Facebook Twitter

Utah artist Jann Haworth talks about creating iconic Beatles album cover ‘Sgt. Pepper’ on its 50th anniversary

SHARE Utah artist Jann Haworth talks about creating iconic Beatles album cover ‘Sgt. Pepper’ on its 50th anniversary

As Beatlemania ran its frenzied course in the 1960s, the group of British boys, dubbed “The Fab 4,” sparked enthusiasm that was not only widespread, but contagious.

Jann Haworth never caught it.

She’d conversed with the Beatles, ridden in cars with them and even once danced with George Harrison.

But her immunity had less to do with the Beatles than it did with a general disregard for celebrity. Growing up in Hollywood, Haworth watched her father, an Oscar-winning production designer, interact with numerous movie stars, including Marlon Brando, Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. But as a young girl, these stars were no different from her father or anyone else working on set — they were just adults.

“I couldn’t ever do glamor,” said Haworth, a Utah resident and pop artist widely known for co-designing the cover for the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. “People, they’re only as big as one life, one brain — it’s not more than that.”

Tied to this perspective comes a deep appreciation for collaboration — something Haworth deems to be the real “genius” behind the Beatles as well as the driving force behind much of her own artwork.

Haworth lived in England for 35 years before finally making her home in Utah, where she serves as artistic director for The Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City. It was while living in England that she and her then-husband Peter Blake crossed paths with the Beatles and were commissioned to design the iconic “Sgt. Pepper” cover. June 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the album’s U.S. release. Haworth reflected on her experiences creating the cover and shared her thoughts about the artwork in a recent interview with the Deseret News.

From Hollywood to London

Haworth was just a teenager when she decided to move to London.

She was 24 years old when she began working on “Sgt. Pepper,” a project that would earn her a Grammy in 1967.

Upon arriving in England, Haworth was immediately enthralled by a burgeoning scene of art, theater and music.

“I think the move was very stimulating,” she said. “It was just like this wonderful storm of culture and when I was first there, I felt as though every day I traveled light years. I changed so much so fast. That was an amazing experience, and I think probably very provocative for a young artist.”

And although she was thousands of miles from Hollywood, Haworth attributes her upbringing as the foundation of her artistic style.

“In order to know a place you have to leave it, because then you can see it from the other vantage point,” Haworth said. “And that certainly applies to transitioning from Hollywood and then suddenly being able to both find form and idea that collided into the work I did in the ’60s.”

Haworth’s art gallerist was Robert Fraser, an art dealer who would eventually form close friendships with members of the Beatles. When he saw the cover that was originally intended for the “Sgt. Pepper” album — a psychedelic landscape designed by Dutch design team The Fool — Fraser arranged a meeting between Haworth, Blake and Paul McCartney to discuss new possibilities for a cover design.

The making of the “Sgt. Pepper” cover

McCartney often claims he spearheaded the concept of the cover, illustrated in drawings he gave to Blake.

“He did not,” Haworth said. “He may have had ideas, but they weren’t communicated to us. We really went forward with the conversation that we had in my studio.”

The conversation was centered on an artistic vision Haworth and Blake put forward, and out of that meeting emerged Blake’s idea of the crowd — a theme that was consistent with his work, Haworth said.

“He was teaching art school at that time, and he would say to his students, ‘Paint your heroes,’” she said. “So he put that on the table, saying if you’re going to dress as a band on the cover, then there can be a crowd behind you. (It was a) conventional concept, typical of Peter.”

The Beatles fell a bit short when it came to listing their heroes. In the end, only 35 or 38 percent of the figures displayed on the album cover actually stemmed from the group’s list, Haworth said.

“Peter and I chose the rest of the crowd because there wasn’t enough to make a crowd out of who they called their heroes,” she said.

One of the most controversial figures brought forth was Adolf Hitler, suggested by John Lennon.

“I find it deeply troubling that John had that degree of thoughtlessness or arrogance,” Haworth said. “That John chose him was clearly provocative and extremely stupid. Now it would just be considered to be asinine. Imagine if the cover (included Hitler). It would be down to Peter and I for allowing that to happen, and it certainly would not be an icon.”

While Blake’s idea of the crowd is a crucial part of the “Sgt. Pepper” art, Haworth’s contributions to the cover tend to get overlooked.

“Peter’s idea was (to do it as) a collage,” she said. “I wanted to do it as life size —that goes along with my work. I put everything in a context, which was in my mind a set.”

In addition to featuring life-size cutouts of historical and pop culture icons, props were also included on the cover, including two cloth dolls Haworth created — one a grandmother figure and the other Shirley Temple wearing a sweater with the phrase, “Welcome The Rolling Stones.”

At the cover’s center is a white drum depicting the album name by fairground painter Joe Ephgrave, a dear friend of Haworth’s.

At the bottom of the image is an arrangement of pink flowers that form the band’s name — an idea Haworth suggested because she was opposed to having lettering imposed on the cover.

Despite Haworth’s significant involvement, it is her ex-husband who tends to receive the most credit. But it would be wrong to say that this issue upsets the artist.

“It doesn’t worry me very much about credit,” she said. “You know what, a one foot square piece of cardboard, how important is that actually? I‘m not prepared to pick over the bones. … (I’m) not saying that we shouldn’t stand up on our hind legs and argue from time to time — we should if only on behalf of other women who are getting shafted for some reason or other, but I’m not willing to go to court to fight EMI to get my platinum disc. It would take too much valuable time of my life to do that.”

Continuing the legacy

For Haworth, the greatest value “Sgt. Pepper” has given her is the opportunity to revisit and re-evaluate the art.

“If I really cared about (credit) a lot, I’d probably be a very bitter person, but to me, a work of art immediately needs to be critiqued almost the minute it’s made,” she said.

And Haworth isn’t one to just sit back, admire work and let it be.

“Where’s the forward movement in that?” she asked.

Scanning over the album cover in her mind, Haworth considers potential readjustments. She loves the presence of actor Tony Curtis, who was a friend of her father’s, as well as actress Mae West.

“Shirley Temple I’d take off,” she said. “My grandmother, the figure of the old lady, I’d turn her a little bit more towards the camera. I wish that there had been more African-American musicians represented; I think at that time the Beatles owed them … and take (occultist) Aleister Crowley off.”

In 2003, Haworth began considering the possibility of reimagining the “Sgt. Pepper” album cover by creating a mural in downtown Salt Lake City titled “SLC Pepper” that celebrates scientific advancement over celebrity.

“‘SLC Pepper’ is a report card on “Sgt. Pepper,” Haworth said. “It’s saying, ‘Hey, you guys, we forgot to put women in here. I mean the Beatles chose no women, (and) Peter and I only put a stupid list together that we should apologize for, and in a way, ‘SLC Pepper’ accomplishes that because it’s 50 percent women.”

Five years later, Haworth developed the idea of completing another mural celebrating collaboration and diversity by highlighting prominent women in a variety of fields ranging from science to social and political activism. This idea came to fruition last year.

Titled “Work in Progress,” the mural is a collaboration between Haworth and her daughter and fellow artist Liberty Blake. The ever-growing project, which 123 artists have contributed to, currently portrays 156 women.

While “Work in Progress” is derivative of the classic “Sgt. Pepper” theme, it “refreshes the notion of it (and) questions the premise of it,” Haworth said.

Both “SLC Pepper” and “Work in Progress” help to amend what Haworth has come to view as deep flaws in the “Sgt. Pepper” cover over the past half-century. And while the artist has come a long way in rectifying these wrongs, there is still much work to be done.

“You profit from the mistakes you make,” she added. “It’s rather thrilling to take them apart and question them.”

And in doing so, Haworth is working to give a little help to her friends that she wasn't able to give the first time around.

Email: lottiejohnson@deseretnews.com