The Cover Story

For more than half a century, a handful of remarkable artists created a body of work the likes of which we will never see again. It was much more than the face of Field & Stream-it was a record of our times.

Field & Stream Online Editors

_To view the 125 fishing covers in our gallery click here. All of these covers are available for purchase at barewalls.com _

It might have been a better world or a worse one that produced Field & Stream's great illustrated fishing covers, but there is no doubt that it was a far different one. F&S; staffer Carol Rheuban spent months digging through the archives, and what she found was a vivid record not just of fishing but of a changing America.

From the magazine's inception until 1972, practically every cover was a commissioned painting. There were sound reasons for this. Photography was still a primitive art form. Cameras were ill suited to the wilderness, and the people who created F&S; each month simply could not get what they wanted from film. But where film failed, paint delivered. Magazine cover art was a field unto itself, and over the years, the editors of F&S; recruited a stable of gifted men who could put on canvas whatever a sportsman's mind could imagine. Every cover told a tale at a single glance-sometimes humorous, sometimes life-and-death, but always exciting, always eye-catching, and always, the editors devoutly hoped, appealing to the readers.

F&S;'s cover artists were outdoorsmen themselves. They were also painting for outdoorsmen, and if the details were not right, the readers would sneer and the cover wouldn't sell. The illustrators were also expert anatomists. A running buck's hide was not flat but a series of complex contours created by the muscles bulging beneath it. Leaping trout arched their backs in a particular way. A bass, walking on water, moved like no other fish. With their eyes and brushes, they were able to capture all of this precisely. All the best illustrators were prolific. They received good wages, but in order to make real money they had to produce in volume. Hy Watson, who was editor-in-chief of the magazine from 1918 to 1924, not only wrote and edited but for a while was one of our most prolific cover artists. But he worked all the time, and he suffered a nervous breakdown from which he never fully recovered.

Of all our cover artists, the most famous and arguably the most successful was Lynn Bogue Hunt (1878¿¿¿1960). Hunt was a native of Honeoye Falls, New York, and during his childhood had wild animals and birds as pets that he observed and sketched. He was able to attend Albion College in Michigan for two years where he studied painting, and he began to sell his work. Encouraged by his success, he moved to New York City in 1902 when he was in his mid-20s.

From the outset Hunt was a star. In his first year in New York he made $3,500, which is the equivalent of $70,000 today, and in August of 1904, he joined the staff of F&S;, where he would stay until October 1951. Hunt would submit a watercolor "rough" of a cover to the editor and, when it was approved, would redo it in oil (see May 1942, at left). Like James Audubon, Hunt shot and mounted many of the birds and animals he painted. He relied on friends who brought him photos of their adventures and was himself an active hunter and fisherman.

What made Hunt stand out among so many gifted peers? George Reiger, an authority on Hunt, puts it this way: "His subjects were simply more real. How do you paint something alive? You paint life. That's what Hunt did. He painted life."

Guy Coheleach, one of today's greatest wildlife painters, says that as a kid, "I marveled at how the strong colors and simple designs of artists like Hunt and Arthur Davenport Fuller would jump out at you from the hundreds of magazines on a store's shelf."

What these gifted men left behind is nothing less than a 110-year-long record of America and Americans. There are very few magazines, ling or dead, that can boast such a heritage. It was a wonderful country they painted-big fish, streams without blackflies, handsome men and pretty women. We can't get that world back, but we can still enjoy it.

[NEXT "Fangs & Adventure"] Fangs & Adventure
Most of these covers are from an America where most people were as likely to see a barracuda or a shark as they were a Martian. They are not so much about angling as they are about Exotic Places and Mortal Peril. Will the enraged bull moose (August 1914) catch up to the fleeing fisherman or will his pal shoot the animal? Will the barracuda (February 1956) take a bite out of the spear fisherman? Will the shark (August 1927) tip over the dory and make the two men into the day's main course, or will the rifleman (what's he doing in a dory with a rifle?) shoot the shark?

These covers were close cousins of the "men's guts adventure" covers that featured sex, gore, and bizarre violence and had lines such as "The Mess on the Floor Was Me" or "I Was Eaten by Cannibals, Who Were Sick for Weeks Afterward." The F&S; covers here aren't reflective of hunting and fishing these days, but we admire their boldness.

** Fishing Camp**
On magazine covers, fishing camp is an idyllic place where everyone limits out, the one guy who can really cook handles the cooking, the wind doesn't blow, the bugs don't bite, the rain doesn't fall, and no one whines or makes themselves a pain in the neck. This is, of course, the opposite of reality, but such artistic interpretations sold a lot of magazines.

These covers are notable because five of them, dating from 1918 through the mid-1920s, prominently feature women as active participants. In June 1925 the man and woman are even doing dishes together. But for some reason, the women dropped out of the fishing-camp covers and the subjects from then on were manly men doing manly things, with no women anywhere, which meant that you could curse at will and fart in your sleeping bag. Some things haven't changed at all.

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[NEXT "The Funny Pages"] The Funny Pages
Unlike just about all other sports, fishing and golf are intrinsically funny. You do not, for example, hear a lot of thigh-slappers about hockey. But the idea of Homo sapiens locked in a battle of wits with something whose brain is the size of a small pea, or trying to make a ball roll into a hole in the ground, is essentially absurd.

It's worth noting that every cover here is essentially an in-joke. Unless you are a fisherman, you will fail to see what's funny about any of it. Anglers, on the other hand, will instantly recognize themselves and get anything from a rueful smile to a belly laugh out of the proceedings.

Possibly the best of the covers on this page is April 1943, because it is much more than a humor cover. The giddy geezer has fallen in while fighting his trout and-he has caught it. No excuses, no regrets, no waiting for next time. This is his day. The mixture of incredulity and dawning joy in his face says it all.

The Splashing Bass
Catching a bass is a series of dramatic moments: The first is when the shock of the strike comes through the line, up your arm, and into your brain. Another is what we see here, when an angler gets a good look at what he's fighting.

The initial jump is the most electric. That is when you know for sure that this bass is a big one.

So popular was this type of cover that when art was abandoned in favor of film, wily photographers would have their assistants swim beneath the surface and throw a dead-often frozen-monster fish into the air where the camera would catch it in mid-"leap."

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[NEXT "Women in Action"]Women in Action
F&S;'s attitude toward women has an odd history. Very early on, women were depicted as equal hunting and fishing partners.

But during World War II, the role of women in society changed, and this was reflected in the pages of F&S.; In the 1950s and '60s, women kept their place on the covers, but inside the magazine it was a different story. They were kidded, but it was not friendly.

Even so, they still sold magazines. The success of two of these covers depends greatly on the women's expressions. In June 1953, the mother's face clearly says Jerk, and that wonderful cat-eyed smile on the cover of August 1951 reads My fish is bigger than yours. Oh, and the mermaid in February 1905? We're not going there.

** Trout Dreams**
There is no denying that people who flyfish for trout are quite different from other anglers. Those who go after bass or pike or muskies do not assail us with endless, wearisome books about their angst and their alienation. They just want to catch a big fish and read no metaphysics into the process.

So it must be that if you want to appeal to the piscatorial aesthetes of the world, you must publish artful covers. The trout covers here certainly suggest that, anyway. The pose on the cover of April 1915 resembles nothing so much as a piece of ancient Greek statuary. April 1907 and April 1980 both have a dreamlike quality. April 1923 even presents a trout's-eye view of an angler. What it does not show is that same fisherman rolling his foot on a rock and falling headlong into the 40-degree water. That's reality, and reality is not allowed here.

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[NEXT "Child's Play"] ** Child's Play**
There is only one thing better than landing a big fish, and that is having a kid (preferably your kid) land a big fish with your coaching. Teaching the angler's art to a boy or girl is more than transferring a set of skills; it's a way of gaining a little immortality. Long after you have made your last cast, he or she will be on the water, and a part of you will be right alongside.

Sometimes the rank beginners outdo the experts. This is clearly the case with April 1956 and March 1964. What is unsaid is frozen-monster fish into the air where the camera would catch it in mid-"leap."

buy posters

[NEXT "Women in Action"]Women in Action
F&S;'s attitude toward women has an odd history. Very early on, women were depicted as equal hunting and fishing partners.

But during World War II, the role of women in society changed, and this was reflected in the pages of F&S.; In the 1950s and '60s, women kept their place on the covers, but inside the magazine it was a different story. They were kidded, but it was not friendly.

Even so, they still sold magazines. The success of two of these covers depends greatly on the women's expressions. In June 1953, the mother's face clearly says Jerk, and that wonderful cat-eyed smile on the cover of August 1951 reads My fish is bigger than yours. Oh, and the mermaid in February 1905? We're not going there.

** Trout Dreams**
There is no denying that people who flyfish for trout are quite different from other anglers. Those who go after bass or pike or muskies do not assail us with endless, wearisome books about their angst and their alienation. They just want to catch a big fish and read no metaphysics into the process.

So it must be that if you want to appeal to the piscatorial aesthetes of the world, you must publish artful covers. The trout covers here certainly suggest that, anyway. The pose on the cover of April 1915 resembles nothing so much as a piece of ancient Greek statuary. April 1907 and April 1980 both have a dreamlike quality. April 1923 even presents a trout's-eye view of an angler. What it does not show is that same fisherman rolling his foot on a rock and falling headlong into the 40-degree water. That's reality, and reality is not allowed here.

buy posters

[NEXT "Child's Play"] ** Child's Play**
There is only one thing better than landing a big fish, and that is having a kid (preferably your kid) land a big fish with your coaching. Teaching the angler's art to a boy or girl is more than transferring a set of skills; it's a way of gaining a little immortality. Long after you have made your last cast, he or she will be on the water, and a part of you will be right alongside.

Sometimes the rank beginners outdo the experts. This is clearly the case with April 1956 and March 1964. What is unsaid is