Classic Covers: Alan Foster

When we came across this 1923 painting of these youngsters singing their hearts out, we had to learn more about artist, Alan Foster.

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“String Quartet”
“String Quartet” from January 20, 1923

As with many illustrators of the 1920s and ’30s, we were unable to unearth much information about Alan Foster. But we were able to find some of his irresistible covers!

“Sweet Adeline”

“Sweet Adeline” from October 11, 1924

“Sweet Adeline” was a barbershop standard by the time of this 1924 cover -– and remains so. The song was written back in 1903, so if this hearty quartet wanted to try something trendier, they could belt out Al Jolson’s “California, Here I Come,” “It Had to be You,” or “Charleston” -– all top songs of 1924. It is intriguing the way the artist captured each face as the singer struck just the right note.

“Faithful Friends”

“Faithful Friends” from September 14, 1929

Outside “Dist. School No. 4” these dogs wait for their best pals. Foster must have grown accustomed to drawing canines: For three years in the 40s he did a cartoon series for Collier’s called “Mr. Fala of the White House.” Fala, of course, was Franklin Roosevelt’s dog and something of a celebrity in his own right. Foster’s cartoons might show the little black terrier traveling with his master or running off with a senator’s hat.

“Traffic Cop”

Traffic Cop from June 5, 1926

This 1926 cover shows us a side of commuting we just don’t think much about these days: early traffic signals, manually operated by the local traffic cop. The signal is called a semaphore, and a version of it first appeared in London in 1868. Foster’s traffic official is apparently set for the day, with his lunch and water supply at the ready.

“Hot Tamale 5”

Hot Tamale 5 from August 22, 1925

This rockin’ drummer from 1925 is bringing the house down. Grandma would be shocked…actually, even her photo is appalled! Well, it’s to be expected with a band named the “Hot Tamale Five.” The meager biographical information we were able to glean indicates that Foster illustrated for several magazines of the ’20s, including The New Yorker, and, in addition to painting great illustrations and cartooning, even had a brief acting career.

“I Was Tardy”

 I Was Tardy from September 27, 1930

Many of Foster’s nearly 30 Post covers were Rockwellian in nature: kids playing sports, or, in this example, getting in trouble in school. But there were style differences, such as the way kids are dressed. We don’t see the holes in the sweaters and patches in the knees we often see on Rockwell’s children. Props, too, seem neater. Again, what we don’t see is a well-worn broom handle or piece of broken crockery. Even the boy’s writing is perfect!

Illustrator Alan Foster passed away in 1969 at the age of 76.

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  1. My father is the tall skinny kid who looks like he’s making a wisecrack in “Tying Skates, Hockey Waits” and in several other sports related or outdoorsy works from that period.

    Those pictures were done 30 years before I was born but I can look at that face and that expression and I know it’s my father.


  2. I recently came across an original ALAN FOSTER painting! The oil on canvas depicts, a young boy, with his back turned, with a Truant officer to his right, and the Principal to his left. The Principal has a name plaque with the name B.G.Boggs. It must be work from the 1920’s ! I’m surprised i’ve not found this painting on a vintage magazine!! It’s that good. I posted the painting on my Facebook. My profile photo is of a child with a dunce cap on, under my name Randall Brown. Anyone, especially Laurie Foster Palmer or Diana Denny, wants to message me; feel free too!….p.s. The Truant Officer in my painting looks Very similar to the ‘Traffic Cop” Saturday Evening Post cover!

  3. Diana! Alan Foster was my grandfather! How thrilling to come across this site and all the research you have done, sharing his work. Thank you!

    My memories of him: He passed before I was old enough to really know him but I have some memories from childhood.

    Always in a suit with white handkerchief in pocket. And his cigars! I don’t think I remember him without one. I’ve heard family stories of his sense of humour as you’ve evidenced here in his paintings. However, he was know to play many family pranks!

    But as a child I saw him as a rather striking, daunting figure – until one day.
    We were visiting him in his NY apt (I was about six). He made me my first toasted peanut butter and bananna sandwhich. It was love at first bite!

    Most of his work were of children (my mother and uncle often posed for him when children for his pieces). Then there were plenty illustrations of boys playing baseball, many of which are now hung in “The Baseball Hall of Fame.” He also did cover illustrations for “Collier’s” magazine which is now defunct.

    Thank you, again. A wonderful tribute to a man I’m proud to call “Gramps”

  4. These are excellent covers. Mr. Foster was an excellent artist. Too bad more is not known about him.

  5. ‘String Quartet’ is a great cover. If it had sound it would be comparable to Lucy Ricardo’s “all girl band” in the early ’50s.

    ‘Sweet Adeline’ is great also. If these 4 were in a “new” ’55 Pontiac convertible it would have to be ‘California Here I Come’, right?

    ‘Faithful Friends’. Love this cover! Just the idea that something like this could have happened decades ago is very sweet. If THIS one had sound it would be the ‘Little Rascals’ theme song, at least to me.

    ‘Traffic Cop’. Neat cover. Never would have thought of a traffic cop in this sense at all until now! I’m sure it’s based on fact, too.

    ‘Hot Tamale 5’ also has the classic POST cover background circle. These instruments look pretty state-of-the-art for ’25, and still do really. I can understand Grandma’s shock!

    ‘I Was Tardy’. Great cover. I like the detail comparison with Rockwell too. I wonder how many times the teacher made him write it. I also wonder if this was DURING class as we see the the girl there with a school book. Kids are generally punished AFTER class; I know I was. ANYWAY, I think he got the message.


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