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Beyond the Canvas: Just Add Water

Published: June 25, 2014

<em>Broken Beach Chair</em> <br /> John Hyde Phillips <br /> August 12, 1939 © SEPS

Broken Beach Chair
John Hyde Phillips
August 12, 1939 © SEPS

The thought of waves crashing on the beach, the warm white sand, the hot sun, and wading into cool waters makes the daily 9-to-5 bearable. However, we only seem to consider the best beach moments. We conveniently forget the hassle of what it takes to get there.

Throughout history, covers on The Saturday Evening Post have brought those dreamy thoughts down from tropical blue skies and white clouds. The beaches of Post covers deal in a humorous realism. They explore the tiresome preparation involved in reaching coastal paradise.

This narrative began with “Broken Beach Chair,” the August 12, 1939 cover by John Hyde Phillips. Flimsy chairs get in the way of enjoying the sun. A woman puckers her face in a mix of surprise and embarrassment as she hits the ground. Either it’s been a while since that chair left storage, or beach supplies were just as cheap then as they’ve ever been.

James Williamson’s August 1, 1959 cover, “Beach Parking Lot,” expands on this difference between expectation and reality. Before they can reach the promised relaxation of a lounge chair, sand-bound hopefuls bumble through cars and cabanas.

Parents are loaded down, carrying their children, umbrellas, beach toys, books, bags, towels, lotions and creams, wallets, hats, and other miscellaneous gear. And once beachgoers reach the sand? There’s the trouble of finding an open spot to drop the lot and set up camp. Even on vacation there’s work to be done.

And of course, the warming glow of the sun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Kurt Ard’s August 16, 1958 cover “Sunscreen?” reminds us the sun’s charm has a way of turning malicious. A pale man rests in relaxation, but his skin is covered head-to-toe in heavy, sun-blocking fabric. Even a thin veneer of newspaper drapes over his robed chest to protect himself from what could be a nasty sunburn.

Despite the frustration and misfortune that a beachside vacation can cause, all is not lost. George Hughes’s “Couples at the Beach” from August 2, 1952 shows us the value of a day at the beach. Fun in the sun is multi-generational. Kids play in the sand. Couples picnic. Adults unwind appreciatively. Retirees leisurely enjoy what for them is a normal stroll along the shoreline.

The beach is worth the struggle, worth fighting for a spot in the parking lot, traversing the hot pavement, applying sunscreen, and getting a seat. It’s a paradise people work toward all year, and nothing can ruin the beach.