Smile Politely

George Foster: an experience

George Foster was an art professor for the University of Illinois He taught for 38 years and was well-respected and admired by his students, and why wouldn’t he be? Foster spent his summers travelling with them, and choreographed trips across the country, the Galapagos Islands and throughout Europe.  His students had an opportunity —that would be hard to match today— to sketch, draw and paint onsite.  While travelling, he introduced them to other artists and visited many museums.

I had the opportunity to spend time with his work before the show opened on September 9th. Mandy Danowitz, owner of Gallery217, and Kelly White, executive director of 40North, were installing his work in the gallery on the day I went to pick up my work from a show that had closed the week before. My personal motto is: will work for art supplies… and in this case it was: will work to be around amazing art. I quickly offered up my time to help hang work, win-win situation. During these hours spent with the two women that curated this show, I learned about Foster and his work, and the diligence between the two of them to get his work out and into the public.

Danowitz was alerted to his works about a year ago, after George’s son Jim Foster, had them appraised by a local art appraiser. The appraiser realized Foster’s massive collection could not be tamed with one estate sale and called Mandy to see if she could help.

Mandy connected with Jim and his wife Jenny for the first time at George’s home in Urbana. George passed in 1999, and his studio has stood untouched since then. Aside from the work that had been dispersed into the world, the entirety of his work & research was in this room. Danowitz recalls:

“The door opens. The evening light is fading and Jim turns on the studio lights. The room is dusty and stale. My eyes adjust and I see a room that is FULL of paintings. The room itself has soaring ceilings, skylights and big windows. You can hardly move in this spacious art studio because it is so packed with art. Some of the art is hanging on the wall. Large works in an obvious style, landscapes of stones and flowing water, metal collages in geometric shapes and patterns — meticulously designed and crafted. The style is so clear, his artistic voice is so strong and resonates in every work. My eyes are the size of saucers and mouth agape. All I can say is ‘WOW!’ and ‘HOLY MOLY’, over and over. Viewing all of this stunning artwork gives me goosebumps. In standing in one room that has been closed for so many years, I can see the entire span of this man’s artistic life.”

Among the art and sketches, his collection of natural artifacts littered the room: turtle shells, coral, driftwood, geodes and stones. Nearly everything and anything that connected him to the natural world. These objects represented his love for nature, but also for his restless curiosity for the world around him that helped feed his hunger to create. I think it’s something special to leave behind objects that stir other peoples’ curiousity, because that is exactly what happened to me.

Foster was known for his landscapes, and they definitely stole the show. The first painting as you entered the gallery pulled you in with its bold color choices, but kept you there with the unbelievable amount of depth it had. Like many of the objects he coveted, this painting was made over years and years.

Among the work, there is also a vast amount of different media. Most notably the metal colleges: three prominent ones were displayed in the basement, while leaving the space up and above the second story open. I felt that this grounded these heavy works, and complimented the heavy feeling I had when viewing them.

In the cubbies downstairs, the work was divided into individual stories. One cubby focused on his travels with his students, and the work he did on the go. His handmade collapsible stool with field sketches were displayed. Another was a more in-depth look at the process of entering his work in a nationwide design competition in 1947. Sponsored by the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association for a monument in St. Louis, the Arch was obviously picked the winner, but Foster came in second. Another was a panel with a science fiction aspect; kinda out of place, but I totally dug it.

Foster is unrepresented on the internet, meaning that the information that this duo collected was done the old-fashioned way. They spent months in his studio researching and gathering information about his work and life to put this show together. I feel priviledged to hear his story first, before the world gobbles him up.

Although the show is over, Foster’s work will continue to managed by an auction house. There will be another ‘show’ in Lincoln Square opening  October 20 from 7-9pm that will run through October 22.

Related Articles