Beyond The Canvas: Dad, Interrupted

Thornton Utz’s “Unwelcome Pool Guests” perfectly conveys the moment when fatherhood isn't necessarily a blessing.

Unwelcome Pool Guests Thornton Utz July 22, 1961 © SEPS2014

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<em>Unwelcome Pool Guests</em> <br /> Thornton Utz <br /> July 22, 1961 © SEPS2014
Unwelcome Pool Guests
Thornton Utz
July 22, 1961 © SEPS2014

Father’s Day, a commercial holiday if ever there was one, tends to be associated with family harmony. Isn’t dad just the best!

But dads are real people with real emotions. Sometimes, when a dad has a lovely tranquil day planned, something spoils it, and then you better look out.

Thornton Utz’s July 22, 1961 cover, “Unwelcome Pool Guests,” (not intended as a satire on Father’s Day, by the way) perfectly conveys this kind of moment.

Utz, a master of family drama, uses the man’s facial expression to convey the general feeling of the scene we’re witnessing–annoyance. What was supposed to be a relaxing day lounging outside has quickly turned to a family pool party fiasco.

Next to the man, the artist illustrated the hallmarks of a day spent relaxing. We see a tuned radio, morning slippers, coffee cup and saucer, breakfast tray (complete with grapefruit half), lit cigarette, newspapers, suntan oil lamp; lotion, tanning eye covers, sunglasses, and most importantly, the man’s set-aside unstrapped watch. He’s shirtless, unadorned, and hoisting his feet upon an ottoman as he sinks into the sling of a pool chair.

The man has nowhere to be on such a warm and sunny weekend. It is early morning, the sun hasn’t even risen over the roofline of the house enough to warm the pool naturally. Our homeowner has taken his breakfast outside by the pool to read the Saturday paper. There’s not a single ripple on the reflective water.

This pool takes up the majority of the illustration’s canvas for a symbolic reason. The barrier of crystal stillness is all that separates the homeowner from the ensuing chaos of splashing and yelling approaching from the parked car at the far edge of the illustration’s frame.

His clean and tidy yard, his happy, tranquil world, is about to become quite the mess. A man hollers from the car, barely restraining two dogs. Eight children run, if you count the leg still in the car, and adults slowly clamor out of the vehicle.

Whether these arriving individuals are extended family, friends, or even just local neighbors, everyone looks ready to have a good time–except the pool’s owner. But the arriving guests are clearly close enough in their relationship to the pool-lounger to feel that their presence could never be a bother.

While family and family-centered activities are wonderful memory-crafting events, sometimes dads just want to relax and have some much-relished alone time. So this Father’s Day, get the father figure in your life a card and a gift, and maybe a little time off. Remember that a little relaxation might just be the most appreciated gift of all.

Photo of illustrator Thornton Utz. Photo by Joseph Janney Steinmetz. Source: <a href="">State Archives of Florida, <em> Florida Memory</em></a>To learn more about Thornton Utz and to see other inside illustrations and covers from this artist, click here!.

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  1. This is one of my most favorite POST covers ever. Few, very few, can touch it in terms of telling a story the way this one can. Joseph, thanks for helping me notice the unstrapped watch on that crowded table.

    My own take on this cover is the man that’s settled into his mid-century ‘butterfly chair’ may not be a Dad at all. The woman outside the car is his wife (scarf probably covering hair in curlers) speaking to her sister with the 8 (gulp) children, trying to be gracious, but politely asking her what she’s doing there! She must have errands, something preventing her from just dropping by—unannounced, right?

    The wife knows her husband’s worked hard all week, needs his downtime by the pool, and probably had just started relaxing when “they” showed up! Yes! Yes indeedy! And there’s not much they can do about it–for now.

    I REALLY don’t think this man likes his boorish brother-in-law much—at all. I can imagine bro-in-law shouting that a couple of the kids might be sick, both dogs have had diarrhea lately, and he’s grateful for the lawn bein’ right there for them.

    Meanwhile our guy just wanting tranquility has to shout back “no problem” with a straight face and sincere sounding manner, no doubt thinking he and his wife are going to have to have a conversation later about (going about) doing something more drastic. They’ve probably tried dropping hints to no avail, and now have to explain things in the UN-sugarcoated terms they’ve tried to avoid, but today was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    In their discussion 5 hours later, he asks her with a smile if she regrets not having children and with eyes rolled upward then closed quietly answers ‘definitely not’.

    One last observation is Utz’s yellow and white station wagon. Although the overall impression of the cover (if you didn’t know the date) is that it’s from the ’50s, it’s not. The car says ’60s; early, but definitely ’60s. The front doors forward are clearly a 1960 Ford, with the roof line and lower rear quarter panels generic, but going with it perfectly. I’ve noticed this before. In fact on page 48 of the current POST issue there’s a red ’59 T-Bird minus the fins in the weather art feature.


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