I've always loved Norman Rockwell — passionately — especially his Saturday Evening Post covers. His little narratives and character studies were accomplished with techniques I associate with cinema practice from the golden age of the Hollywood studios — a photo-realistic look subtly theatricalized by carefully controlled lighting, expressive “set design” and compositions that emphasized the depth, or stereometric quality of the image. He made pictures you could get lost in, on a formal level, just long enough to imaginatively inhabit the environment in which his stories unfolded.
What I'm only coming to realize is how many other artists there were who pulled off the same kind of miracles on Saturday Evening Post covers. None of them quite duplicated Rockwell's technical bravura, but they came close enough to be enormously effective storytellers in their own right.
I've written before about Stevan Dohanos, but John Falter was in the same league. He could tell Rockwell-like stories about the ordinary rituals of American life that still resonate today with something more than nostalgia:
He also did a series of double-page views of American cities — covers that folded out to twice the size of the magazine — like the one at the head of this post. These told a different kind of story — summoning up the life of a city in the bustle of one of its signature spaces, seen in long-view. The one above, of the square in front of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, at 59th & 5th, makes New York look toy-like and manageable — and that's the way it sometimes feels in that elegant square, which mediates between the monumental and the human scale of things.
[Clicking on the double-page image of New York (or here) will take you to a high-res image at The Visual Telling Of Stories web site, where I found the cover — worth examining in detail for all the little stories unfolding within the wider view.]