Can you find all of the visual jokes in Norman Rockwell’s three April Fool’s covers?
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Members get access to all of the covers of The Saturday Evening Post.
Norman Perceval Rockwell, The Saturday Evening Post’s most famous illustrator, is considered by many to be one of America's greatest artists. He was a master storyteller via canvas and paint, and his works, capturing the triumphs and foibles of the common man, are as popular today as they were in decades past.
While those familiar with The Saturday Evening Post often think of Norman Rockwell as its most prominent illustrator, his mentor, Joseph Christian Leyendecker, made the Post an iconic magazine. Through his illustrious career as a popular cover artist, The Post rang in the early twentieth century with dozens of J.C. Leyendecker’s babies, advertisements, and holiday illustrations.
Born to Peter and Elizabeth Leyendecker in Montabaur, Germany on March 23rd, 1874, “J.C.” Leyendecker emigrated from Germany to Chicago, Illinois with his family in 1882 at the age of 8. His close relationships with his two brothers, Francis Xavier and Adolph, along with sister Mary Augusta, would later impact the adorable infant and adolescent depictions of his most famous illustrations.
Having a natural talent for art, Leyendecker and his brother, Frank, studied and worked together on small projects wherever they could find them. At the age of 15, Leyendecker apprenticed with J. Manz & Co. Engraving in Chicago. He learned quickly, rising to a job as Associate Illustrator under his Chicago Art Institute instructor, John Henry Vanderpool. Vanderpool had studied, researched, and even published a book on human anatomy, passing on to Leyendecker much of what artistic anatomical knowledge was available at the time.
By age 19, Manz & Co. had given Leyendecker a solo contract to illustrate sixty images for a client’s private bible, demonstrating utmost faith in his artistic abilities. In early 1896, the artist won a magazine cover competition for Century Magazine, which elevated his artistic brand to national fame. By autumn, J.C. and his brother Frank had enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris, France. J.C. Leyendecker quickly rose to prominence while in Europe, earning a spot in a major painting exhibition at The Salon Champs de Mars in 1897. The brothers returned to Chicago in 1898 and together opened a studio for two years before moving their firm to New York City in 1900.
Over the course of his artistic career, Leyendecker completed 322 illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post and countless others for magazines such as The American Weekly, Success, and Collier’s. Not only did the artist work for magazines, he also created some of the most successful advertising campaigns in American history.
His ingenuity led to serial popularity, whether by the continuation of his New Year’s Baby theme for The Post as started in the magazine’s December 29th, 1906 edition, or his invention of the debonair Arrow Collar Man while working for Cluett, Peabody & Co. in 1905. His work for Arrow Collar single-handedly increased the company’s sales to $32 million a year, making it the nation’s most successful men’s clothing company.
Arrow Collars and Shirts” by J.C. Leyendecker from November 8, 1930
Leyendecker’s strong models defined manhood for an entire generation. His artistic reach knew no bounds. His famed illustrative depictions range from calendar holidays to collectable artwork of cherubim babies, relatable American life, and sports and war heroes. In some ways, Leyendecker happened to be a trained artist in the right place, at the right time. His work brought him financial success and international notoriety during the golden age of American illustration.
In 1914, he built a home in New Rochelle, New York where he lived with his brother Frank, sister Mary, and the original Arrow Collar model Charles A. Beach. Beach lived in the house as Leyendecker’s live-in secretary, business manager, and partner. J.C.’s brother Frank eventually moved out of the house in the early 1920s (possibly due to jealousy over his brother’s fame) and died of an overdose in 1924. Leyendecker’s popularity and financial success not only survived, but thrived during The Great Depression and World War II era.
By 1945, editorial changes at The Saturday Evening Post cut his once unbreakable relationship with the magazine. He had spent much of his earned income and returned to shopping his illustrations during the pre-eminent rise of photography.
Leyendecker lived a solitary life, keeping his family and friends close. He was never a recluse, yet shied away from public engagement. His home in New Rochelle was once known for boisterous and enjoyable parties. The grounds contained a large garden complex complete with roaming chickens and ducks where artists could trade ideas and discuss technique.
J.C. Leyendecker outlived many of his friends and, by the time he died of a heart attack in 1951, had only five individuals attend his funeral. Norman Rockwell and three of Leyendecker’s favorite male models acted as pallbearers. Leyendecker had faced some financial struggles toward the end of his life when the popularity of periodicals and illustrated covers declined. He still managed to leave a sizeable inheritance of $60,400 to his sister and 49 year live-in partner, Charles Beach. They, now famously, sold many of his life’s works in a yard sale in the gardens of the New Rochelle house for as little as $75 a piece.
John Falter was a born and raised Midwestern illustrator, originally from Nebraska. Born in 1910 in Plattsmouth, Falter moved to Falls City in 1916 for his father’s job. From an early age, Falter found art and illustration attractive.
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 Falter 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 art education at the Art Students League in New York City at the height of the Great Depression.
Stevan Dohanos, born May 18, 1907 in Lorain, Ohio, grew up as a great admirer of Norman Rockwell, going so far as to copy his Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations in crayon that he sold to friends, relatives, and co-workers. Little did Stevan know, he would develop a close personal friendship with Rockwell as his own art graced the Post’s cover 123 times over the course of his lifetime.
Dohanos was the third of nine children born to Hungarian immigrants Elizabeth and Andras Dohanos. His upbringing in a midwestern steel town would later influence the cultivation of his artistic style showing the normalcy and realism of American life. While inspired by Rockwell’s talent, Dohanos became an “American Realist” who depicted everyday life as it was. He was most heavily influenced by the work of Edward Hopper, and chose not to idealize American life the way Rockwell did.
Dohanos realized his love of art fairly early in life, selling calendars and illustration copies for $1.00 to $3.00 apiece while he worked in a grocery store and later at an office job. He began his formal education by taking correspondence classes through the International Correspondence School. Soon after, the artist took night classes at the Cleveland School of Art where he received a scholarship to complete his formal art studies.
During and after art school, the young Dohanos worked in a Cleveland advertising firm, then travelled around the country painting wall murals before heading to New York City to work as a commercial artist. He eventually moved to the artist colony of Westport, Connecticut where he found inspiration in the everyday lives of his neighbors.
While working in the city, Dohanos picked up advertising work from clients such as Four Roses Whiskey, Maxwell House Coffee, Pan Am Airlines, Cannon Towels, Olin Industries, and John Hancock Insurance. His work was featured in Esquire, Medical Times, McCall’s, and Colliers prior to his first successful submission to The Saturday Evening Post. In September of 1938, he married his longtime sweetheart, Margit Kovacs, and had two children, Peter and Paul.
His first Post cover, the March 7, 1942 issue, was a well-received wartime image of air raid searchlights from an artillery battery. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the artist’s workload for The Post increased, garnering a contract for roughly a dozen covers a year.
During World War II, Dohanos aided the war effort by painting recruitment posters and wall murals for federal buildings. He also designed stamps for the federal government, starting during the Roosevelt administration, and staying in the profession the rest of his life.
As magazine covers turned toward photography and away from illustration, Dohanos quickly changed careers. He did film art for such classics as White Christmas and was the chairman of the National Stamp Advisory Committee where he oversaw the art design for over 300 stamps. He held the position throughout the administrations of 7 presidents and 9 Postmaster Generals. His depictions include presidential portraits, the now collectible NATO commemorative stamps from 1959, and the 1967 John F. Kennedy commemorative stamp.
Stevan Dohanos found beauty in everyday life, choosing to focus on “the location and trappings of the American dream, not those who populated it.” Elevated to lofty status as a famous Saturday Evening Post illustrator, Dohanos’s works now adorn the walls, halls, and galleries of The Cleveland Museum, The New Britain Museum of American Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Dartmouth College, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and various federal post offices across the United States. He died July 4th, 1994 at the age of 87, leaving behind his second wife Joan and their son, Anthony.
Born in New York City in 1907, George Hughes grew up in the epicenter of twentieth century art and advertising. He stayed in the city until adulthood, skipping college to attend the National Academy of Design and the Art Students’ League in the city.
After having finished his education, he provided freelance illustrations to the fashion industry including works for Vanity Fair and House and Garden. In 1936, the automotive industry drew him away from New York to Detroit. He worked in a stable job, contracted as a special designer, a Mechanical Designer for car companies. He disliked the industry, and shortly thereafter moved back to New York City.
Upon returning to the city, he had a short-lived first marriage and joined the Charles E. Cooper Studio. He created art and copy for the firm, and was eventually picked up as a talent for representation by American Artists. He quickly remarried. This time, love lasted a lifetime. He married a woman named Casey, and the two had a total of five daughters.
In 1942, Hughes caught the eye of Saturday Evening Post Art Director, Ken Stuart. Hughes had created a simple illustration for an interior fiction piece in the magazine. Stuart then commissioned Hughes for a series of WWII portraits of American generals titled “These Are the Generals.” This collection brought Hughes early national fame, and the Post kept tabs on his developing work for later possible covers.
With a growing family, Hughes and his wife decided they needed more living space. It was time to leave New York’s urban sprawl. George knew that Arlington, Vermont was growing in popularity among American artists. The Schaeffers, the Rockwells, and the Athertons were all family friends who lived there. In 1946, George and Casey bought a small farm near the other artists.
Their apparent reasons for purchase included the scenery and good business. The Hughes’s wanted to cultivate an air of artistic sophistication, forcing themselves into the popular artist group. Their plan paid off as Hughes soon became a recurring Post cover artist.
Hughes once remarked that he enjoyed sailing in summer, duck hunts in the fall, and skiing in winter. Arlington, Vermont turned out to be the perfect place to build his life. The Hughes’s developed lasting friendships as well. George often ran into Norman Rockwell in downtown Arlington. Rockwell would ask George’s opinion on his sketch ideas, but constantly painted the opposite of George’s advice in his final draft. The situation became a running joke between the two artists.
George Hughes’s first Saturday Evening Post cover was on the April 17th, 1948 issue. From that point on, Hughes had a successful career in the art world. He completed a total of 115 Post covers, along with illustrations for McCall’s, Woman’s Day, American Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, and many more.
Hughes, more than any other Post artist except Rockwell, survived the rise of photography. His last Post cover was July 14th, 1962 until he completed one more for the magazine revival in 1971. In the 1970s, he switched professions in the art world to become a successful portrait artist. He lived a full life, and died in 1990. During his lifetime, Hughes had seen his work on display in the Detroit Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
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