American illustrator J.F. Kernan (1878–1958) specialized in images of middle-class life for the covers and pages of popular magazines from the 1910s to 1940s. His nostalgic and often humorous illustrations celebrate the simple comforts of home, family, and outdoor recreation.
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, Kernan studied and taught at the Eric Pape School of Art in Boston before embarking on his career as a professional artist. He became a well-known artist whose works soon graced the covers of nearly every major magazine during the 1920s and 1930s including The Country Gentleman, Outdoor Life, Collier’s Liberty, Capper’s Farmer,The Elks, and the Associated Sunday. His work was also featured on calendars and advertisements of the period. His credits include 26 covers for The Saturday Evening Post between 1924 and 1936.
Covers by J.F. Kernan
Kernan was 45 years old when his first Post cover appeared on newsstands May 31, 1924, depicting an old sailor, with a parrot on his shoulder, working on a model ship while a young sailor looks on. An outdoorsman as well as an athlete (he played professional baseball to help finance his art education), Kernan would frequently incorporate those themes into his work. Hunting and fishing were popular topics. His art captured, as he described it, “the human side of outdoor sports, hunting, fishing and dogs.”
Kernan’s final Post cover, The Sprinter, honored the Olympic Games. It was a fitting finish because so much of his life’s work commemorated sportsman and outdoor life.
Joseph Francis Kernan died in 1958.
An athlete and outdoorsman, artist Joseph Francis Kernan was known as the “poor man’s Norman Rockwell.” But Kernan was a superb illustrator in his own right.
During the 1920s and ’30s, J.F. Kernan (1878-1958) illustrated nearly 30 Post covers. Some, such as his beautiful 1927 cover (below), depicted the seaside or old sailors.
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, Joseph Francis Kernan attended the Eric Pape School of Art in Boston and later taught at the school before embarking on his art career.
His art featured, as he described it, “the human side of outdoor sports, hunting, fishing, and dogs.”
From humor back to his outdoorsman passions, one of Kernan’s finest works is this fisherman tying a fly from 1929. The color palette is subtle but stunning, and the rippling water looks good enough to jump into.
His work also appeared on covers of major magazines of the time, including The Country Gentleman, Outdoor Life, and Collier’s Liberty.
Like most illustrators of this era, Kernan did artwork for ads. All of his art varied from the picturesque to wry comic situations.
His baseball cover, for example, is picturesque, but in the ad from 1926 for Fisk Tires we have a couple of boys about to get in trouble for watching a game through a peephole instead of paying admission—not an uncommon theme for the 1920s.
(Interestingly, baseball was not just a mere spectator sport for Kernan. He helped finance his art education for a period of time as a professional baseball player.)
You can see the theme in Kernan’s 1920 cover for the Post‘s sister publication, The Country Gentleman.
If you’re familiar with Post covers, you’ll also notice that there’s some resemblance in Kernan’s early artwork to his contemporary, Norman Rockwell.
In this cover it is 1922, and one supposes there must be a downside to women getting the vote.
Reprints of The Saturday Evening Post covers are available at Art.com.