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John Falter

Called "America's most gifted illustrator" by Norman Rockwell, John Philip Falter is known primarily for his cover illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post. His reputation is based mainly on his work as an illustrator, but also rests on his accomplishments as a painter of portraits and subjects from American history. A native Nebraska, Falter drew upon his early life in creating much of his art, even though his career led him to live elsewhere.

John Philip Falter was born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, 1910, and died in Philadelphia, 1982. His family moved in 1916 to Falls City, where his father established a clothing store. As a high school student, Falter created a comic strip "Down Thru The Ages," which was published in the Falls City Journal. J.M. "Ding" Darling, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist of the Des Moines Register, Saw some of John's cartoons and urged him to become a professional illustrator.

After graduating from high school in 1928, he studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York. Soon afterward, he began illustrating "pulp" magazines. He received his first commission from Liberty magazine to do three illustrations a week in 1933. By 1940, he had acquired several advertising clients including Gulf Oil, 4 Roes Whiskey, Arrow Shirts, and Pall Mall.

Falter's first Saturday Evening Post cover, a portrait of the magazine's founder, Benjamin Franklin, is dated September 1, 1943. He did over 185 covers from 1943 to 1969 when the Post ceased publication. In 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and designed over 300 recruiting posters. During this period, he also completed a series depicting twelve famous war heroes for Esquire magazine. Falter also did illustrations for Good Housekeeping, The Home Magazine, The Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, McCall's, Life, Look, and a self-portrait cover for Newsweek.

Falter produced a body of work impressive in volume and variety of subject. Reflecting a lifelong interest in jazz, he did scenes of Harlem nightclub life in the thirties, and later on, portraits of famous jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Pee wee Erwin, and others. An excellent portrait painter, Falter had Clark Gable, James Cagney, Olivia de Haviland, and Admiral Halsey among his sitters.

During the 1970's and 1980's, he turned to historical and western themes. The 3M Company commissioned him to do a series of six paintings in celebration of the American Bicentennial, titled "from Sea to Shining Sea." Falter completed over 300 paintings in the field of western art, with emphasis on the westward migration of 1843 to 1880 from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. He was honored by his peers with election to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1976, and membership in the National Academy of Western Art in 1978.

Since October 1983 John Falter's studio, and many of his works, have been displayed as permanent exhibits in the Nebraska State Museum of History in Lincoln, Nebraska, a gift from his widow and daughter, Mary Elizabeth Falter and Suzanne Falter-Barnes.

The artist's hometown, Falls City, Nebraska, is the site of the John Philip Falter Memorial Park, dedicated in May 1989 as a tribute to the illustrator-artist by relatives and friends.


"As for a painting, it has to be a love affair every time. If you aren't in love with what you are trying to put on your canvas, you better quit." -John Phillip Falter

More Information on John Falter:

Article from the Falls City Journal, Falls City, Nebraska. Volume 115, No. 97. May 20, 1982
Article from the Gazette, St. Joseph, Missouri. May 21, 1982
John Falter Bio, provided by

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