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LINCOLN — Illustrator John Falter carried Nebraska in his heart and shared it with his brush.
Falter, born and raised in Nebraska, was one of America's most successful illustrators from the 1930s to the 1960s. His 129 Saturday Evening Post covers helped forge America's post-World War II identity.
"His connection to Nebraska and his extended family and friends here came through in his work," said Deb Arenz, curator of a new Falter exhibit opening Friday at the Nebraska History Museum, 15th and P Streets, in Lincoln.
"A lot of his scenes were the idealized small towns he lived and the people he knew," she said.
Falter's Post covers mostly depicted rural scenes and middle-class themes and cityscapes. They reflected his boyhood in Nebraska and his adult life in New York City and rural Pennsylvania.
Arenz said Falter's illustrations provide a window into mid-20th-century American culture. From the housewife who burned dinner to family fun in the great outdoors and cars parked in the moonlight down lovers' lane, Falter depicted what became icons of U.S. life in the 1950s.
The exhibit features a dense collection of more than 200 paintings, illustrations, sketches, brushes, photographs, commissions and other studio artifacts donated to the Nebraska State Historical Society by Falter's widow after his 1982 death.
Arenz said pieces provide a glimpse into how Falter approached his projects. Photos, doodles and sketches depicting elements of final illustrations give insights into Falter's creative choices and the themes that resonated with 1950s and '60s Americans, Arenz said.
Falter said in 1953 "that I'm merely doing something I'm sincerely and thoroughly interested in and have a lot of respect for and that's life in America. I try to represent life in this country the way I see it. I don't care what the critics say as long as the people are satisfied. I'm not trying to make any pitch or propagandize anything. I'm just trying to put it down as I lived it."
Falter was born in Plattsmouth in 1910. His parents moved to Falls City in 1916, where his father opened Falter's Clothing Store.
Falter's sketches, cartoons and caricatures drawn while growing up as a clothier's son reveal the skills and sense of humor that led to later success, said Lynne Ireland, a historical society spokeswoman.
During World War I, Falter's grandmother sold stamps to help the war effort and gave purchasers his drawings of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II riding a motorcycle.
After studying at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Art Students League and the Grand Central Art School in New York City, Falter sold cover art for cowboy and detective pulp magazines.
He produced more than 300 posters for the U.S. Navy during WWII. Falter also produced magazine covers for Good Housekeeping and McCall's.
Post-war advertising clients included corporate giants General Motors, Packard, Schlitz Beer, Campbell's Soups and Pall Mall and Lucky Strike cigarettes.
After teaching himself to play clarinet and piano, Falter played in New York jazz bands.
"He was a very creative person who came from a family that encouraged him," Arenz said.
An article with reproductions of Falter's works is featured in the Spring 2012 issue of Nebraska History magazine.
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