Friday, December 30, 2016

Leyendecker's New Year Babies

Happy New Year, one and all.

Each New Year reminds me of J.C. Leyendecker and his Saturday Evening Post covers of New Year babies. Mr. Leyendecker was a master illustrator of the 20th century whose work was published widely on magazine covers and in advertising, appearing in such profusion that even if someone didn't know his name, his work was instantly recognizable. Talented and well-trained, he was a role model for later illustrators, notably Norman Rockwell.

Mr. Leyendecker was well-known for the Arrow Collar Man images he produced for Arrow Shirts. He was equally known for his New Year babies that appeared on the cover of the Saturday
Evening Post.

Mr. Leyendecker began his series of New Year babies in December 1907, showing an innocent babe being delivered to the world by a rather elegant-looking stork. In future years the New Year baby would often reflect past and looming world events and so reflects cultural history. One early example appeared in 1912, a scant four years after the first cover and featured a campaign sign for women's suffrage.

During the 1920s and 1930s Post New Year covers featured the Leyendecker baby in an image reflecting or commenting on the various political hopes and ideas that were current. The cover for 1928 for example featured the baby on a rainy wet day, under an umbrella, a veiled reference to the election year, perhaps. Certainly the symbols of the two political parties plus the baby aboard an ark suggest that some believed that an enormous flood was coming. An alternative proposal is that the wet weather might symbolize the hope for repeal of the dry time of Prohibition, which had plunged the country into all sorts of difficulties during the 1920s.
Mr. Leyendecker did more than 300 covers for the Post, and his last is memorable. It's the New Year cover for 1943, showing the baby in an Army helmet, swinging a rifle complete with bayonet. He's breaking apart the symbols of the Axis powers--the Nazi swastika, Japanese rising sun, and Italian fasces. The image could be considered hopeful rather than factual, given that when the cover was published the outcome of World War II was still in doubt.

Mr. Leyendecker did no more covers for the Post after that, but he did New Year babies as posters for the Amoco Oil Company during the remainder of the war, though the last two were basically the same image. He died in 1951.

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