John Falter was born in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, in 1910. When he was six, the family moved to Falls City, where his father established a clothing store. After graduating from high school in 1928, Falter studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York. He received his first commission from Liberty Magazine in 1933 to do three illustrations a week. During the 1930s he became a successful illustrator of fiction.
During the 1940s and 1950s Falter acquired several advertising clients including Gulf Oil, 4 Roses Whiskey, Arrow Shirts, Pall Mall, Johnson & Johnson, and Hertz Rent-A-Car. He entered the U.S. Navy in 1943 and was commissioned a lieutenant on special art assignments. He created more than three hundred recruiting pamphlets and posters, along with a notable series of twelve portraits of war heroes published in Esquire magazine. Falter also began to produce work for The Saturday Evening Post and by the 1960s, he had created more than 185 covers. Falter's work could also be found in Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest, The Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Look, McCall's, and Life.
In the 1960s Falter concentrated more on book illustrations and private commissions. During the 1970s and 1980s he completed nearly three hundred western paintings dealing with American migration from the 1840s to the 1880s, as well as a series of six Bicentennial paintings for the 3M Company. He was elected to the Illustrator's Hall of Fame in 1976 and completed a series of sketches from life at both the Colorado Jazz Party and the Odessa (Texas) Jazz Party. The drawings from the Colorado Jazz Party formed the basis of his 1971 "Jazz from Life" portfolio of prints.
After his death in April 1982, Falter's wife donated objects and furnishings from his studio, as well as numerous paintings, papers, and sketchbooks to the Nebraska State Historical Society. This is a small sample of the collection.
Falter in his studio
A painting for a Red Cross poster, 1944
A painting for a 4 Roses Whiskey advertisement
These early sketches feature variations of Falter's signature.
A cartoon for the Falls City newspaper, 1926
Falter illustrated the cover of this 1932 edition of Wild West magazine. He also noted, in his own hand at bottom right, "My last pulp cover."
A painting for an illustration for a story in Liberty Magazine, 1934, entitled "Hearts and Swords" by Rafael Sabitini. Sabitini was a popular author of swashbuckling/romance/adventure books and stories.
This painting is for Falter's first illustration for a major U.S. magazine, McCall's, dated 1938.
Falter 13, 14, 15
Advertisements illustrated by Falter
A painting for a government poster, 1943
A painting for a Red Cross poster, 1945
These two paintings were part of a series for Esquire that told the stories of American heroes of World War II. "The Jap Eradicator" was featured in the September 1943 edition, and "The Temptation of a Hero, Pilot Joe Foss" appeared in the November 1943 edition.
"The Temptation of a Hero, Pilot Joe Foss"
"The Jap Eradicator"
This painting of musician James P. Johnson is featured as a print in Falter's "Jazz from Life" portfolio.
Falter 16 Falter 17 July 18 1959 SEP
These pencil sketches, found in one of Falter's many sketchbooks in the Society's collection, show the artist's work in progress. The finished product can be seen here on the cover of the July 18, 1959, edition of The Saturday Evening Post.
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