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

About the Exhibition

Catalog from the exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee

The Center published this catalog from the exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, placing Rose’s work in a broader historic context. Includes all twenty-seven watercolor paintings and twenty-two photographs that appeared in the exhibition, along with essays by museum director and curator Curtis L. Carter and writer/artist Jeff Brouws. The catalog is now out of print.

In accord with artist Ted Rose’s wishes, the Center produced an exhibition, conservation, and publishing program. The Center partnered on the original exhibition with the Ted Rose Studio, with support from the North American Railway Foundation. It included forty-nine watercolor paintings and photographs of American industrial settings in the twentieth century. “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.

Other 2008 activities included a special issue of Railroad Heritage to develop public awareness and appreciation for the seldom seen photographs of artist Ted Rose (1940-2002), AWS, NWS. In accord with Rose’s wishes, the Center’s conservation and publishing program of his work continues.

Another exhibition, Ted Rose, The Artist’s Early Photography, was featured in the trackside lobby in spring 2009 at the O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke, Virginia. Sponsored by Trains magazine, it focuses on Rose’s early photographic accomplishments. The show features forty photographs, including three on the Norfolk & Western, and essays by friends of Rose and experts on his work. Between 1956 and 1962, Rose followed trains and rode the rails in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Guatemala. His black and white photographs taken during his journeys capture the last days of active steam railroading in North America.

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.

The Center asks for financial support for the Ted Rose Memorial Program. All gifts are earmarked specifically for the Rose program, will be acknowledged publicly, and are tax-deductible. Major donors also receive appropriate mention in news releases. The program in its entirety is a fitting tribute to a gifted artist whose career was cut tragically short.

Polly Rose greeting guests at the exhibition opening at Marquette University

This exhibition is on hiatus for maintenance 

About the Exhibition

  • 24 silver gelatin prints and 3 original watercolors
  • Range in size from 10×13 inches to 24×36 inches, matted and framed in wood
  • 1 introductory panel and 27 exhibition labels
  • 135 linear feet, total

Previous venues

  • Lake Superior Railroad Museum, Duluth, Minnesota, May 30 to September 5, 2022
  • 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
David Mattoon shows the work he is doing at Lake Forest College to catalog and conserve the photographs of Ted Rose. Mattoon has written a character-recognition program specific to this collection, to be able to match up images among thumbnails on 3 by 5 cards, prints and negatives. In addition, he is putting the negatives into acid-free sleeves. Photograph by Amit Shrestha.

Online Exhibition