Classic Covers: Leslie Thrasher

Watching a painting appraisal on TV recently, a reader became curious about artist Leslie Thrasher and asked for more information about him. We discovered some delightful Post covers by this wonderful artist.

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In response to a reader request, here is what we on found Leslie Thrasher (1889-1936), an intriguing artist who did twenty-three Saturday Evening Post covers.

“Dog in Church”

Dog in Church October 16, 1915
“Dog in Church” October 16, 1915

The viewer hopes grandma doesn’t find out what is so amusing the boy in this 1915 cover. A native of Piedmont, West Virginia, Thrasher had excellent credentials: study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts while still a teenager, then a traveling scholarship to the Ecole de Grande Chaumiere in Paris. Returning to the United States, he studied under renowned illustrator, Howard Pyle.

“Bridling the Horse”

Bridling the Horse September 11, 1915
“Bridling the Horse” September 11, 1915

One wonders if the grandma above would approve of this independent lady, also from 1915. Notice the banner she is wearing—she is a suffragette getting ready for a meeting. World War I interrupted the life of the artist who served in France and sadly, was seriously affected by poison gas. He returned to Wilmington, married, and moved to Long Island.

“Grandfather & Child with Horse”

Grandfather & Child with Horse August 8, 1914
“Grandfather & Child with Horse” August 8, 1914

Boys and horses were a common theme in Thrasher’s art (we’ll see a lovely example below), but for something sweet and different, how about this grandfather and child with a gentle friend? As much as horses appeared in his work, he did a delightful job painting people, young and old.

“Conference on the Mound”

Conference on the Mound June 8, 1912
“Conference on the Mound” June 8, 1912

“Conference on the Mound” was the first cover Thrasher ever sold—for a whopping $50 in 1912. Little more than a decade later, by 1924, he signed for a series of covers for Liberty magazine, for which he was paid a handsome $1,000 each (that would be over $13,000 today—a tidy weekly salary). Happily, he was still doing covers for the Post, and despite his fine arts background, his commercial success was impressive, with ads for Chesterfield cigarettes and Cream of Wheat among his prodigious output.

“Boy Watering Horses”

Boy Watering Horses January 12, 1924
“Boy Watering Horses” January 12, 1924

This is a beautiful example of Thrasher’s work from 1924 for the Post. One wonders how he could do a cover a week for Liberty magazine for years, a lofty task, and do a goodly number of other works as well. In this painting, it is a bitter January day, and this young man has to break the ice to get water for the horses. Notice Thrasher’s covers show little or no background details, unlike artists like Rockwell with his painstaking details of wallpaper or room decorations.

“Tipping the Scales”

Tipping the Scales October 3, 1936
“Tipping the Scales” October 3, 1936

“Tipping the Scales” is a popular Thrasher painting from 1936. The Post used it as a cookbook cover in 1975, and we have heard many people argue that it must be a Rockwell, perhaps because of the humor involved. And perhaps because many folks believe that Norman Rockwell did every weekly Post cover from 1916-1962, a physical impossibility, of course. Ironically, this amusing painting is from a tragic year for the artist. A fire at his home in December not only destroyed much of Thrasher’s work, but led to severe smoke inhalation and ultimately fatal pneumonia.

“Two Men in Deck Chairs”

Two Men in Deck Chairs January 16, 1937
“Two Men in Deck Chairs” January 16, 1937

Published shortly after his death, this painting again shows the artist’s delightful sense of humor. As if being seasick wasn’t enough, the smoke from his companion’s pipe is making matters worse. Perhaps he is too queasy to get up and move? Thrasher did as many as three hundred sixty magazine covers. (Rockwell’s Post covers added up to about 322, although he, too, did thousands of other paintings.) Had Thrasher lived longer, one wonders if his reputation would have rivaled the likes of Rockwell.

Let us know if there is a Post artist you would like to learn more about.

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  1. Saturday Evening Post is so unique. I have had it for years and couldn’t be without it!

  2. Very interesting. I really enjoy reading about some of the other Post cover artists. Mr. Thrasher was an excellent artist, it is a shame he died so young. I always thought the “Tipping the Scales” was a Rockwell cover. It is interesting to note Thrasher had no backgrounds, effective for a cover but it does take away a little from the painting. Thank You for the article.

  3. Diana,

    Thank you for the wonderful and informative article. He had an amazing ability to breath life into his subjects. It was humbling to see so many fine examples of his work. Thank you again for the wonderful article and the timely response to my inquirey!

    Laura Thrasher

  4. Diana, I LOVE this week’s on-line art feature on Leslie Thrasher. I did know he was the primary artist of Liberty’s covers from 1924-1936, but did NOT know he did 23 for The Saturday Evening Post!! My favorite animals are dogs and horses and he painted both beautifully.

    The dog in the 1915 cover looks scared and distressed from his eyes, tail and body language. It may be a 96 year old cover, but I wonder who’s dog he is and if he’s being cared for. I want to believe he’s this family’s dog, followed them to church, but knows it’s a no-no. Ultimately I’m sad how that terrible fire led to this artist’s death at a young age, and destroyed a lot of undoubtedly wonderful artwork with it. I bet he and Rockwell admired each other’s work. They’re both so great.


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