His art was admired by Norman Rockwell. His handiwork can be seen in ads from General Motors, Packard, and Campbell Soup. In the course of his career, 129 of his works became published as Saturday Evening Post covers. However, few people recognize the name John Falter, or know that his beloved childhood home was in Nebraska.
In the Spring 2012 issue of Nebraska History, NSHS Associate Director Deb Arenz writes about Falter’s life and work by following his trail of art. Many of his paintings and sketches were donated to the Nebraska State Historical Society by his widow, and on April 6, 2012, an exhibit will open in the Nebraska History Museum, showcasing Falter’s work.
Born in Plattsmouth in 1910 and raised in Falls City, Falter was a true Nebraskan. Motifs from his childhood, such as the Falls City water tower, reappeared frequently in his artwork. Falter himself said “I never really left Falls City. Every chance I could get, I would bring my family back here so they could see where my roots were planted. I love this state.”
Although he had many early accomplishments such as his own comic in the local newspaper, and a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York, Falter felt that his first big accomplishment came when he sold a magazine cover to the pulp magazine Street & Smith’s. He wired his parents “I have arrived in art!” and soon began getting regular work drawing for other pulp magazines and books.
In 1934, Falter hired an agency to represent him. It was an expensive and risky move that paid off; soon Falter was providing art for high profile magazines and ads for large companies. When WWII came, he painted propaganda posters and war publicity. After the war, Falter achieved his greatest career success: selling cover work to The Saturday Evening Post. In 1952, he was featured on the cover of Newsweek as one of America’s best illustrators. He continued producing fine art for the rest of his life.
Even though you might not recognize Falter’s work, it is endearing because it is so much like our own experience. His paintings also reflect the ideals and worldview of the era. Falter asserted that he enjoyed simply painting what he saw. “I’m not trying to propagandize anything,” he said “I’m just trying to put it down as I lived it.” To see America as Falter saw it, stop by the Nebraska History Museum after April 6 and enjoy a slice of Falter’s human experience.
-Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant