family tub, after getting the shower going into disastrous overflow and locking the bathroom door from the inside.

In 1950 Falter painted a cover of President Harry Truman addressing a joint session of Congress. Truman liked it so much that he asked if he might procure it for his personal collection. The artist happily made the journey to the White House for the presentation. Falter later recalled that the President had hunched down in front of the painting, pointed at Mrs. Truman and said, "Yes, sir, that's Bess!" The painting is on display today at the Truman Library.

Falter painted for the Post until 1962 when the magazine decided to change from illustrated covers to photographs. After the Post, the artist continued to work at a feverish pace on personal projects. These included over 100 paintings of western art, and another 190 canvases of scenes depicting the western migration from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. The quality of his work earned him the position of academician of the National Academy of Western Art. Falter's long list of distinguished accomplishments includes the painting of two U.S. postage stamps. The Post was lucky enough to engage the painter one more time in 1971 to paint a cover which featured his daughter and his home in Pennsylvania.

John Falter died in May of 1982. His ashes were cast into the mouth of the Platte River where they would flow down the Missouri--the setting of many of his historical paintings.

Norman Rockwell once remarked that John Falter was "America's most gifted illustrator."

After looking over this retrospective or visiting the Post Hall of Fame, we think you'll agree.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes cover illustrations
Author:Pettinga, Steve; Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:May 1, 1991
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