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

With stunning and evocative watercolors, Ted Rose (1940-2002) became one of the nation’s greatest railroad artists during the last third of his life. Much earlier, as a young man in his late teens and early twenties, he demonstrated a flare for photography that foreshadowed his later success with brushes and easels. In both media, Rose captured the dynamism, nobility, and beauty of North American railroading in everyday life.

Rose’s photography spans a five-year period from the late 1950s to the early 1960s that coincided with the end of regular steam operations. Drawn to the steam locomotive like so many railroad enthusiasts, Rose tracked down some of their last vestiges across the continent, beginning in the United States before moving to Canada and finally Mexico. Extended trips to Mexico during summer vacations in 1960 and 1961 yielded some of Rose’s best photographs. He traveled independently with his friend Robert Ludwig, and the two fully immersed themselves in the land, culture, and people of Mexico and its railroads. Those elements later became hallmarks of Rose’s watercolors.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Rose attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and worked in the art department of the Kalmbach Publishing Company. Following a tour in Vietnam, he moved to the Southwest and eventually settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he built a career first as a commercial illustrator and then as an artist. He married Polly Towers in 1967, and they had two children. When Rose returned to painting railroad subjects around 1980, he did so with a vengeance, producing 1,000 watercolors in a little more than two decades. Cancer claimed him too soon, but he continued painting into the final months of his life.

Rose leaves a profound visual legacy. Polly donated his photography to the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, whose collections staff digitized and cataloged all of his 4,400 negatives. Rose himself made the prints in the 1970s when a colleague and fellow artist in Santa Fe loaned his darkroom equipment. The paintings come from two private donors, and Polly provided the charcoal drawing.

We give gratitude to the following individuals whose gifts in memory of Ted Rose provided essential support to make this project possible: Alan Buchan, Marti Carroll, Leanna Gaskins, Robert Ludwig, John Manley, John McGreer, John & Linda Mellowes, North American Railway
Foundation, and Polly Rose.

The Center for Railroad Photography & Art designed and implemented this exhibition in partnership with the Rose family. The Center is a not-for-profit arts and education organization based in Madison, Wisconsin. Its programs further public understanding of railroading’s profound importance in the United States and beyond. The Center’s members support all of its efforts and receive its quarterly journal, Railroad Heritage. To learn more and to join, visit: www.railphoto-art.org.

Adrienne EVANS (archives manager)
Natalie KRECEK (archives assistant)
Scott LOTHES (executive director)
Hailey PAIGE (exhibitions coordinator)
Inga VELTEN (development director)

Exhibited by:


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