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Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Walter T. Foster Story

Walter T. Foster published a series of large-format books about art, such as "How To Draw Horses". The books were priced at a dollar each in the 1940s and 1950s, were displayed on racks at hobby and stationary stores, and were so popular that he became very wealthy. His daughter Margaret was my mother's best friend, and Margaret and her son Lyle lived only a few miles away from us in Culver City, California. (Lyle was the age of my two younger brothers, so he and I never connected.)

Walter Foster was a character. He made his fortune and allowed himself to indulge himself in fun ways. He had a Christmas list, and my mother was on that list. I remember one year Walter sent out a limited edition phonograph record of him singing Christmas carols, backed by something like a 25-piece orchestra. The platter itself had to be 78rpm and was about ten inches across and made of clear red plastic, sorta like ruby glass. (I do not remember any impression of Walter's singing.)

Another year he sent out limited edition prints of a watercolor by one of the artists presented in his art books, mailed in a tube. My father was a cabinet maker and he liked the print, so he framed it under glass and the picture hung in my parents' hallway for many years.

The painted portion is on ecru? paper; measures twenty-one inches wide and 14 inches high; and the signature is in red in the bottom right corner. The subject is a road in India, the trees look like California sycamores, and three oxcarts are moving along the sun-dappled road. Dad scotch-taped a label from 'Walter Foster Art Services' on the back, with the handwritten date 1962.

When I was in the Air Force, my permanent station was Las Vegas, Nevada (with visits to Thailand and VietNam), and when I was discharged, I got a job as the systems programmer for Howard Hughes (the I.B.M. 360 was brand new then). At some point during that two years, the artist of my parents's watercolor print had a one-man showing in Las Vegas, and I went one afternoon. I do not remember where that event was, but I can see the house and the driveway, it was a commercial gallery that appeared to be adobe and was in a residential neighborhood. The artist was there, a medium-size man from India; he was surrounded by art people and I was not very comfortable in that setting, so I did not speak to him. His other paintings on display were very good. That would have been in 1969 or 1970.

Around 1980, Margaret and Walter died close together in time and Lyle inherited the company and hated being an executive, so eventually he sold it to a corporation and moved to Northern California and became a taxidermist.

Fast forward. Mom was changing the decor at the house, one of her hobbies, and she asked me if I wanted the Foster watercolor, and I agreed and that print has been in my possession ever since. After I moved to New Mexico, I hung the framed picture in my hallway; I began to wonder what it is that I have, but cannot decipher the signature, which seems to contain the initial letters G and something and A and R. I began wondering what the picture might be worth during one of my visits to Santa Fe, which is infested with art galleries of all types. (I figure that identifying the artist will shorten the door-to-door hunt up Canyon Road, etc.)

I tried emailing the present company, but got no reply. The official website boasts of their 88-year history, and they are keeping up to date with such products as an iPad app about drawing with digital software. I might also be able to identify the artist by slogging thru the books about watercolor, but I do not have access, nor is the website anywhere near complete in presenting old issues.

I plan to (and did) take a photo of the framed painting and a close-up of the signature, so that there are now two yellowish hotlinks in this sentence.
Copyright 2011 by G.E. Nordell, all rights reserved

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