John Philip Falter

John Philip Falter

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John Philip Falter more commonly known as John Falter, was an American artist best known for his many cover paintings for The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post is a bimonthly American magazine. It was published weekly under this title from 1897 until 1969, and quarterly and then bimonthly from 1971.-History:...


Born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska
Plattsmouth, Nebraska
Plattsmouth is a city in and the county seat of Cass County, Nebraska, United States, which was founded in 1855. The population was 6,887 at the 2000 census.-History:...

, Falter moved at an early age with his family to Falls City
Falls City, Nebraska
Falls City is a city in Richardson County, Nebraska, United States. The population was 4,671 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Richardson County.-Geography:Falls City is located at ....

 in 1916, where his father, George H. Falter, established a clothing store. As a high school student, Falter created a comic strip, Down Thru the Ages, which was published in the Falls City Journal. J. N. "Ding" Darling
Jay Norwood Darling
Jay Norwood Darling , better known as Ding Darling, was a Pulitzer-Prize winning American cartoonist....

, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist of the Des Moines Register
Des Moines Register
The Des Moines Register is the daily morning newspaper of Des Moines, Iowa, in the United States. A separate edition of the Register is sold throughout much of Iowa.-History:...

, saw some of Falter’s cartoons and said he should become an illustrator.

Pulp dreams

After graduating from high school in 1928, Falter studied at the Kansas City Art Institute
Kansas City Art Institute
The Kansas City Art Institute is a private, independent, four-year college of fine arts and design founded in 1885 in Kansas City, Missouri....

 and won a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York
Art Students League of New York
The Art Students League of New York is an art school located on West 57th Street in New York City. The League has historically been known for its broad appeal to both amateurs and professional artists, and has maintained for over 130 years a tradition of offering reasonably priced classes on a...

 City. Falter only lasted one month at the Art Students League, however, due to his fear of his fellow students, many of whom were avowed Communists. This was all too new for the small-town Falter, who fled and immediately looked for work as an illustrator. In the evenings, however, he took courses at the Grand Central School of Art
Grand Central School of Art
The Grand Central School of Art was an American art school in New York City, founded in 1923 by the painters Edmund Greacen, Walter Leighton Clark and John Singer Sargent. The school was established and run by the Grand Central Art Galleries, an artists' cooperative founded by Sargent, Greacen,...

, above Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal —often incorrectly called Grand Central Station, or shortened to simply Grand Central—is a terminal station at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States...

. This was during the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 when most young artists had difficulty finding work. Falter, however, began illustrating covers for the pulp magazine
Pulp magazine
Pulp magazines , also collectively known as pulp fiction, refers to inexpensive fiction magazines published from 1896 through the 1950s. The typical pulp magazine was seven inches wide by ten inches high, half an inch thick, and 128 pages long...


He opened a studio in New Rochelle, New York
New Rochelle, New York
New Rochelle is a city in Westchester County, New York, United States, in the southeastern portion of the state.The town was settled by refugee Huguenots in 1688 who were fleeing persecution in France...

, which had long been a colony for illustrators, a community that included such artists as Frederic Remington
Frederic Remington
Frederic Sackrider Remington was an American painter, illustrator, sculptor, and writer who specialized in depictions of the Old American West, specifically concentrating on the last quarter of the 19th century American West and images of cowboys, American Indians, and the U. S...

 and Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell
Norman Percevel Rockwell was a 20th-century American painter and illustrator. His works enjoy a broad popular appeal in the United States for their reflection of American culture. Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios he created for The Saturday Evening...

. Falter recalled, "Rockwell was our inspiration then. I didn't meet him until years later. We would hear that Rockwell had been out on the street. and we'd all rush out and hunt for him. If they'd tell us that he had looked in a shop window, we'd look in the same window trying to absorb what he looked at by osmosis."

Ad art

Falter received a major break with his first commission from Liberty Magazine to do three illustrations a week in 1933. "They paid me $75 a week," Falter said, "just like a steelworker. But my expenses for models and costumes were running $35 a week during one 16-week serial I was illustrating." Falter soon discovered that there was much more money to be made in advertising than in other fields of illustration. By 1938, he had acquired several advertising clients including Gulf Oil
Gulf Oil
Gulf Oil was a major global oil company from the 1900s to the 1980s. The eighth-largest American manufacturing company in 1941 and the ninth-largest in 1979, Gulf Oil was one of the so-called Seven Sisters oil companies...

, Four Roses Whiskey, Arrow Shirts and Pall Mall
Pall Mall (cigarette)
Pall Mall cigarettes are a brand of cigarettes produced by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and internationally by British American Tobacco at multiple sites.- History :...

. Falter's work appeared in major national magazines. "This was high pay for less work," Falter said, "and it gave me a chance to experiment in the field of easel painting."

World War II

In 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and was rapidly promoted from chief boatswain's mate to lieutenant on special assignment as an artist. His final rank was Chief Petty Officer. His talents were applied to the American war effort to spur on recruiting drives. Falter designed over 300 recruiting posters. One popular Falter poster dealt with the loose-lips-sink-ships theme. It showed a broad-shouldered Navy man with the caption, "If you tell where he's going, he may never get there." During this period, he also completed both a series of recruiting posters for the women's Navy, or WAVES
The WAVES were a World War II-era division of the U.S. Navy that consisted entirely of women. The name of this group is an acronym for "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service" ; the word "emergency" implied that the acceptance of women was due to the unusual circumstances of the war and...

, and a series depicting 12 Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 winners for Esquire.

The Saturday Evening Post

Falter's first Saturday Evening Post cover, a portrait of the magazine's founder, Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, is dated September 1, 1943. That cover began a 25-year relationship with the Post, during which Falter produced over 120 covers for the magazine until the editors changed its cover format from illustrations to photographs. Falter commented, "There were plenty of Rockwell imitators and J. C. Leyendecker
J. C. Leyendecker
Joseph Christian Leyendecker was one of the pre-eminent American illustrators of the early 20th century. He is best known for his poster, book and advertising illustrations, the trade character known as The Arrow Collar Man, and his numerous covers for The Saturday Evening Post. Between 1896 and...

 imitators. My main concern in doing Post covers was trying to do something based on my own experiences. I found my niche as a painter of Americana with an accent of the Middle West. I brought out some of the homeliness and humor of Middle Western town life and home life. I used humor whenever possible." Of Falter's 120-odd covers, nearly all were his own ideas. "Four didn't make it," he said, "probably 12 ideas were supplied by the Post." Many of his friends acted as models for his covers; four of the covers depict his close friend, the actor J. Scott Smart
J. Scott Smart
J. Scott Smart, also known as Jack Smart , was an American radio, film and stage actor during the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s....


Falter said that he tried "to put down on canvas a piece of America, a stage set, a framework for the imagination to travel around in." His panoramic covers with long views of people were a major departure from the Post's customary close-up designs. In fact. Norman Rockwell himself adjusted to the newer style for a time, which he later referred to as his "Falter Period."

Falter once thought that The Saturday Evening Post would provide him with lifetime employment. "I was sort of going along on a ship that would never sink," he said. “It seemed that nothing could possibly happen to the Post. Then suddenly, in my middle life, I had to retool and give up my horse for a car." Falter was forced to spend much of his savings in the months that followed the demise of the Post.

Portraits and book covers

Although best known for his Saturday Evening Post covers, Falter also provided illustrations for numerous other publications, including Esquire
Esquire (magazine)
Esquire is a men's magazine, published in the U.S. by the Hearst Corporation. Founded in 1932, it flourished during the Great Depression under the guidance of founder and editor Arnold Gingrich.-History:...

, Good Housekeeping
Good Housekeeping
Good Housekeeping is a women's magazine owned by the Hearst Corporation, featuring articles about women's interests, product testing by The Good Housekeeping Institute, recipes, diet, health as well as literary articles. It is well known for the "Good Housekeeping Seal," popularly known as the...

, Cosmopolitan
Cosmopolitan (magazine)
Cosmopolitan is an international magazine for women. It was first published in 1886 in the United States as a family magazine, was later transformed into a literary magazine and eventually became a women's magazine in the late 1960s...

, McCall's
McCall's was a monthly American women's magazine that enjoyed great popularity through much of the 20th century, peaking at a readership of 8.4 million in the early 1960s. It was established as a small-format magazine called The Queen in 1873...

, Life Magazine and Look
Look (American magazine)
Look was a bi-weekly, general-interest magazine published in Des Moines, Iowa from 1937 to 1971, with more of an emphasis on photographs than articles...


Falter was a prolific artist who depicted a wide range of subject matter in a variety of media. As television eliminated many national magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, Falter turned to portrait painting and book illustration. He illustrated over 40 books, and one of his favorite projects was illustrating a special edition of Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg was an American writer and editor, best known for his poetry. He won three Pulitzer Prizes, two for his poetry and another for a biography of Abraham Lincoln. H. L. Mencken called Carl Sandburg "indubitably an American in every pulse-beat."-Biography:Sandburg was born in Galesburg,...

's Abraham Lincoln - The Prairie Years. Other favorite book projects included Houghton-Mifflin's Mark Twain series and illustrations for The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a play and adventure novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, set during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution. The story is a precursor to the "disguised superhero" tales such as Zorro and Batman....

. His stepson, Jay Wiley, posed for a book Falter illustrated, Me 'n Steve. A final favorite was humorist Corey Ford
Corey Ford
Corey Ford was an American humorist, author, outdoorsman, and screenwriter. He was also friendly with several members of the Algonquin Round Table and occasionally ate lunch there....

's The Horse of a Different Color.

Falter produced a body of work impressive in volume and variety of subject. Reflecting a lifelong interest in jazz, he did scenes of Harlem nightclub life in the 1930s, and later on, portraits of famous jazz musicians. An excellent portrait painter, Falter had Clark Gable
Clark Gable
William Clark Gable , known as Clark Gable, was an American film actor most famous for his role as Rhett Butler in the 1939 Civil War epic film Gone with the Wind, in which he starred with Vivien Leigh...

, James Cagney
James Cagney
James Francis Cagney, Jr. was an American actor, first on stage, then in film, where he had his greatest impact. Although he won acclaim and major awards for a wide variety of performances, he is best remembered for playing "tough guys." In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him eighth...

, Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia Mary de Havilland is a British American film and stage actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1946 and 1949. She is the elder sister of actress Joan Fontaine. The sisters are among the last surviving leading ladies from Hollywood of the 1930s.-Early life:Olivia de Havilland...

 and Admiral "Bull" Halsey
William Halsey, Jr.
Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey, Jr., United States Navy, , was a U.S. Naval officer. He commanded the South Pacific Area during the early stages of the Pacific War against Japan...

 among his sitters. Falter was an accomplished jazz clarinet player and entirely self-taught. He took great pleasure in visiting jazz friends he sketched live, only to sit in with them in a set after sketching at clubs such as Eddie Condon
Eddie Condon
Albert Edwin Condon , better known as Eddie Condon, was a jazz banjoist, guitarist, and bandleader. A leading figure in the so-called "Chicago school" of early Dixieland, he also played piano and sang on occasion....

's on West 52nd St in New York City.

1970s and 1980s

During the 1970s and 1980s, after a career crisis brought on by the end of illustrated magazines, Falter turned to historical and American Western themes, a passion of his. The 3M Company commissioned him to do a series of six paintings in celebration of the American Bicentennial, titled From Sea to Shining Sea. Falter completed over 200 paintings in the field of Western art, with emphasis on the migration of 1843 to 1880 from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. He was honored by his peers with election to the Illustrators Hall of Fame] in 1976, and membership in the National Academy of Western Art in June 1978.

When Falter was asked to look back over his career, he commented that he had never painted a painting that he wouldn't like to paint over again; he always saw something he thought he could improve on. His output was prodigious, and by his own reckoning included over 5,000 paintings, many of which hang in museums and eminent collections.

In 1980, a documentary video, "A View from the Standpipe: John Falter's World", was released by Nebraska Educational Television. This video provides more information about John's work, through one-on-one interviews in his Philadelphia location and shows a number of his paintings. Some of these examples of Falter's personal paintings are not often seen by the general public. These paintings are different from his usual subjects and often contain humorous partially hidden touches not seen on first viewing. The video features one example, "The Big Spender", which is a beautiful Vermeer-like still-life of a dinner plate, crystal glass and linen napkin, with a dime by the plate on a table, and you can barely see a huge fly coming into the frame heading for the plate.

John Falter died in May, 1982, at the age of 72, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia after suffering a stroke. He had been living in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. After his death, Falter's widow, Mary Elizabeth Falter, donated memorabilia from his studio, as well as several paintings and papers to the Nebraska State Historical Society. This material reflects Falter's career from 1930 to 1982.

His daughter, Suzanne Falter-Barns, is an author and maintains a web-based business coaching others to fulfill their creative dreams. His stepson, Jay Wiley, is a senior staff photographer with Merion Publications. His stepdaughter, Lisa Waitneight, is a homemaker, and his other stepdaughter, Sarah Johansen, is a homemaker as well.

External links