John Phillip Falter (1910-1982)ARTIST GALLERY

ďAs 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."

Amber Waves of Grain
Amber Waves of Grain

John Falter was a Nebraska born illustrator who was born in Plattsmouth in 1910. His family moved to Falls City in 1916, where his father established a clothing store. John showed an interest in art from a very early age, and by high school was refining this interest into painted murals. His boyhood idol was Jack Dempsey and before every big battle Falter would paint a scene from the fight before it took place. He had a gift for expressing in paint the tension and atmosphere from the crowds. He always showed every one of Dempsey's opponents down for the count. He also developed a comic strip, which was published by the Falls City Journal, called "Down Thru the Ages". "Ding" Darling, a Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist, took a shine to John's work and encouraged him to develop this talent as a career.

After graduating from high school in 1928, John studied at the Kansas City Art Institute where he was to win a scholarship that would allow him to attend the Art Students League in New York City. Although jobs were scarce during the Great Depression, John managed to find employment illustrating covers for "pulp" magazines. He gravitated to an artistic enclave in New Rochelle, New York, which had long been a colony for budding illustrators. In no time he had opened his own studio. Falter commented, "Rockwell was our inspiration then. I didn't meet him until years later. We would hear that Rockwell had been out on the street and we would rush out and hunt for him."

In 1932, he met and married Margaret Higgins of Emporia, Kansas. John speaks of her as "the best critic I have ever known, with the greatest understanding." John soon received his first break from Liberty Magazine in 1933 doing three illustrations a week. Although the wages were reasonable, he quickly realized that he would have to supplement this by other means. Advertising seemed the wave of the future. By 1938, he had acquired a stable of advertising clients that appreciated his style including Gulf Oil, Four Roses Whiskey, Arrow Shirts, and Pall Mall. Through this expansion he was able to experiment in the field of easel painting.

His father, George H. Falter, was his son's shrewdest and most outspoken critic. "My son," he said his eyes fixed on the far horizons, "you won't be an artist until you've put a cover on The Saturday Evening Post." Falter's first cover for the Post was a portrait of the magazine founder; Benjamin Franklin dated January 16, 1943. He became one of the youngest artists to contribute regularly to the magazine. He eventually painted 129 Post covers, all of them reflections from his own life. Family, friends, and hometown, America usually figured into his work.

In 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and his talents were harnessed in a new direction when he began producing recruiting posters for women. Falter designed over 300 posters. One of his most popular posters dealt with the loose-lips-sink-ships theme. It showed a broad-shouldered Navy man with the caption, "If you tell where he's going, he may never get there." During this same period, he also completed a series of twelve covers for Esquire magazine featuring famous war heroes.

John Falter also produced a body of work with a theme that sprang out of his lifelong interest in jazz. He loved doing scenes of Harlem nightclub life in the thirties, and later developed this love into a talent for portraits of these famous men. Most of these drawings were made during the 1971 Colorado Jazz Party held in Colorado Springs. These works formed the basis of Falters 1971 "Jazz from Life" portfolio of prints, which included greats like Louis Armstrong. Falter was a musician himself and in 1926 played in the house band of the Gerhling Theatre. Falter's love of jazz and his insight into the lives of musicians are reflected in this work. His portraits capture the immediacy and vibrancy of performers in action.

During the 1970's, Falter 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". As prolific in later life as he was as a young man, he completed 200 paintings in the area of western art. He put a great emphasis on the Westward migration from 1843 to 1880 from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. He was honored by his peers, when he received election into the Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1976, followed by membership in the National Academy of Western Art in 1978.

Suffering a stroke in April of 1982, he died the following month of complications. Falterís artistic legacy lives on through his nationally acclaimed portraits, painting, murals and prints.