Motor Illustrator: William Harnden Foster
October 1912 cover. On a sunny day at water's edge, a sporting party is out for a day's drive in their racy red flivver.
Artist and writer William Harnden Foster (July 22, 1886 — October 31, 1941) is probably best known for his love of the outdoors, particularly hunting and fishing, and his illustrations of bird dogs. Born in Andover, Massachusetts, Bill's father and uncles worked on the railroad, and some of Bill's first sketches were of trains. His grandfather owned a farm where Bill learned to hunt. By age 12, Bill had won a design competition to draw a new town seal for Andover, Massachusetts, one adopted in 1900. Bill completed Punchard High School in 1904.
Relying on early train sketches, he gained admission into Boston's Museum of Fine Arts School where he spent three years studying under famed illustrator Howard Pyle. He also found time to take an MIT course on locomotive mechanics, just to be sure his drawings were accurate. Pyle was sufficiently impressed with Foster's work that he recommended that his student submit some of his railroad illustrations to Scribner's Magazine. The magazine accepted the submission, along with Foster's written text, and Foster's career as an author/illustrator was begun. He would go on to illustrate Harper's, The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Scientific American, and others.
In 1908, following Pyle and enrolling at his Art Colony in Wilmington, Delaware, Foster opened an illustration studio and, largely, drew pictures of speeding boats, cars, and trains to accompany magazine articles. One of his better-known paintings of 1910, for instance, was "Setting the Pace" which told the story of a 1910 Oldsmobile Limited touring car racing and beating the 20th Century Limited train.
Harper's, also in 1910, sent Foster to Panama to provide coverage of the building of the Panama Canal. In 1915, to report on trans-Atlantic cattle shipments for Harper's, he joined the crew of a livestock freighter.
Along about 1920, Charles E. Davis invented a game shooting at clay pigeons, and Foster helped develop its rules. In 1926, the year-round sport was named "Skeet".
From 1921 to 1936, Foster was editor of two prominent sports magazines, National Sportsman and Hunting and Fishing. He extended his editing responsibilities to include writing and illustrating articles and illustrating covers, as well. Bill and his wife spent their summers in Maine, where they met Leon L. Bean. Bean published a mail order catalogue and when he decided to spruce it up a bit with cover art, he turned to Foster who supplied a painting, "The Moose Hunter". In it, a hunter, wearing L.L. Bean attire, comes upon a moose. During the twenties and thirties, Foster also painted New England's notable bird dogs and later had a commission from DuPont to paint the annual National Champion bird dog for a calendar.
He authored a well-respected book on grouse shooting — New England Grouse Shooting — which was published just months after his death. Only fifty-five years old, he died of a heart attack while judging the New England Open Grouse Championship in Scotland, Connecticut.
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