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“To Train-watchers; especially to Charles II and the late Charles, Sr,” is a dedication in the 2006 book, The Great Steam Trains, America’s Great Smoking Iron Horses by Frederic Winkowski and resident Charles Fulkerson, Jr, to Mr Fulkerson’s son and father. The latter ignited his love for trains, and his son has also caught an interest.
Like his father, Charles, Sr, Mr Fulkerson is a train-watcher — his artwork reflecting many a railroad scene.
Most recent is his watercolor, “Selkirk View,” which depicts Selkirk, New York’s train yard, and is “one of those honored” by the American Society of Railway Artists, Mr Fulkerson wrote in a quick note he sent to The Newtown Bee.
“Selkirk View” is a colorful view from above, looking down and into the distance as trains line up in the yard to fill side-by-side tracks. Men step toward the engines that are first in line as the cargo cars recede toward distant mountains. This work, featured in the national publication, Railfan & Railroad magazine, June 2018, fills the top of page 57 in a “Portraits of Railroading Colorful Freight” feature.
The article begins: “Ask some 200 artists to present an image that illustrates ‘colorful freights,’ and guess what you get? Surprises, wonderful surprises.” In the brief write-up by James D. Porterfield, he concludes, “Here then are 12 interpretations,” of colorful freight, including Mr Fulkerson’s work.
Appearing on page 57, which Mr Fulkerson carefully marked with a sticky note, is his artwork and accompanying caption: “Bright yellow and cobalt blue CSX freight locomotives are serviced prior to hauling freights out of Selkirk, N.Y. This expansive view from Ben’s Bridge embraces what was once the largest hump yard on the old New York Central. Fulkerson, a plein air artist, painted this scene in 2015 on site from the bridge, since demolished.”
A June 2017 issue of Railfan & Railroad is also marked with a sticky note. On page 64 is another feature by Mr Porterfield highlighting both Mr Fulkerson’s work and an essay where the artist offers a glimpse at the origins of his preoccupation with trains and long history of plein air artwork.
Following Mr Porterfield’s introduction is Mr Fulkerson’s account of one potential outcome of “painting trains right there in real time.” He wrote, “What is the engineer up to and why? In 50 years of painting trains on site, I’d never witnessed anything like this.”
He “observed something remarkable” as he watched railfans film a locomotive that he was also looking at — the engineer, who saw both Mr Fulkerson and the film crew, had “both hands off the throttle,” and was “taking pictures — of us,” he wrote.
After the film crew left, he and his easel “stayed put.” Mr Fulkerson eventually “captured all the action in a finished watercolor with the yard and the photographers,” including the trainman who turned a camera of his own toward them.
The Painting Experience
During an interview at his home on Currituck Road recently, which is adorned with model trains, Mr Fulkerson talked about his experiences over many years of painting on site. Onlookers, he agreed, are a simultaneous experience and story of their own.
“It’s not just painting, but experiencing what is around you,” he said.
“Being onsite, I meet people all the time. I have met a lot of interesting people.” Generally, the railfans and employees are friendly, he said.
But his experiences have been both good and bad. One gentleman had returned to bring Mr Fulkerson a cocktail, and on another occasion, Mr Fulkerson had stepped away from his painting and found a boot print on the canvas when he returned.
The article accompanying the June 2017 image of Selkirk station, where the conductor had turned his camera toward Mr Fulkerson and nearby photographers, offers the biggest hint of the artist’s interest. The author wrote that Mr Fulkerson has drawn and painted all his life. “He attributes his passion for trains to his father, who saw steam locomotives as the ‘high tech’ machine of their day.” Mr Fulkerson is quoted: “I watched trains work in New England in the 1940s and 1950s when steam was still running.”
During his interview with The Newtown Bee, he said, “I love being around trains.” And painting, he said, is a slow process. “What could be better than a sunny day, the main line, and a glass of wine?”
He has done drawings of Newtown’s station just before the tracks pass over Church Hill Road. “And a train was nice enough to come by,” as he worked.
Stepping into his “train room,” Mr Fulkerson notes additional model trains on tracks crossing miniature landscapes. Also taking up a corner was a station that he “made from scratch, loosely modeled after a station in Paris,” he said. Lifting its roof reveals a tableau of tiny people, benches, wall posters, and doorways.
Snapshots Of Life
“What I love? I prefer not to paint from photos, but paint at the scene,” Mr Fulkerson said. If the location happens to be close by, “I’ll go again and again until I finish.”
He also carries drawing books where he captures people, scenes, and snippets of conversation and observances. Taking his drawing book and pastel pencils with him to the lounge car, he finds subjects who are “looking out a window, talking, and very candid.”
Flipping pages in his notebook, Mr Fulkerson stops at the image of an old woman, reclined. “I volunteer at Hospice,” he said. The result is a “graphic diary,” as he adds notes to the images.
Another page in the notebook is an image of a train conductor. Written beneath the image of the conductor, Juanita, in her uniform: light blue button-down shirt and a dark cap, he wrote, “Thanks for patching up my finger! Chuck.”
Confessing that while on Juanita’s train, he had accidentally sliced his finger, he said, “She was very solicitous and bandaged my finger.” She had also mentioned that she liked what she saw of his work and asked about receiving her portrait. On that occasion, Mr Fulkerson said he took her picture in order to later draw her portrait and send it to her.
“I like drawing people, and generally, it’s harder to paint a pretty woman than a Plain Jane,” or a man, he said. “Features are symmetrical. I can’t draw a perfect circle, but I’m not bad at it.” Also, “Women are more concerned with their looks.”
Drawing “takes a lot of concentration,” he said. “If you’re trying to get a likeness, you’re constantly measuring distances — space between the eyes, length of nose.”
As he paints or sketches people, he lets his imagination wander. “I make up in my mind what they’re up to.”
His notebook also contains his renderings of museum artwork, accompanied by brief notes. Dated April 14, 2018, Mr Fulkerson headed the page Neue Galerie “Woman In Gold” in New York, followed by the artist’s name, Klimt.
According to wikipedia.org, the painting hanging in New York is a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (called “The Lady in Gold” or “The Woman in Gold”), a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.
But in New York City this year, Mr Fulkerson viewed the painting hanging there and also the scene around it. Next to the portrait’s sketch that he drew are his words, “At the Neue Galerie, 5th and 86th, visitors stand transfixed by Klimt’s ‘Femme Fatale.’ Patrons repeatedly warned, ‘No Pictures,’ hastily putting their cameras away. Guard eyes me warily but says nothing as I draw away!”
Noting the many paintings and drawing hanging at his home, Mr Fulkerson said, “I’m fortunate,” to have hobbies he loves that also earn him money.
According to his website, chuckfulkerson.com, “Fulkerson’s favorite subjects include trains, New England landscapes, colonial architecture, and his beloved dogs.”
He recently received the Richard Ochs Memorial Award — Watercolor for his Plein Air Sandy Hook Center at the spring Society of Creative Arts of Newtown (SCAN) show.
His 2017 Painted Ladies calendar of Newtown’s historic Main Street homes received much local publicity, the site states. Additional art works and publications in which they appear are also listed.
Mr Fulkerson spent 20 years as the senior copywriter and copy chief at Reader’s Digest Association Inc. His earlier career included work as a freelance illustrator, senior copywriter for children’s books, freelance copywriter, and artist. He also teaches art classes.