(George in his studio,
I’d like to
say I always knew George Foott would become a remarkable artist.
But that wouldn’t be true. We
knew each other for a number of years – wow, now that I think of it -- it was
way back in the Eighties when we were both in
, and often in search of the same book, same historic artifact.
Of course, we each had our various reasons for wanting these: George for
his art; me for my writing. And
that, on occasion, made us competitors. I’m
pleased to say we evolved out of that. Well,
maybe I haven’t – totally -- but George certainly has.
times when we went on hikes together, often with friends like Ken Schneider and
Owen Fuhlrodt – both antique dealers. That
was because I often exhausted George with my incessant talk; and he claimed he
needed others to go with us to give him a break from having to listen to me.
My problem was I had few people who shared similar interests; so, when I
found George, and Ken, and Owen, I bored them to tears with my research and
we all loved the history of the Cripple Creek Gold Mining District. And
that’s why we hung out together. I
don’t think to this day any of us really know why we were so obsessed with the
place. It might’ve been the
history, and the legends, and all the intriguing characters associated with the
great gold district. And, of course,
the multitude of old artifacts – books, photographs, maps, documents, and
mining equipment – anything we could get our hands on.
Plus, the District was there, just hanging on the southwest face of
, and we could hike it, explore it, do archaeological digs, collect it, and
fully immerse ourselves in every glorious bit of it.
We were just
OCB, and did what we could to absorb and regenerate
I lived in
Victor then, and George owned a small building on
west Victor Avenue
, between Second and Third streets. He’d
come up from
to work on his place; and when he had time, we’d head out on the history
trail. We’d hike up to the
Independence Mine, or the
, the Last Dollar, or Bull Hill and beyond.
I’d be talking all the way -- instead of listening -- and George would
be thinking about how to lay out a pen and ink drawing.
Everything about the Cripple Creek District fascinated us, from its
geology to its waste rock dumps, wood foundations to abandoned buildings, broken
down ore carts to fragments of whiskey jugs; every bit a time traveler inspiring
us with the resonance of past events and forgotten people.
I took to
and its maturation from mining camp to gold district.
George expressed his passion for the place and its history in drawings
was born in
in 1939, went to the
, and studied Industrial Design. Along
the way, he filled his electives with art classes, history and other related
interests. By 1966, George had a
degree in Mechanical Engineering and applied his talents in that discipline.
He moved to
in 1969 and became a professional designer of medical equipment.
In his spare time, he explored
. What else!
All of its history intrigued him, especially when he could find a
fragment here and there; something he could own and hold and translate into a
I grew up in
Denver, often traveled to Aspen before there was an I-70; used a rope-tow to go
up the slopes of Winter Park; searched for crystals in the Glory Hole above
Central City; saw some of the early melodramas at the Imperial Hotel; campaigned
for the winter Olympics in Colorado; thought Telluride and Mesa Verde a mystical
distance away; and always wanted to live in a Rocky Mountain ski area.
thoroughly ensnared people such as George and myself was anything that excited,
alluded to, inspired and promoted our romanticized visions of gold and silver
mining in nineteenth-century
miner’s candlestick as an example. It
was an early form of lighting in underground mines.
At first, it was simply a utilitarian object; but over the years, the
candlestick became fancy, more elaborate, and a thing of pride.
Its history became one of George’s first inspirations.
Not just any old plain Varney; but rather, the fancy and unique
candlesticks forged by true craftsmen of the time.
George must’ve seen a bit of himself in each of the original
candlesticks he owned because each showed up in one of his works.
In fact, they were some in his first pen-and-ink drawings.
He made cards with their images, and prints, and then full-fledged mining
scenes. George even fashioned shadow
boxes around his favorite candlesticks, and then, in his distinctive
calligraphy, recorded the history of each on the matting around it.
Head frames and sheave wheels, ore carts and old wooden buildings were
next; then there were railroad trestles, locomotives, stations and more.
In 1990, George took up oils and used that medium to add color and depth
to his artwork. Nine years later,
George retired from his engineering career, sold his homes in
and Victor, and moved to
. There, with his wife, Shirley, he
continued to explore the Colorado Rockies and further develop his themes and
A certain type
of still-life, photo-realism took hold in his artistry.
Not only did George get his inspiration from old photographs, usually
albumen cabinet cards, pre-1910, by William Henry Jackson, Edgar Yelton, and A.J.
Harlan; but, his paintings gained dimension, and shadows, and a sense of actual
existence. In fact, his paintings
became so photo-real, dynamite plungers appeared ready to push and lunch pails
full of warm food and horse whims in active use.
Michael Harnett (Irish-born American
Painter, 1848-1892), was one of George’s most powerful influences, and
he regularly incorporated Harnett’s trompe
l’oeil into his later paintings. No
question, George’s work fools the eye; not only because original photographs
and magazine illustrations appear in his paintings, but also because George was
able to paint them so life-like you believed you were holding those artifacts.
I could go on about George’s influences – Donald Clapper, Jerry
Venditti, Chuck Sabatino, and William Acheff – but don’t want to get too
technical here. It’s better to say
that George’s passion was beautifully reflected in his work.
He melded realism, history and emotion into astonishing,
thought-provoking paintings. The
results make you wonder if you’re inside the painting or out.
last year, George spent a lot of time improving his ability to make rock
surfaces and minerals come to life on his gesso-coated, masonite board.
The more he was intrigued about geology and minerals, the more he focused
on reflecting his character in those painted images.
He was quite proud of the porphyry and phonolite he perfected in his
painting, Davis Horse Whim, which
portrayed not only his interest in minerals, but also his never-ending obsession
with the Cripple Creek District. He
finished this painting months before cancer claimed him.
Foott’s work has been recognized by numerous organizations, exhibited in
, and awarded honors in
. But George doesn’t have to be
concerned about continuing his quest for the most emotive still-life; he’s in
every object he ever collected, every drawing he ever drew, and every painting
he ever painted.
I’m damned sure George just got another
book I’ve been searching for ages.
his lifetime, George 60 to 75 oil paintings, none
of which are known to be currently for sale.