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John Falter

 (1910 - 1982)
John Philip Falter was active/lived in New York, Pennsylvania, Nebraska.  John Falter is known for illustration, frontier genre, portrait.

John Falter

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for John Falter
Born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, John Falter became a nationally known magazine illustrator, painter of celebrity portraits and scenes of western migration.

In 1916, his family moved to Falls City, Nebraska where his father ran a clothing store. Falter created a comic strip, "Down Thru the Ages," which ran in the "Fall City Journal." J.M. Darling, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist of the "Des Moines Register," saw some of his work and urged him to become a professional illustrator.

In 1928, he enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute and then won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York City. Soon, he began illustrating pulp magazines and received his first commission from "Liberty" magazine to do three illustrations a week in 1933. By 1940, he had several clients including Gulf Oil, 4 Roses Whiskey, Arrow Shirts, and Pall Mall.

His first "Saturday Evening Post Cover," a portrait of the magazine's founder Benjamin Franklin, is dated September 1, 1943, and from that time until 1969, he did 185 covers until the magazine ceased publication.

In 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and designed over 300 recruiting posters and during this time completed a series of twelve famous war heroes for "Esquire" magazine. He also did illustrations for "Good Housekeeping," "The Home Magazine," "The Ladies Home Journal," "Cosmopolitan," "McCalls," "Life," and "Look."

His body of work is impressive in volume and variety of subject matter, and much of it reflected his life-long interest in jazz. He did scenes of Harlem nightclub life in the 1930s and portraits of famous jazz musicians including Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Pee Wee Erwin. He also did portraits of movie stars including Clark Gable, James Cagney, and Olivia de Haviland.

During the 1970s and 1980s, he turned to historical and western themes including a series "From Sea to Shining Sea" for 3M Company to commemorate the American Bicentennial. He completed over 200 paintings of western subjects, emphasizing westward migration of 1843 to 1880 from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains.

In 1976, he was elected to the Illustrators Hall of Fame and in 1978 to the National Academy of Western Art with whom he exhibited at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Walt Reed, "The Illustrator in America"
Archives, Museum of Nebraska Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for John Falter
Born Plattsmouth, NB, Feb. 28, 1910; died Philadelphia, May 1982. Illustrator. Painter, specialized in scenes from his childhood in Kansas and Nebraska, portraits, American history. Raised in Falls City, NB and at the family's homestead in Atchison. Studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Art Students League, the Grand Central School of Art in NY. Teachers included Mahonri Young, George Wright, & Monte Crews. Began as an illustrator of western pulp magazines. Work includes more than 200 covers for Saturday Evening Post, many based on his childhood. Credited with designing over 300 recruiting posters for the Navy during World War II. Illustrated over 40 books for Reader's Digest.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Sain, Lydia. Kansas Artists, compiled by Lydia Sain from 1932 to 1948. Typed Manuscript, 1948.; Who’s Who in American Art. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1936- v.1=1936-37 v.3= 1941-42 v.2=1938-39 v.4=1940-47. 4, 6, 7; Belden, Dorothy. “Kansas Artists Known in World”, in Wichita Eagle Beacon, Jan. 29, 1978. p. 12K; Samuels, Peggy. Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976.; Reed, Walt. The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000. New York: Society of Illustrators, 2001., Walt. The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000. New York: Society of Illustrators, 2001.; AskArt,, accessed Sept. 2, 2005;

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, II
Biography photo for John Falter
John Philip Falter (1910, Plattsmouth, Nebraska - 1982, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), more commonly known as John Falter, was a renowned artist, best known for his many covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

At an early age, Falter moved with his family to Falls City 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.[1]

After graduating from high school in 1928, Falter studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and won a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York 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, above Grand Central Terminal. This was during the Great Depression when most young artists had difficulty finding work. Falter, however, began illustrating covers for the pulp magazines.

He opened a studio in New Rochelle, New York, which had long been a colony for illustrators, a community that included such artists as Frederic Remington and Norman Rockwell. 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."[2]

Falter received a major break with his first commission from Liberty Magazine to do three illustrations a week in 1933.[3] "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, Four Roses Whiskey, Arrow Shirts and Pall Mall. 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."

In 1943, he enlisted in the Navy. His talents were applied to the American war effort to spur on recruiting drives. Falter designed over 300 recruiting posters and a series depicting 12 Medal of Honor winners for Esquire.[4]

Falter's first Saturday Evening Post cover, a portrait of the magazine's founder, Benjamin Franklin, 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.[1] Falter commented, "There were plenty of Rockwell imitators and J. C. Leyendecker 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.

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.[2]

Although best known for his Saturday Evening Post covers, Falter also provided illustrations for numerous other publications, including Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, McCall's, Life Magazine, and Look.[3]

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's Abraham Lincoln - The Prairie Years. Other favorite book projects included Houghton-Mifflin's Mark Twain series and illustrations for The Scarlet Pimpernel. His stepson, Jay Wiley, posed for a book Falter illustrated, Me 'n Steve. A final favorite was humorist Corey Ford'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, James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Admiral "Bull" Halsey among his sitters.

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[4] and eminent collections.[5]

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. [6] 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.[7]


Biography from American Illustrators Gallery
Biography photo for John Falter
John Phillip Falter was born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska although the family homestead was in Atchison, Kansas. He started his illustration career rather young, selling his first artwork at twenty years old to Liberty, a pulp magazine. The Liberty magazine commission gave him the exposure he needed to gain other bluechip clients, including: Gulf Oil Company, Four Roses Whiskey, and Arrow Shirts.

His career flourished rising from pulp magazines until he was one of the most noted cover illustrators for the most notable magazine in the nation, the Saturday Evening Post.

John Falter studied art at the Kansas City Art Institute and later moved to New York to "get the right exposure and make career contacts," and he matriculated at the Art Students League. He later attended classes at the Grand Central School of Art and studied under George Wright (1873-1951), an illustrator for The Century, Harper's, Scribner's, and the Saturday Evening Post.

Wright was a fine role model for before becoming an illustrator. He was a reporter and was strict in teaching students to make studies and to organize well in advance of starting their illustrative works. Wright also believed in showing clients all the possible ideas to get a better grasp of what the client expected. Likewise, Falter took the lessons well and did the same.

He is reputed to have shown Ken Stuart, Art Editor for the Post, a series of sketch ideas for a cover, with Stuart remarking, "If the idea is right, it takes only a few simple lines for one artist to explain it to another." Falter went on to illustrate forty-seven books for Reader's Digest and one hundred and eighty-seven covers for the Saturday Evening Post.

Interestingly and prophetically his businessman father, George H. Falter, once said "You won't be an artist son, until you've put a cover on the Saturday Evening Post." Over his many years with the Post, John Falter painted mostly scenes he experienced as a youth growing up in Nebraska and Kansas. He also was a portrait artist and had the opportunity to paint jazz idols such as Louis Armstrong and Art Tatum.

He delighted in adding images of real people into his compositions, sometimes including himself. It seemed to arouse some furor on occasion and it also aroused interest similar to that of the cartoonist Al Hirschfeld's lettering of his daughter's name, 'Nina' hidden away on a caricature. The viewers searched for Falter's image, usually with a pipe, standing in a crowd waiting to be found out.

In his later years, he painted portraits of a number of famous people. Although not for magazines, the portraits included actress Olivia De Havilland, actor James Cagney, and Admiral Halsey. In World War II, Falter joined the Navy as a chief boatswain's mate, and when it was learned that his art work had been published, he was commissioned as "lieutenant with special art duties".

During his seventy-two years, Falter's paintings depicted a wide range of themes from episodes of American history such as 'Charging San Juan Hill' to 'Country Boy and Collie', which was reminiscent of his childhood. He illustrated special locales across America from the 'Golden Gate Bridge' to 'Gramercy Park'.

He once said, "If you are not in love with what you are trying to put on canvas, you had better quit." One theme which was prominent throughout all of his works was his deep love for America.

©2004 National Museum of American Illustration

Biography from The Navy Museum-US Navy Art Collection
John Philip Falter (1910-1982) and the WAVES

One of the most prolific and well-recognized artists to contribute to the Navy's recruitment campaign, especially the recruitment of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), John Philip Falter created over 300 designs for Naval recruitment posters during the Second World War (1941-1945).

Falter developed his artistic skills at an early age, even designing a mural for his local soda shop when still a teenager. He expanded his talents at the Kansas City Art Institute and then the Art Students League of New York and the Grand Central School of Art where he was exposed to the techniques of some the most prestigious illustrators of the Golden Age of Illustration (1880s -1920s).

Starting with minor magazines and local advertisements, Falter's work eventually caught the eye of major publications. He accepted commissions from Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, The Ladies Home Journal, Liberty, Look, and The Reader's Digest. This particular type of persuasive and dramatic illustration, largely geared towards female readers, prepared him well to create designs for WAVES campaigns. By 1942, Falter was part of the pool of preferred propaganda artists used by the United Stated Office of Facts and Figures (OFF), later called the Office of War Information (OWI). In 1943, Falter enlisted in the Navy Reserves, where he continued to make designs for the Navy's recruitment campaigns as a Lieutenant on special art assignment.

The Navy began with a group of approximately 100 artists that grew to nearly 400 artists by February 1944. OFF did not accept unsolicited designs. Rather, the agency sent letters inviting widely respected artists to participate. Sketches were critiqued by the Recruiting Division, Officer Procurement Division and the Women's Reserve Office. Once a design was agreed upon, the artist painted it. The design might receive further suggestions for alterations, in which case, the artist revised or remade the painting before final approval.

Throughout the nation, recruiting posters were placed in countless prominent public locations. One might see Falter's designs several times throughout the day during 1943. The Navy often reused the same designs for multiple formats with differing text. Posters hung in post offices, libraries, grocery and department stores, on billboards and even in public restrooms. Car cards, or smaller rectangular posters, were mounted in subway cars by transit authorities in major metropolitan areas. Window cards were displayed in the storefronts of businesses.

The Navy was looking for educated, capable, virtuous, and feminine women. Accordingly, Falter's WAVES are simultaneously glamorous and serious. They possess a conventional feminine appearance, wearing blush, lipstick and nail polish. Yet Falter depicted them doing important, manicure-marring work: rigging parachutes and operating radios. In truth, WAVES also did much more labor-intensive work as well, such as machine assembly, repair work and kitchen patrol, but artists did not depict those jobs in recruitment posters. Obviously, many WAVES did not resemble the young, caucasian, perfectly-proportioned poster gals. The tactics employed by the Navy's recruiting bureau in the posters mirrored those of national advertisements and mass media at the time. It was no coincidence that Falter, the successful illustrator of popular magazines would become the Navy's preferred recruitment artist.

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About  John Falter

Born:  1910 - Plattsmouth, Nebraska
Died:   1982 - Philadelphia, May 1982.
Known for:  illustration, frontier genre, portrait

Essays referring to
John Falter