‘Field and Stream’ has been the preeminent American outdoors publication for over a century with a current monthly circulation exceeding 1,000,000. It was the outgrowth of a periodical entitled ‘Northwestern Field and Stream’ which was first published in St Paul Minnesota in 1895. A year later, John P Burkhard acquired this publication, renamed it, and dubbed it “A Journal for the True Sportsman”. As his first editor, Burkhard hired Charles Hallock, stealing him away from ‘Forest and Stream’, the leading outdoor magazine of the time which had been published regularly since 1873 but was eventually absorbed in 1930 by the increasingly popular ‘Field and Stream’.
‘Field and Stream’ was created at a time of great change in America. The industrial revolution had resulted in rapid growth and great prosperity, largely at the expense of our tremendous natural resources, decimating our forests, polluting the waters, and killing off major elements of the wildlife. Conservation became an early and consistent theme of the magazine which resonated well with its readers. There were featured articles on game laws, regulating hunting and fishing seasons, and fees, such as those generated by duck stamps, to be used to preserve and restore our depleted natural resources.
Hunting, fishing and camping were, and continue to be, the strongest focuses of the magazine. There have been more than 150 covers depicting the various forms of fishing, and many are specifically about fly fishing. During the early decades and until the 1970’s, the preferred style of cover art, for all subjects, was a commissioned work by an accomplished artist or illustrator. (Since 1972 photography has predominated as the medium of choice.) Over that 75-year span, ‘Field and Stream’ presented the work of many accomplished artists, almost all of whom were experienced outdoorsmen as well. As they were painting for knowledgeable hunters and fishermen, detail and accuracy were of paramount concern, and the covers almost always reflect this attention to detail. (One exception is the cover from April 1965 by Dick Amundsen showing a cowboy in hat and boots astride hid horse in midstream casting a fly rod. There is no way to know what he would do, should he be lucky enough to hook a fish!).
The artists’ styles, while their own, were at the same time a clear reflection of the times. Henry (Hy) S Watson (1868-1933) not only illustrated many covers, but in addition served as Editor from 1918 through 1924. He consistently depicted serious fishermen in aggressive pursuit of trout, usually in mountain streams (see the covers from April 1923 and April 1926).
Probably the most famous, as well as most successful, cover artist for ‘Field and Stream’ was Lynn Bogue Hunt (1878-1960). He was an avid hunter and fisherman and these experiences brought true realism to his works which were typically done first in watercolor, submitted for editorial approval, and then finalized in oils. One of his best covers is from May 1924 depicting an angler standing (!) in a guide boat working a very large trout.