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Beyond the Canvas: Muddy Mother’s Day

Published: May 7, 2014

"Happy Mother's Day," by Richard Sargent. <br />May 11, 1957. © SEPS 2014

“Happy Mother’s Day,” by Richard Sargent.
May 11, 1957. © SEPS 2014

As illustrator Richard “Dick” Sargent once said, when it comes to children, “expect the unexpected.” On his May 11, 1957 cover for The Saturday Evening Postc, “Happy Mother’s Day,” we see a jubilant young man enter the family home with gifts for his mother: a Mother’s Day card, a muddy-pawed pooch, and a muddied front hall.

The perspective of the cover illustration is tilted off-center to give us the impression of being taller than the subject, the same view as an adult looking down on a child. The boy’s broad smile and call up the stairs tell the viewer he’s entirely ignorant of his heinous mud-tracking crime. In his excitement to impress his mother with a gift, he’s forgotten to take off his galoshes. 

This funny, relatable situational comedy has happened to American families a million times over. Children are filled with impulse, an innocence of excitement that gets in the way of all other thoughts. Even for those of us who have never had children, we have all been children and can understand this moment. Bursting to share our joy or discoveries, we forget (despite a million admonitions) to take off our shoes once inside, tracking mud and other undesirables through Mom’s clean house. It’s adorable irony that this boy’s excitement over giving his mother a homemade card, which he likely hopes will make her day, has inadvertently given her more hassle than happiness.

This may even be a true story that happened to the artist. Sargent loved children, and he enjoyed illustrating scenes from his own life. He often used his own mischievous, redheaded son, Anthony, as a model. In fact, Anthony appears here as our muddy little man. Perhaps this was Sargent’s perspective one day as he came around the corner to check out the commotion in the front hall.

In the end, Sargent’s simple scene of a rainy May Mother’s day shows that even poor weather cannot deter the happiness and excitement of a loving child. Although the floor is muddied, the child’s intentions never were.

Illustrator Richard SargentTo learn more about Richard “Dick” Sargent and to see other inside illustrations and covers from this artist, click here!
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  • This cover (just 2 weeks older than me) is great in all the ways you mention here, and the insights as well. I also see a child coming home from school on his own without a heavy backpack, a mother that’s home for him because she doesn’t have to work outside the home, no one in an overly fast-paced world going NOWHERE “fast” in a stupor of video games or the myriad of other unnecessary tech/stress devices that have sucked the life out of everything in the present and future.

    The innocence and happiness of this little boy back then unwittingly (and sadly) say more about 2014 than 1957.