Railroads and the American Industrial Landscape: Ted Rose Paintings and Photographs

In accord with artist Ted Rose’s wishes, the Center produced an exhibition, conservation, and publishing program. The Center partnered on the exhibition with the Ted Rose Studio, with support from the North American Railway Foundation. “The railroad is a central American cultural icon, and the subject inspired works by some of the nation’s most important 19th and 20th century artists. In his paintings and photographs, Ted Rose shows himself a worthy member of this aesthetic pantheon,” Prof. Betsy Fahlman said at the opening at Marquette University. She also gave a talk at the opening in Sacramento.

“A native of Milwaukee, that dynamic midwestern industrial city established the visual foundation of his art. Working in the evanescent medium of watercolor, Rose captured the vigorous atmosphere of the American railroad, his limpid colors and liquid washes conveying the crash and roar of his favorite subject. His paintings are positioned at the intersection of realism and imagination, and in portraying the modern industrial landscape of commerce, he recognized that the railroad was a central component,” Fahlman said.

A lead gift from John A. Mellowes, chairman and CEO of Charter Manufacturing (Mequon, Wisconsin), made the exhibitions possible. Charter’s companies operate steel making, rolling, processing, and forming facilities in Wisconsin and Ohio. Kalmbach Publishing Company, publisher of Trains and Classic Trains, joined as a major donor. In addition, gifts have come from 135 patrons.

Working with Polly Rose and Ted Rose Studio (Santa Fe, New Mexico), Lake Forest College Special Collections Department (Lake Forest, Illinois), and the Haggerty Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin), the Center organized the program to exhibit, conserve, and publish these photographs. The Center and the Special Collections Department are cataloging and preserving the photography collection of more than a thousand pieces, in accord with Rose’s wishes.

Rose was born and raised in Milwaukee. During the summers of high school and college he worked at Kalmbach Publishing Company when its offices were in downtown Milwaukee. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a BFA in painting (honors) and minors in printmaking and history in 1962. After serving in the U.S. Army, 1963-65, including one Vietnam tour, he returned to Kalmbach for a few months. He also worked for the Chicago & North Western as a night brakeman. In 1965, lured by the mystique of the Denver & Rio Grande Western, he moved to Chama, New Mexico, and then settled in Santa Fe in 1966. It was in Santa Fe that he met and married Polly. Their son Jesse and daughter Molly both inherited their father’s creativity.

During his years in Santa Fe, Rose was a successful graphic designer. He designed the logos and paint scheme for the Santa Fe Southern Railway in 1993. In 2001 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Northern New Mexico Advertising Federation.

What is less known is that Ted Rose was also a remarkable photographer. His early creativity found expression through the camera. As a young man between 1956 and 1962, he followed trains and rode the rails in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala. His stunning, mostly black-and-white photographs taken during these journeys capture the last days of active steam railroading in America. Their quality also hints at an artistic impulse that was expressed several years later in his painting.

In 1983, after a 20-year hiatus, Rose returned to his love of painting. He quickly became well known for his work in watercolors. A full-time painter, he was awarded signature memberships in the prestigious American Watercolor Society (1993) and the National Watercolor Society (1999). On a national level, he created five paintings in 1999 for the U.S. Postal Service’s “All Aboard” stamp series and three Amtrak calendars (1997, 1998, and 1999) plus an illustration for Amtrak’s on-board magazine.

Ted Rose died of cancer in 2002. The world lost a prolific artist who painted more than 1,000 paintings in less than 20 years. He continued painting right up to his final illness. Obituaries ran across the country, from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times.

Rose’s photographs in concert with his paintings demonstrate that the painter was also a photographer. He perceived a vibrant world both through the camera and on canvas. This collection is a tribute to creative efforts made throughout his life.

Rose’s photography remains largely unknown. He presented the photos only twice locally in Santa Fe in the 1970s. Artists Georgia O’Keeffe, Laura Gilpin, and Otto Kuhler were among the guests at the first exhibit’s opening.

*Previous Venues*

Colorado Railroad Museum, Golden, Colorado, February 3 through December 2020

Carnegie Visual Arts Center, Decatur, Alabama, September 25 through November 11, 2017

Oliver Jensen Gallery, Valley Railroad Company, Essex, Connecticut, May 27 through October 30, 2016

Ford Center for Fine Arts, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, June 10 through mid-August 2015

O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke, Virginia, Spring 2009

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, 2008

California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento, November 2, 2006 through January 14, 2007

Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 8 through May 9, 2006

To book a showing or get more information, get in touch with the Center at 608-251-5785 or send an email to info [at] railphoto-art [dot] org.

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