Dutton Foster
St. Paul, MN




Since I was very young, I've been drawn visually to the landscape, particularly to the "edge" between human construction and the natural world. I love the utilitarian things we build which also achieve esthetic value. I love farms fitting into their clearings, houses and churches perched on their hilltops, boats on their rivers, railroads tracing the contour lines of their route. I love vernacular architecture and buildings which have evolved bit by bit into unique forms. I love images that recall movement and travel: trains and boats and roadside sightings carrying memories of a happy journey. I'm also fond of moments in which we become aware of the atmosphere - the physical atmosphere of clear sunlight, or fog, snow, or smoke, or twilight at either end of the day.

Human artifacts acquire dignity and poignancy - sometimes even humor - as they age, weather, disintegrate, and disappear. We often take things and people for granted until they are about to go or have already gone. The people, places, and things we care about seem so ordinary and so permanent that we can hardly summon the energy to appreciate them until the shock of illness, catastrophe, demolition or other termination awakens us to their special beauty.

Nostalgia, of course, is treacherous. It's so easy to romanticize the past! It's more fun to paint a farm than to try to make a living from it... Those railroads have been (and remain) means of exploitation of all sorts... And who knows what words of judgmental intolerance haunt the rafters of those lovely churches... Nevertheless, there is sometimes a greatness and often a dearness in our creations, from the Normandie to a canoe and from the great cathedrals to the village church.

Ferroequiphilia, or the love of trains, requires a note of explanation. Trains and the railroads are no longer at the heart of small-town American life. The steam locomotive, often called the most human of machines created in the industrial age, is a rarity in this century, and its mournful whistle seldom beckons us to faraway places. As a child on Osceola Avenue, I listened in bed to the blasts of steam exhaust from teamed locomotives dragging wartime freight up the Short Line below St. Clair Park. Even before my first Lionel set, I was hooked on trains. I photograph them, chase them, read about them, pore over old timetables. I worked on the railroad for two summers, hitched illegal rides on freight trains, spent a night in jail. I scan the countryside for traces of long-gone lines. I build model trains and run them in the back yard. And I draw and paint them.

My love of painting and of the subjects which I paint owes much to my late mother, Betty Foster, who loved exploring the world and all its nooks and crannies; and to my wife Caroline, who is my best critic and always patient when I pull the car over to scramble out for photographs of a possible subject.

                                                    -- Dutton Foster


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