(February 28, 1910-May 20, 1982)
Artist, illustrator (The Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, Life, Look, Esquire), portraitist, painter, book cover illustrator, printer
Kansas City Art Institute, Art Students League of New York City, Grand Central School of Art
Plattsmouth, Nebraska; Falls City, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; New York City, NY; New Rochelle, NY; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
American Art, Western Art
Margaret Huggins (1932-1982)
John Falter was a born and raised Midwestern illustrator, originally from Nebraska. Born in 1910 in Plattsmouth, Falter moved to Falls City, Nebraska, in 1916 for his father’s new business. From an early age, Falter found art and illustration attractive, even in a place where art and art education were not always available.
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 John 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 studies at The Art Students League in New York City at the height of the Great Depression.
Work was initially scarce, but the artist survived by 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 in New Rochelle. He acquired commissions from magazines and advertising firms in the city, drawing 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. 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 covers, completing 129 for the publication over the course of his life. His works, much like those of Norman Rockwell, are simple observations of every day American life that 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.
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 Society of 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.