We have been working on researching a special painting/print for over a month now. In the course of the research we have met so many nice people and received so much information regarding the work. This particular work goes by two different names. Originally it was titled “Setting the Pace”, later it was dubbed “Olds Keep Ahead”. Our research has been a long and winding road and we are coming to the end of our journey. This item is ready for the marketplace and we will be letting it go on its next adventure. So, what is this painting and why is it so special? The more we researched and learned the more we grew to appreciate the history and representation of the cultural shift portrayed by William Harnden Foster.
William H. Foster was born in Massachusetts in 1886 and passed while reporting on the New England Open Grouse Championship in 1941. He was a celebrated illustrator and writer that was well known for his hunting and racing scenes. Scribner’sfirst published his work in a series illustrating trains while he was studying under Howard Pyle. Scribner’s asked him to include some writing with his illustrations, which helped develop a writing career along side producing works of art. Later they commissioned him to cover the building of the Panama Canal. Foster was often commissioned by the railroads and Scientific American magazine for his portrayal of train and racing scenes.
In 1910 the Oldsmobile company asked him to render their Oldsmobile Limited on canvas. Foster depicted the luxury Limited racing a New York Central train and winning. His representation was showing the shift in the transportation choice in America during this time. The automobile was changing our societies view on mass transportation and proved that the pursuit of personal freedom was not about to slow down. He titled the work “Setting the Pace”. Once this work was complete Oldsmobile reproduced the image widely. It quickly became the most famous automobile painting of all time. One of the very early reproductions was a special limited chromo-lithographic edition. This reproduction was a high quality reproduction done on stretched canvas in 1911 by the Meyercord Company of Chicago. It mirrored the original in both size and texture. The reproductions were done by craftsmen and resemble the original down to the aging of the medium that was used. They had a limited run of 250 copies. So, Setting the Pace where are you now? The original was believed to have hung in the office of a car distribution manager of Oldsmobile and given to him as a retirement gift in the early 1940’s. There is no record of its existence since. In the early 1970’s Oldsmobile reproduced another run of the scene on a smaller scale using a heavy textured paper for their 75thanniversary. This may have been the time it picked up its second name “Olds Keep Ahead”. In the latter part of the seventies another run was produced on canvas for sale and company awards. Again, these were smaller than the originals and had subtle differences. The latter reproductions were produced in mass quantities and widely distributed.
When we started our journey we were positive we had an older work on canvas. The item was sought out using the want ads in Hemmings Motor News. It was professionally restored in the early 1970’s. Included with the painting is a photocopy of the original ad that was run in order to locate it. We shared the story with a local art enthusiast/dealer and friend while seeking information on the painting. They encouraged us to pursue researching the piece since the original was missing. We spoke with several, individuals , organizations, curators and professionals regarding the history and ways to detect its authenticity. The piece was examined closely by several professionals. We have determined that this particular piece is one of the earlier 250 reproductions produced. We have read but can not confirm that there are only twelve known to exist with the original still missing. The restoration performed on this particular piece was done by a local art restorer that could not be located. He covered the back of the painting with a protective foam core board to prevent damage to the painting. The board was removed during an examination. On the back of the frame there is a very faint series of numbers that could not be read or deciphered. There is an individual’s name and California address written in light pencil. The name was researched but could not be traced. The work has the typical aging and wear of an older oil painting. The item is in need of a professional cleaning. The painting has intrigued everyone that it has been shown to. The story and history is captivating to many different audiences. This is a piece of automotive, transportation, advertising, cultural and art history. We cherish the opportunity that was provided to research and make available this very special and very limited chromo-lithograph. As we move forward and prepare this item to move along to its next stop we have to ask Olds where are you going?