John Philip Falter
1910 - 1982
John Philip Falter was born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska although his family homestead was in Atchison, Kansas. He started his illustration career by selling his first artwork in 1930 to Liberty, a pulp magazine. The Liberty commission gave him the exposure he needed to gain other clients, including Gulf Oil Company, Four Roses Whiskey, and Arrow Shirts. His career flourished in pulp magazines until he became one of the most noted illustrators for the most notable magazine in the nation: 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,” matriculating 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 Century, Harper’s, Scribner’s, and Saturday Evening Post. Wright was a fine role model for the young artist because before becoming an illustrator, he was a reporter. Therefore, he was quite strict in teaching students to make a plentiful number of studies and to get organized well in advance of starting their illustrative works. Wright drummed these lessons into Falter. Wright also believed in sketching profusely to show clients all the possible ideas at hand, thus getting a better grasp on what the client expected for the final artwork. Likewise, Falter took the lessons well and practiced the same routine throughout his career. He showed Ken Stuart, Art Editor for the Post, a series of sketch ideas for a cover to which Stuart appreciatively remarked, “If the idea is right, it takes only a few simple lines for one artist to explain it to another.”
Interestingly and prophetically, his businessman father, George H. Falter, had 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 more than 200 covers, mostly with scenes he experienced as a youth in Nebraska and Kansas, as well as 47 books for Reader's Digest.
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. Falter paintings seemed to arouse some furor and a great amount of interest, similar to that of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld’s daughter’s name, ‘Nina,’ famously hidden away in his images. Viewers religiously 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, including actress Olivia De Havilland, actor James Cagney, and Admiral Halsey. One prominent theme throughout his career was his love for America and Americans.
In World War II, Falter joined the Navy as a chief boatswain’s mate and was soon commissioned as “lieutenant with special art duties” after it was learned where his work had been published. During his 72 years, his paintings depicted a wide range of themes from episodes of American history such as ‘Charging San Juan Hill’ to ‘Country Boy and Collie’, to special places across America, from the ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ to ‘Gramercy Park’. In response to questions regarding his inspiration, Falter remarked, "If you are not in love with what you are trying to put on canvas, you had better quit." Just before his passing, Falter was working on a series depicting the American migration experience.