Cover Collection: Bad Neighbors

The 1950s and ’60s were a time of conformity, right? Well, leave it to Post cover artists to find the odd ones.

Painting the Patio Green by Thornton Utz
Painting the Patio Green
Thornton Utz
May 2, 1953

The way Harry figures it, you can spend all summer planting, mowing, and watering—or you can just paint the dadgum patio green and relax in your hammock for the duration of nice weather. Admit it, you wish you had thought of it. This was by cover artist Thornton Utz, who apparently had a thing about yardwork.

Spring Yardwork by Thornton Utz
Spring Yardwork
Thornton Utz
May 18, 1957

Thornton Utz, the artist who painted the above cover, has yet another option to yardwork. Just let the darn thing go. While industrious neighbors are raking, shoveling, planting, and so forth, Joe just sits back, communing with nature and catching the game on his portable TV. Well, communing with crabgrass. If you click on the cover for a close-up view, you’ll see he even has a fan rigged up to blow cool air from a large block of ice. Hey, when watching the game in living black and white, no comfort is overlooked.

 Tuba Next Door by George Hughes
The Tuba Next Door
George Hughes
September 27, 1952

“I’m all for free spirits,” thinks the blonde lady leaning out her window, “until one moves in next door!” What’s moving in next door is a big bass drum and tuba. What, you got something against music, lady?

Violin Practice by Richard Sargent
Violin Practice
Richard Sargent
February 5, 1955

Perhaps nosy blonde lady above can learn something from the kid down the street. Billy is not yet enamored by the sounds of the violin, but was told he has to practice an hour a day. According to the timer on the chair, he has so far gotten in about five minutes. The ear muffs should help.

I’d Rather Be Golfing by Thornton Utz
I’d Rather Be Golfing
Thornton Utz
May 20, 1961

I’d Rather Be Golfing shows us a neighbor saying to heck with yardwork by, guess who? Yes, apparently cover artist Thornton Utz used much of his artistic creativity in devising ways to avoid lawn maintenance. One has to admire a man like that.

Cold Water Swimmer by Richard Sargent
Cold Water Swimmer
Richard Sargent
June 17, 1961

The water temperature is 50 degrees and even the lifeguard is bundled up. But there’s always one guy, isn’t there? Otherwise, there would be no need for a lifeguard on this nippy day. I’m thinking old Smiley here was the same kid who, just before the bell rang to dismiss class, would remind the teacher she hadn’t assigned homework yet.

Descriptions by Diana Denny.

Cover Collection: Tremendous Trains

Whether you’re a die-hard train buff, a transportation geek, or merely a weary commuter, trains have long played a major role in American life. These covers — from as early as 1901 — reflect our love affair with locomotives.

Commuter Train by Thornton Utz. 10/20/51
Commuter Train
Thornton Utz
October 20, 1951

The top panel of this painting by Thornton Utz shows a well-dressed group of commuters waiting for the Empire Express. Notice the lady in red on the near left with her caged canary. Scene Two: Skirts and hats are flying as the Express roars by. The poor kid on in the letter sweater crashes into the birdcage. The third panel shows a disheveled lot, to say the least. Do you see what happened to the befuddled canary?

Railroad Engineer by J.J. Gould. 1/16/04
Railroad Engineer
J.J. Gould
January 16, 1904

Train buffs love this turn-of-the-century railroad engineer. Standing by the mighty mechanical monster he conducts, he poses for artist J.J. Gould.

Turn of the Century Transportation by George Gibbs. 1/26/1901
Turn of the Century Transportation
George Gibbs
January 26, 1901

As far back as 1901, trains have graced our covers. Horseless carriages, ships and trains – what will they think of next? A cityscape in the background completes this bow to modernity. The quote below the cover art says: “Bowing respectfully to the past, and rendering justice to the present, we salute the future and true progress. – Montalembert”.

Trainyard Flower Garden by Stevan Dohanos. 8/9/47
Trainyard Flower Garden
Stevan Dohanos
August 9, 1947

We love this cover by artist Stevan Dohanos from 1947. The editors noted that the artist had actually worked on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for a few years. “He checked loads and tracks, beginning a ten-mile hike at 6:30 every morning. He came to think highly of the switchyard men, because in their shacks he could get warm.” Dohanos painted this in his hometown of Lorain, Ohio.

Waving to Train in the Distance by John Falter. 5/4/57
Waving to Train in the Distance
John Falter
May 4, 1957

John Falter, when a child, used to listen to freight trains chugging up a nearby hill and worry about whether they’d make it. Our scene is Missouri, the Missouri River and Kansas beyond. This time we are in Missouri, looking at Kansas in the distance. This time the kids are waving clear across the river to the train. Or maybe they just know somebody in Kansas to wave to.

Steam Engine Along the Missouri by John Falter. 6/22/46
Steam Engine Along the Missouri
John Falter.
June 22, 1946

Artist John Falter did 129 Post covers, and this is a good example of why. Belching smoke along the mighty Missouri River, this steam engine doesn’t warrant a glance from the boys walking by. They also are probably unaware they are using a route once used by Lewis and Clark. You are in Kansas, looking over into Missouri in this one.

Descriptions by Diana Denny.

News of the Week: The Dog Days of Summer, Delivery Drones, and Dating Dos and Don’ts

Water Fight by Thornton Utz
Water Fight
Thornton Utz
June 30, 1951

And Its Not a Dry Heat

It’s 147 degrees where I live. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. It’s 91 degrees and humid. It only feels like 147.

These are “the dogs days of summer,” and the saying actually doesn’t have anything to do with dogs being lazy in July and August. It has to do with Sirius. That’s the dog star in the sky and not the satellite music channel. Though they once used a dog in their logo too. But I think it’s one of those sayings that changed over time and for all intents and purposes that’s what it means now.

Here are some classic covers of The Saturday Evening Post that celebrate these summer days. My favorite is 1951’s Water Fight by Thornton Utz. There’s so much going on in that picture.

Knock Knock. Whos There? Amazon. Amazon Who?

I don’t know if I ever want to open my front door and see a flying machine in front of it with my order from Amazon. How would that even work? Does a metal arm come out and ring your doorbell or knock on the door? Does a robotic voice call you on the phone and say “Hey, I’m outside!” or yell through an open window?

The company is testing drone delivery in Britain. Right now the tests, which aren’t allowed in the U.S., will be conducted under 400 feet, in rural and suburban areas.

These drones probably can’t deliver an 80-inch HDTV to you, but it might be great if you need socks.

Political Conventions on TV: A History

The Democrat and Republican conventions are officially over. We now return you to regular programming.

Atlas Obscura, a terrific site that explores the nooks and crannies of the world and its history, has an interesting piece about the first televised Democratic convention. It was in 1948 and it was the last one that didn’t have air conditioning (it was probably 147 degrees in there). And like this year’s Democratic convention, it was held in Philadelphia.

VHS tapes

Goodbye VCRs!

I gave up my VCR years ago, which was probably an odd thing to do since I have many, many videotapes of TV shows that will probably never be on DVD or online (and I like the old commercials that are on the shows as well). I also don’t understand DVRs. They’re great and convenient, but more than once I’ll have a bunch of episodes of a TV show on them I want to catch up on and then my cable box will die, and I’ll have to give my cable company back the box, and I lose everything I’ve recorded. Is there an easy way to transfer stuff on my DVR to DVD or my computer?

After 40 years, VCRs are going away! Funai, the last company to make the devices, has announced that they will stop making them because not many people want them anymore and the parts are hard to get.

What’s interesting is that there were 750,000 VCRs sold last year, so somebody is still buying them. I’ll probably buy another at some point. Maybe they’ll become hip again, like vinyl records and flip phones and typewriters.

RIP Marni Nixon, Jack Davis, Richard Thompson, and Miss Cleo

Marni Nixon’s voice was known more than her name, even though you didn’t know she was singing. Does that sentence make sense? Nixon was the singing voice for various actresses in many movies over the years, including Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Deborah Kerr in The King and I. Her voice can also be heard in Cheaper By the Dozen, An Affair to Remember, Mulan, and other films. She passed away in New York City at the age of 86.

I didn’t realize that Nixon was the mother of Andrew Gold, who wrote and performed the hit song “Lonely Boy” and also wrote “Thank You for Being a Friend,” later used as the theme song to The Golden Girls. He died in 2011.

Jack Davis was one of the more influential pop culture artists of the 20th century. He was a cartoonist and illustrator and worked in many fields, from comic books and movie posters to album covers and magazines like TV Guide and Mad, where he was one of the founding artists in 1952. He was the last remaining EC Comics (Tales from the Crypt, etc.) artist. Davis passed away Wednesday at the age of 91.

Another cartoonist died this week too. Richard Thompson did the comic Cul de Sac until he had to retire because of Parkinson’s Disease in 2009. He was only 58.

Youree Dell Harris passed away this week too. You knew her better as Miss Cleo, the host of late night infomercials for The Psychic Readers Network. She died of cancer at 53.

Star Trek: Discovery

I know, I know, Star Trek posts two weeks in a row, but this is big news in Trekker-dom. At Comic-Con, CBS announced the name of the new series that will debut on the network’s streaming service All-Access in January (after the first episode is shown on CBS). The new show will be called Star Trek: Discovery (the U.S.S. Discovery is the name of the ship).

The show won’t follow the new timeline of the current big-screen movies, and executive producer Bryan Fuller says that each season of the show will focus on one story and won’t be episodic. Fuller also says the rumors going around that Discovery will take place before Star Trek: The Next Generation are false. No cast members have been announced yet.

Did You Miss Me?

Also coming in 2017 is season — or series, if you’re in England — four of Sherlock. Very excited. Here’s the trailer:

Smelly Apartments Are a Deal Breaker 

One of my favorite episodes of Friends — it’s actually one of the greatest sitcom episodes, period — is “The One with the Dirty Girl.” Not only does it come in the middle of two of the show’s great story arcs (Chandler falling in love with Joey’s girlfriend; Monica and Phoebe doing their catering service), it’s also the episode where Ross dates a really attractive woman (Rebecca Romijn) and finds out she has a truly disgusting apartment, with garbage everywhere and rats running around. As the kids say, it’s LOL funny.

I thought of that episode when reading this list of the top dating dos and don’ts. The list comes from Wayfair, the home furnishing company that appears to have nine different jingles in their commercials. The thing that guys and girls equally hate the most about potential dates? Smelly apartments. Other deal breakers include grimy bathrooms, bad plumbing, poorly behaved pets, and lack of privacy.

Men and women also seem to hate ripped upholstery. Honestly, this is something I’ve never thought of when considering who I will date.


National Cheesecake Day

When I was a kid I hated cheesecake. Looking back it wasn’t because I didn’t like the taste. In fact, I don’t think I ever had cheesecake as a kid. It was more of a “Cheese? In a dessert?!?” type of attitude. But as an adult I learned to love it. Probably too much. But a lot of people love cheesecake too much. I mean, to keep up with demand there have been entire factories built just for their production.

Tomorrow is National Cheesecake Day. Here’s a recipe for chocolate chip cheesecake from Bake or Break, and here’s a classic no-bake version from Kraft that uses Philadelphia Cream Cheese. If it’s 147 degrees where you are, you might not want to turn on the oven.

A convention in Philadelphia and Philadelphia Cream Cheese. This was a theme week.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

I Want My MTV! (August 1, 1981)

Here’s the very first video that was broadcast on the network.

Germany and Russia go to war (August 1, 1914)

Is the Great War still relevant?

Iraq invasion of Kuwait (August 2, 1990)

After Iraq defied United Nations sanctions and orders, the United States and Coalition forces launched an attack on January16, 1991.

Ernie Pyle born (August 3, 1900)

The great war correspondent was born in Dana, Indiana, and was killed near Okinawa, Japan, in 1945.

First issue of The Saturday Evening Post published (August 4, 1821)

SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson takes a look at some of our earliest issues.

Marilyn Monroe dies (August 5, 1962)

Here’s a terrific profile of the actress by Pete Martin, from the May 5, 1956, issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

Summer Fun

It’s the season of empty classrooms, sleepy afternoons, and mercury rising up the meter. These covers offer a glance at the happy-go-lucky methods of sun-baked escapism for adults and kids alike.

Sliding into Water – Lawrence Toney
Sand between your toes and surf lapping at the shore is fine and good, but the neighborhood waterslide can serve just as well. For some, a pair of trunks and the rush of gravity are more than enough to beat the heat.

Lawrence Toney July 12, 1930
Lawrence Toney

July 12, 1930

Water Fight – Thornton Utz
Providing the water supply holds out, a little mirth and mayhem can turn a suburban lawn into an amphibious battleground. Thorton Utz’s work is a giddy cautionary tale for everyone walking by to hike up their socks.

Thornton Utz June 30, 1951
Thornton Utz

June 30, 1951

Croquet Game – John Falter
The family tournament portrayed in John Falter’s Croquet Game makes for a fitting post-Sunday dinner capper as the sunlight steadily trickles away.

John Falter September 29, 1951
John Falter

September 29, 1951

No Girls Allowed – Stevan Dohanos
A ramshackle paradise tucked into the trees makes the perfect lazy afternoon retreat for the adolescent crowd still harboring fears of a cootie outbreak. With trumpet, pooch, and crossbones all aloft, they can’t want for much.

Stevan Dohanos August 9, 1952
Stevan Dohanos

August 9, 1952

Feeding the Elephants – John Clymer
Getting up close and personal with a pair of curious pachyderms may be the thrill of the afternoon, but that motley bouquet of balloons just beyond the elephant habitat is sure to draw some new customers in the immediate future.

John Clymer July 25, 1953
John Clymer

July 25, 1953

Town Green – John Clymer
A tot jamboree, future hall-of-fame hopefuls, and lounging bookworms round out the cast of John Clymer’s sprawling Town Green, where all can bask in the stippled shade around the gazebo.

John Clymer August 15, 1953
John Clymer

August 15, 1953

Backyard Campers – Amos Sewell
A bump in the night is never welcome when all you have are tent flaps for defense. And a few ghost stories too many can render the most innocuous cicada chirp into a sinister bogey-beast on the prowl.

Amos Sewell September 5, 1953
Amos Sewell

September 5, 1953

Lemonade for the Lawnboy – George Hughes
A shiny quarter would be welcome, but when trimming the lawn in the sticky heat of early summer, payment in icy fresh-squeezed lemonade is just as appreciated.

George Hughes May 14, 1955
George Hughes

May 14, 1955

Wading Pool – Amos Sewell
Even if one size doesn’t fit all, when the kiddie pool is the only escape from August heat, most are willing to make due. You snooze, you lose.

Amos Sewell August 27, 1955
Amos Sewell

August 27, 1955

Swing-set – Amos Sewell
With shoddy materials and blueprints more complex than the Manhattan Project’s, dad may end up getting better exercise than the kids. Luckily for his patient audience, this dance more than makes up for the lack of functioning swings.

Amos Sewell June 16, 1956
Amos Sewell

June 16, 1956

Billboard Painters – Stevan Dohanos
In mid-July swelter on the cusp of a scorching third digit, these workingmen are wise to take the advice of their arctic billboard. Unfortunately, no amount of wishful thinking can convince their fictional polar pals to share the snow.

Stevan Dohanos July 13, 1957
Stevan Dohanos

July 13, 1957

Where the Girls Are – Thornton Utz
As shown in Thorton Utz’s Where the Girls Are, the discerning college boy always has one eye open for opportunity, even in excess of the speed limit.

Thornton Utz August 17, 1957
Thornton Utz

August 17, 1957

Thornton Utz

Thornton Utz
Thornton Utz

“I do art work for people. I feel like I have to be relating to somebody. That’s important to me to be able to be of use, of value.”
-Thorton Utz

A southerner, Thornton Robyn Utz was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1914 where his father worked as a craftsman in horse-drawn carriage trimming until he moved over to automobile upholstery. From a very young age, Thornton Utz began drawing and illustrating without any professional training. He made his own comic strips to pass out to schoolmates. By high school, Utz had received encouragement from his teachers to pursue a career in the arts. His passion for art and illustration would build into a defining style that heavily influenced advertising and illustrating throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Utz’s work was so popular he received steady work before even having graduated from Memphis Technical. Utz was quick to make friends throughout his life. At Memphis Technical, he met a young man by the name of Euclid Shook, who became his artistic partner for several years. The two worked semi-professionally on advertisements and boards for fairs and carnivals across the state. They graduated from high school in 1933 and together enrolled in The Academy of Art in Chicago.

Crowded department store, lost child
Lost Child Department
Thornton Utz
December 20, 1958

While studying art in Chicago, Utz shopped his skills around various advertising firms and print shops looking for work. His time in Chicago helped form his defining illustrative style. Looking back, Utz believed the time was wasted, saying, “I don’t think I learned much that year- except that I would never learn art in art school.” Much to the artist’s own chagrin, his style developed most in Chicago because of his schooling and the influence of his relationships. The most important artistic relationships he developed were those of Coby Whitmore and Ben Stahl. They all later became prominent members of The Chicago Gang of illustrators, friends who worked together to build a synonymous style for illustration. In Chicago, Utz met his wife, Louise Prohaska, through Ben Stahl. The two fell in love with one another over the course of a long period, eventually marrying on March 6th, 1940.

Utz received his first major illustration contracts designing color page art for Bell Aircobra, leading to his discovery by The Saturday Evening Post for an illustration and agent signing in 1944. Utz quickly settled his family just outside of New York City in Westport, Connecticut where he could work for large publications and advertising firms from home while helping to raise two daughters and a son. Utz was fascinated by the Americana style and often chose to depict suburban families living their every day lives. Some of his favorite artistic choices involved objects of technology and movement such as buses, trains, and cars. The idea of mass transportation and its commentary on the speed of the times fascinated the southern boy whose father had to shift from working on horse carriages to automobiles.

By the 1950s, Thornton Utz was using the interactions in his life to reach out to the rest of the country through art. His illustrations of American families going to work, cooking, cleaning, mowing the yard, and completing other chores made for a strong connection to the sensibilities of the time. His potrayals of the successes and humors of American stereotypes resonated with the country’s citizens in the post-war boom economy. His work made him one of the most popular illustrators in post-war America, fetching commissions for forty-five Saturday Evening Post covers during the decade.

In the mid-1960s, Utz’s wife Louise fell ill and the artist took time off from his work to take care of her at the house. The family moved to Sarasota, Florida for her health where Utz was able to return to his work as an artist. He founded a cartography business designing maps. He eventually remarried and had more children. He sold his business and became a successful portrait artist, completing works for President Jimmy Carter, his wife, Rosalyn, and his daughter, Amy, and even commissions for the Princess of Monaco. Utz lived a full life as an artist with a successful career spanning many areas of the industry. He died in the year 2000.

Covers by Thornton Utz

View full gallery »

Beyond The Canvas: Dad, Interrupted

<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!.

Spring Covers: A Perennial Favorite

The spring equinox occurred weeks ago, March 20 to be exact, which means this winter’s tale has (finally!) come to a welcome end.

Here at The Saturday Evening Post, we have historically welcomed each spring with delightful covers from some of our greatest artists and illustrators, each cover offering a different take on varied spring themes. The following three covers show the range of springtime weather, and the ways we take advantage (or don’t) of the change in season.

The most prevalent activity of spring is the tending of of gardens. In Thornton Utz’s, “Spring Yardwork” from May 18, 1957, the viewer sees an entire neighborhood planting, watering, mowing, mulching, raking, and so on and so forth down the straight line of synonymous 1950s homes.

"Spring Yardwork" by Thornton Utz. May 18, 1957. © SEPS 2014
“Spring Yardwork” by Thornton Utz. May 18, 1957. © SEPS 2014

At the far end of the street, we view a man sunbathing in a yard completely lacking any cultivation. There are no perennials, no sprouting annual bulbs planted the previous fall, and he is not planting for the summer harvest. If anything, the old parable of the grasshopper and the ant comes to mind.

The lazy grasshopper homeowner at the far end looks out jealously from his lawn chair and barren yard to see the fruits of his ant neighbors’ labors. It’s not too late for him to make hay while the sun shines, but he looks awfully comfy drink in hand.

From sunshine to April showers, “Mailman” by Stevan Dohanos, which appeared on the May 13, 1944 issue, shows a devoted neighborhood staple, the rain-or-shine employees of the United Sates Postal Service completing his daily duties in a solemn, light afternoon shower. The mailman is an American ideal of civil service, the difficulty of his responsibilities unknown to those who conveniently find their mail waiting, as if by magic, in their mailboxes.

"Mailman" by Stevan Dohanos. May 13, 1944. © SEPS 2014
“Mailman” by Stevan Dohanos. May 13, 1944. © SEPS 2014

In contrast, “Spring Cleaning” by John Falter, from the March 26, 1949 cover, shows people who, unlike Dohanos’ mailman, have the luxury of finishing their chores on a beautiful, sunny day. Most would rather have fun on a sun-kissed afternoon, but completing a task in good weather is certainly preferable to the rain.

"Spring Cleaning" by John Falter. March 26, 1949. © SEPS 2014
“Spring Cleaning” by John Falter. March 26, 1949. © SEPS 2014

This season has much to offer, so take advantage! It’s time to head outside, to enjoy warmer weather, to plant our gardens, and to take charge of our spring-cleaning procrastinations (or eh, maybe next year). This season of early awakenings only comes once a year, so make sure to take a moment and appreciate this singular spring season.

Beyond the Canvas: ‘The Hurried Cleanup’ by Thornton Utz

"The Hurried Cleanup," by Thornton Utz from the October 24, 1953 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
“The Hurried Cleanup,” by Thornton Utz from the October 24, 1953 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.
Click here to license “The Hurried Cleanup” by Thornton Utz.
Click here to purchase artwork from Thornton Utz at

This three-paneled illustration from the October 24, 1953 cover of The Saturday Evening Post tells a humorous story about the reality of life in the home of an American nuclear family. In the 1950s era of perfectionist “Honey, I’m home!” television shows such as Leave it to Beaver and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, this cover gently tweaks American sensibilities by presenting the messier side of family life.

It’s an amusing story, in which a family must react to the arrival of an unexpected guest by engaging in a frenzied cleanup. But behind the charm of the subject matter lies a great deal of skill and engineering. If, on the surface, we are looking at three simple scenes that progressively tell a story, the artist, Thornton Utz, skillfully uses compositional framing of the work to guide viewers’ eyes across the piece in a precise way.

Let’s start with his use of contrast. There’s the bright yellow living room at the center of the first frame. To the right of the living room, the front stoop is depicted in the fading light of dusk. On the left, the kitchen is pitch black with little light entering the window. The dark frames on either side of the living room serve to encapsulate the important family space as a kind of cocoon. Our eyes look at the overly lit middle column placed in a warm setting of early evening.

Because he’s in motion, the young man walking to the door gets our immediate attention. By the illustration’s second frame, the action shifts to the middle column as the family rushes to make their home presentable. In the third frame, calm has returned. But the sharp contrast of the now-lit kitchen draws the eye to the bottom left frame. In effect, the artist has moved the story forward from the top right frame across the middle, down to the bottom left of the picture.

Notice, too, how the horizontal white lines clip each frame of the illustration like a filmstrip. They keep the spatial settings separate, clarifying the progression of the story as if we were looking at an actual motion picture. But unlike a movie, the illustration is divided into three horizontal frames and three vertical columns. Each ninth of the illustration affords the viewer an opportunity to look in on individual aspects of a scene as it unfolds.

In the final panel, the rest of the family, having moved to the kitchen, has reverted to a state of relaxation in the now available third room. Just as the artist employed visual contrast to tell the story, he is describing a psychological contrast between our messy interior lives and the neat façade we present to the outside world. The viewer relates to the mess, the frenzy, and the successful maintenance of proper etiquette. This family has quickly and effectively made their reality live up to the ideals of the era—but it was a close call.

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!.

Classic Covers: How I’ll Spend My Summer Vacation

Water Fight by Thornton Utz

Water Fight by Thornton Utz
Water Fight
Thornton Utz
June 30, 1951

First on the agenda is to start an all-out water war with the neighborhood kids. Artist Thornton Utz knew that any of these munchkins would fight a bath, but tackle them with hoses and the game is on. Your report will say you coordinated neighborhood activities. The adults clearing the sidewalk may not be especially fond of this particular activity, but your report won’t reflect that. This cover is from 1951.

Watering Father by Richard Sargent

Watering Father by Richard Sargent
Watering Father
Richard Sargent
June 4, 1955

“I thought of eco-friendly ways to help keep everyone cool,” your report will state. The shower will invigorate Dad, right? This 1955 cover shows why Dick Sargent was one of our favorite artists. What it doesn’t show is what happens seconds after this scene, for which we are thankful.

Bicycle Tricks by Thornton Utz

Bicycle Tricks by Thornton Utz
Bicycle Tricks
Thornton Utz
June 18, 1955

Your teacher will be impressed you made time for healthy exercise. You may need to click on the cover for a close-up, but basically, people are clearing a path for Hurricane Harry—not that he’s giving them much choice. But your report will show you took proper safety precautions—for yourself. In this 1955 cover, at least he’s wearing a helmet. It’s the safety of everyone else that is in question.

Dog Days of Summer by John Clymer

Dog Days of Summer by John Clymer
Dog Days of Summer
John Clymer
June 25, 1955

And it’s really nice you took time out on a lovely June day for watching the youngsters. This beautiful cover was by John Clymer, who dressed up dozens of Post covers with gorgeous landscapes. Thoughts of school are as far away as the farthest blue hills in this painting. But keep up the notes. Free babysitting will look good in your report.

Boy in Inner Tube by Eugene Iverd

Boy in Inner Tube by Eugene Iverd
Boy in Inner Tube
Eugene Iverd
August 1, 1936

“I kept it ‘green’ by finding uses for old items,” you’ll note. In this case, an old inner tube becomes a flotation device. This is from 1936 by artist Eugene Iverd, who did wonderful paintings of boys. For more of his great covers, enter “Iverd” in the search box. “Not only a serious student of art,” the Post noted in an August 2000 feature on the artist, “Iverd was also a teacher of art, first to wounded soldiers after the first world war and then to high school students.”

Piano Practice by George Hughes

Piano Practice by George Hughes
Piano Practice
George Hughes
June 11, 1960

“I faithfully kept up my music lessons,” your report will proudly conclude. It probably won’t mention that your mind was on swimming as you went through your Mozart exercises. Sure, Mozart had mastered minuets by the age of 4, but did he have a swimming pool waiting for him on a hot day? I think not. Practicing in your swim gear still counts.

Classic Covers: Post-Thanksgiving Shopping

Let the post-Thanksgiving shopping begin! Post cover artists over the decades have shown us how it’s done. And how darn tiring it can be.

The kid is having a meltdown; Dad already has more than he can handle, but Mom has a list and is on a mission! The 1936 cover by artist J.C. Leyendecker has a message: If you see a shopper this determined, get out of the way!

Children and husbands are not the only sufferers. Take the “Santa’s Helper” on Norman Rockwell’s 1947 cover. The poor woman in the toy department is footsore and exhausted. Rockwell did the cover in Chicago in the summer heat. Deciding the scene needed more dolls, he set about shopping, somewhat sheepishly, until he had “forty-eight dollars’ worth”. In 1947 we’re sure this amounted to a mountain of dolls. According to the editors, Rockwell thought “he probably has more dollies than any other kid of fifty-three.”

Crammed full of shoppers and travelers is the December 1944 cover of a Chicago train station also by Rockwell. Santa ringing a bell, servicemen kissing sweethearts – even some poor schmuck squeezing through the crowd with a Christmas tree – ‘tis the season for hectic!

The Lost Child Department (or lost parent department) is shown to us in artist Thornton Utz’s 1958 cover. A dizzying amount of hurly-burly is happening in what the editors dubbed “the Madding Throng Department Store”. A lady in the foreground is hitting hubby up for additional money and a lady in the background is considering some rather wild boxers for her own beloved. Alas, it is the poor lost little urchin that worries us! The editors assure us, however, the parents will show up, and “their distress will lose itself in the reunion—their sweetest Christmas present of the year.”

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Classic Covers: Thornton Utz, A Salute to Dad

There’s a ruckus up in the boys’ room. Dad slips up the stairs, only to find two angelic boys fast asleep in their beds. The “this is way too familiar” theme was typical of artist Thornton Utz (a German name pronounced Ootz). Admit it, you were supposed to be asleep a few times and pulled the little innocent “angel” routine when you were about to be caught. Did any of us ever really fool Dad?

A 1949 Post article salutes Utz, delighted that he and artists like him could “disprove the old canard that Art doesn’t pay.” Thanks largely to magazines like yours truly, artists moved “out of the garret and into the ranks of the regular eaters.” And Utz and family were able to eat well. The article happily reports that last year his net income “topped $30,000.” If you’re not impressed, be hereby reminded that the average salary in 1948 was $3,600. It would appear that Post readers readily identified with Dad going to work in the morning and coming back whipped (6/28/52) or how one dad just gave up on yard work and painted the patio green (5/2/1953). Were those neighbors envious of his ingenuity–or did they think he was nuts? These were among the many multiscene covers, such as Mr. Mom from May 12, 1956. Nine scenes show us Dad getting up early, fixing breakfast, putting in a full day at work, getting the kids to bed and getting his payoff–a visit to his newest pride and joy.

As a gawky 12-year-old himself, Utz started out with a comic strip he handed out to neighborhood kids. High school was Memphis Technical, where he studied his craft. With an equally enterprising classmate, he did display work for the Memphis Mid-South Fair, splitting the $3 a week they earned. They knew they wanted to be illustrators like J.C. Leyendecker, but had no idea how to accomplish this. “Either of us could probably have been talked out of the whole idea if we’d been offered a good job driving a laundry truck.” When we see the vacationing family from the June 18, 1960 Post cover, we’re delighted no laundry truck appeared just then. Pipe in mouth, fishing gear in hand, Pops is out the back door of the cabin retreat before Mom and the kids even have the car unpacked. Which is our wish for all dads out there on their well-deserved day–do what you darn well want!