“As for a painting, it has to be a love affair every time. If you aren’t in love with what you are trying to put on your canvas, you better quit.” —John Falter
John Falter was a born and raised Midwestern illustrator, originally from Nebraska. Born in 1910 in Plattsmouth, Falter moved to Falls City in 1916 for his father’s job. From an early age, Falter found art and illustration attractive.
Even as a young man, the artist marketed his skills, creating a comic strip called “Down Thru the Ages” for the Falls City Journal. The Journal’s cartoonist, “Ding” Darling, happened to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning artist who encouraged Falter in his illustrative work.
Falter graduated high school in 1928, and chose to continue his artistic education at the Kansas City Art Institute. While studying in Kansas City, he eventually won a scholarship allowing him to continue his art education at the Art Students League in New York City at the height of the Great Depression.
Covers by John Falter
Work was initially scarce, however, the artist survived creating cover illustrations for “pulp” magazines. He, like so many other illustrators of his time, moved to the unofficially labeled “illustrator’s colony” in New Rochelle, NY.
Success arrived in a flurry once Falter opened his own illustration studio based out of New Rochelle, acquiring commissions from magazines and advertising firms in the city. He drew inspiration from his idol, Norman Rockwell, who lived nearby.
By 1932, at the age of 22, John Falter met and married Margaret Huggins of Emporia, Kansas. In 1956, John Falter’s first marriage ended in divorce. His illustration career stabilized and he eventually picked up consistent work from Liberty Magazine in 1933, completing three illustrations a week.
Falter picked up more advertising work, accumulating a stable of clients ranging from Gulf Oil and Four Roses Whiskey, to Arrow Shirts and Pall Mall Cigarettes. At the height of his illustration career, Falter was working for McCall’s, Life Magazine, Look, Good Housekeeping, and Cosmopolitan. The consistency of this advertising work allowed Falter the free time to experiment in his art, picking up other media such as easel painting in oils and watercolors.
His first cover for The Saturday Evening Post was a portrait of Benjamin Franklin for the January 16, 1943 issue. One of The Post’s youngest contributors, Falter amassed a large portfolio of Post covers, completing 129 covers over the course of his life. His works, much like those of Norman Rockwell, are simple observations of every day American life which may have otherwise gone unnoticed if not picked apart by a skilled artist.
By the time America entered both of World War II’s wartime theaters in the Pacific and in Europe, Falter had enlisted in the Navy where he was put on special assignment to design recruitment posters specifically for women. Completing over 300 posters, Falter’s works are now famous for dealing with the “loose-lips-sink-ships” theme. He was even commissioned, while in the service, for illustrations depicting American Medal of Honor recipients on twelve covers of Esquire Magazine.
In 1956, his first marriage ended in divorce. In 1957 he married his second wife, Mary Elizabeth “Boo” LaRue Wiley. She brought three stepchildren from her first marriage into his life — Elizabeth “Lisa”, Sarah, and John “Jay.” In 1958, the couple had a daughter, Suzanne.
Though popular in the 1940s and 1950s, illustration fell into decline during the 1960s. John Falter was able to adapt and find an even more profitable line of work in portraiture and western art during the late 1970s and 1980s. He was inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1976 and made a member of the National Academy of Western Art in 1978. In April of 1982, Falter suffered a stroke and died from complications within a month’s time. He left behind a wide artistic legacy ranging from cover art and advertising, to murals, portraiture, prints, and paintings in a wide variety of media and genres of art.
More on John Falter:
Museums: John Philip Falter Museum in Falls City, Nebraska
Birth: February 28, 1910
Education: Kansas City Art Institute, Art Students League of New York City, Grand Central School of Art
Family: Married Mary Elizabeth LaRue Wiley; stepchildren Elizabeth, Sarah, and John; daughter, Suzanne
Residences: Plattsmouth, Nebraska; Falls City, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; New York City, New York; New Rochelle, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Occupations: Artist, Illustrator, Portraitist, Painter, Book Cover illustrator, printer
Style/Genre: American Art, Western Art
Death: May 20, 1982