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Remembering Artist John Falter

“I know that Norman Rockwell, who captures Americana so beautifully, is every American’s favorite artist; mine, however, is John Falter,” writes Ted Wallace. “Mr. Falter lived next door to my family in Atchison, Kansas, where from his attic studio he painted Midwestern scenes.”

There is a reason this particular 1946 Post cover is Mr. Wallace’s favorite; he is in the painting. “I am the little brother tagging along behind my big brother and his friends, just wanting to belong. Mr. Falter had seen the group of neighborhood boys from his studio window and incorporated us into the painting.”

 "Steam Engine Along the Missouri" by  John Falter June 22, 1946

"Steam Engine Along the Missouri"
John Falter
June 22, 1946

What Falter was painting was one of the great rivers of America, the mighty Missouri. The viewer is in Kansas, looking across into Missouri. The boys are taking the same route as Lewis and Clark.

I have to say, Mr. Wallace puts it more eloquently: “…a summer scene overlooking the Missouri River and the fertile river bottoms beyond, with a group of rag-tag boys on a quest—searching for fun during the later years of World War II.”

“Time moves on and memories fade,” Wallace notes, “I only remember the names of four of the group—my brother, Bob Wallace (with the stick), and his friends, Jimmy Knight and Jimmy Morehead. The other two have faded into just memories. Of course, our dog Shorty is there with me…bringing up the rear.” Actually, for 65 years ago, that’s pretty darn good!

A steam locomotive always sticks in the minds of little boys. “We were always aware of the locomotives going up and down the tracks. Who could ever forget that mournful sound of the steam whistle fading off into the distance?” He also recalls, “the riverboats pushing barges up and down the river.”

“Those bluffs were our magic carpet as we chased the spirits of Lewis and Clark. Yes, we knew of their route and knew that we had walked in their foot steps. Our imaginations also ran rampant with the knowledge that Jesse James’ gang, Quantril’s raiders, and the Pony Express riders (just a few miles north) also traversed through that area; an area where time and young boys never stood still and life was simpler.”

Bob (on the left) and Ted (on the right) Wallace are two of the boys from John Falter's June 22, 1946 cover for The Saturday Evening Post.

“Mr. Falter gave my parents a copy of that issue of the magazine, which our mother kept for years until the Missouri claimed all of our memories when the Mighty Mo flooded those fertile river bottoms before my parents could save anything.”

“My brother and I now have a framed copy of that cover, obtained from the Post, that we and our families will treasure forever. Even after 65 years, the scene John Falter captured has not changed all that much; the steam engines are nothing but a memory, but the lives and dreams of those six boys will live on through generations to come.”

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  • Nebraska Historical

    The Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln will open an exhibition of paintings, sketches, cartoons and other works by John Falter from its collections April 6, 2012. “The Illustrator’s Pencil” will trace a career that went from Falls City, Nebraska, the the Saturday Evening Post and beyond. More info to come at http://www.nebraskahistory.org

  • Charles Neumann

    Mr. Falter has always been one of my favorite cover artists. I’m also from the midwest, Nebraska. Falter drew a number of Nebraska scenes, he was from Falls City, I believe. While he did not do nearly as many covers for the Post as Norman Rockwell, he did many excellent ones.

  • Bill Breisky

    I remember John Falter as well — although all our meetings were via telephone. It was one of my jobs, as a young SEP editor, to call the cover artist each week, and compose a tightly written cover essay for Page 3.

    –BillB