Beyond the Canvas: Covering Up

You'd never guess by looking at it, but Kurt Ard's 1958 cover for the Post has a somewhat scandalous backstory.

Sunscreen? Kurt Ard August 16, 1958 © SEPS

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Sunscreen? Kurt Ard August 16, 1958 © SEPS
Kurt Ard
August 16, 1958 © SEPS

The Saturday Evening Post’s August 16, 1958 cover “Sunscreen?” wasn’t just about covering up to save delicate skin from a blistering sunburn.

On the surface, the illustration shows a couple who have a different approach to a day on the beach–the woman enjoys the full force of the mid-summer sun, while her companion, much less concerned about tanning his lily-white skin, hides under the safety of his beach towel.

But covering up was more than a relatable joke in this illustration. It was a very real problem artist Kurt Ard had to solve to make his cover appropriate for publication.

Ard painted his illustrations from his studio in Copenhagen, Denmark. When he submitted sketches to The Saturday Evening Post, he had to wait for replies from the art department and his editors before he could start applying paint to canvas, and sometimes he had to stop working all together to wait for approval if he wanted to make any changes to the piece before it was finished.

In the 1950s, bathing suit styles were ever-changing (shrinking mostly). Ard’s initial sketch for ‘Sunscreen?’ included a short skirt for the woman’s swimsuit, as was the European style. But American swimsuits in the 1950s, had a more modest-length skirt with tight shorts underneath to keep the legs covered (more commonly known as a skort).

When Post editors asked for updated sketches, they were shocked to find the tanning woman in short-skirted European swimwear. Ard hadn’t asked for approval to make this change, and wasn’t aware of American sensitivities in swimwear to consider an executive decision like this could pose a problem.

Unfortunately, by the time editors notified Ard that the sketch was inappropriate, it was too late for him to start over on the illustration. Instead, he made a simple fix to cover up both the woman and his mistake by shifting the woman’s left knee so the skirt looked to have fallen back to her hip as she lay down.

He managed to pull off the solution just in time for publication. The viewer still gets the illustration’s contrasting point, and America was none the wiser to the more ‘scandalous’ European swimsuit that had appeared before. This comical cover remains a favorite at the Post to this day.

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  1. This is a personal favorite of mine as well. Kurt Ard was one of the best artists of this era, and knowing the story behind the story the cover’s conveying makes me love it all the more. He certainly defines grace under pressure by ‘fixing it’ just in the nick of time.

    No cover blurbs, product codes or address labels to interfere with it either, at least not here, which is very much appreciated!


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