Cover Art: Saturday Evening Post

Saturday Evening Post - June 2009

Continuing my exploration of cover art, today I take a look at magazines, specifically the infamous Saturday Evening Post. But first a little history:

Advances in printing technology during the Industrial Revolution allowed for the work of talented illustrators to be reproduced with increasing quality. Early publishers focused much of their attention on the magazine’s cover, which like today, is a big selling attraction. Eye-catching covers increase circulation, and ensure the magazines continuation.

The Saturday Evening Post is one of the oldest publications in America and it’s predecessor, the Pennsylvania Gazette, was first published in 1728 by Benjamin Franklin.  It became known as The Saturday Evening Post in 1821 and was initially a four-page newspaper with no illustrations and featured controversial political articles.

In 1897, magazine publisher Cyrus H. K. Curtis purchased the financially troubled magazine for one thousand dollars. George Horace Lorimer, editor from 1899-1936 conceived of covers featuring artwork or illustrations. His idea increased the  magazine’s advertising as well as the success of The Saturday Evening Post.

The magazine became famous for its cover artwork with humorous scenes of every day life. The illustrations connected readers intimately with the magazine and Americans would look forward each issue, in large part, for the cover.  The most famous images were created by Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker with other notable contributors such as N.C. Wyeth, Charles Livingston Bull, John Philip Falter, and John E. Sheridan.

The rise in popularity of television in the 1950’s led to a decline in circulation of the magazine. As well, its optimistic picture of  America was contrary to the changing mood of the times. The Vietnam War, the civil rights struggle, and the cold war, made Rockwell’s depiction of the United States seem unrealistic.

Following a damaging libel suit in 1967, the magazine briefly ceased its circulation. The Saturday Evening Post was revived in 1971 as  a bimonthly publication by the non-profit Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society. The magazine now focuses primarily on public health issues, fitness, healthy lifestyles, as well as general interest articles.

Today, I see so many magazine covers that feature heavily photo-shopped celebrities amidst a sea of “what’s inside” cover lines that usually lead  to an article that is selling one thing or another. These covers are forgettable, perhaps so is the content.

The good news is that there are still magazines that go out of their way to produce covers that tell a story, convey an idea, and feature images that make you think – The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Time, Wired, Esquire, to name a few. It’s our challenge to sift through the thousands out there and find the ones worth reading.  Good luck.

Norman Rockwell - Jester - 1939 New Years's Baby - C Leyendecker

Sources: Saturday Evening Post, American Decades, Journal of Magazine and New Media Research

Album Cover Art: Pink Floyd – Division Bell

Artwork for CD’s, books, magazines, product packages, etc.  have their basic functions for use in promotional materials and advertisements, and as simple protection for the materials contained inside.

The first 78rpm records in the early 1900’s were sold with plain brown paper or cardboard sleeves and it wasn’t until the late 1930’s that the idea of album art was conceived by Alex Steinweiss of Columbia Records. Within ten years, the idea had caught on and most record companies were distributing albums with unique cover art.

As a teenager, I remember anticipating the release of a new album, not just for the music, but what the cover would look like – the story it would tell. It was a part of our teen culture and was the topic of many late night house parties.

The artwork featured today is from the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1994 Division Bell album. I was never a big Floyd fan, but I love this piece. The cover was designed by renowned graphic designer Storm Thorgerson and at first glance, looks like a painting. It is, in fact, a photograph taken of two sculptures by John Robertson. The sculptures currently make their home in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Since the introduction of downloadable, digital music, some artists like Peter Saville say that the importance and popularity of album cover art is dead. Famed cover artist Ioannis believes however, that album imagery is even more important as graphics for touring and merchandising become crucial parts of money-making in the music industry.

While the purpose of creating art for music albums may have shifted, the artistic endeavor persists.  Whatever the reason, the benefits to music and art enthusiasts and designers and artists remains – and that’s a great thing.