“Bits and Pieces” and “Rock” by Maggie Foskett
The artist Maggie Foskett died Dec. 1 in hospice care near her winter home in Sanibel, Fla., after a brief hospitalization, surrounded by her husband, son and daughter. She was 95.
Foskett, a summer resident of Camden, Maine, transformed bits of nature into brilliantly colored and spare, sometimes haunting shapes through a pioneering photographic technique known as cliché verre, the direct exposure of compositions onto photographic paper through an enlarger. She was among the first American artists to use cliché verre in photography and is credited with helping establish the technique as a photographic art form in the United States.
In 1984, Foskett moved from Illinois to Camden, Maine, and her career blossomed when she found a community of artists associated with Maine Photographic Workshops in the nearby town of Rockport.
Foskett studied photography with many of the best American photographers, including Ansel Adams, Sam Abell, Marie Cosindas, Ernst Haas and Jerry Uelsmann. She discovered cliché verre by accident when, working in her darkroom in Florida, she turned on her enlarger and saw the translucent outline of a spider magnified on the photographic paper below. She began experimenting with what she saw. She took tiny bits of plants and insects, created an arrangement between two glass slides, and exposed the slides through the enlarger directly onto photographic paper. The resulting images revealed intricate details and variations of color unseen by the naked eye.
The idea of unmasking the hidden beauty and mysteries of tiny pieces of nature fascinated her for the rest of her life. In dragonfly wings, she found honeycombs. In plant stamen, she found snowfalls of pollen. In flower petals, she found rainbows of color. She discovered that even rocks, cut thinly, could be shot through with the bright light of her enlarger to create extraterrestrial landscapes. Through her many years of work, Foskett noticed the patterns of life’s building blocks repeated themselves in nearly every object she photographed. She remarked that she also came to understand the fragility of nature; some compositions of flowers or insects might fade so quickly she had time for only one or two images.
Late in her career, she became fascinated with x-rays of injured birds and animals, and composed images that superimposed natural objects onto the skeletal traces revealed on the x-rays. She experimented with human x-rays, too, usually her own. One of her most memorable images shows blades of grass layered over an x-ray of her thigh, with the caption, “and then my bones will hold the seeds of summer grass.”
Foskett exhibited at galleries and museums throughout the East Coast and her works are included in the permanent collections of the National Museum for Women in the Arts and the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., and in the Farnsworth Museum of Art in Rockland, Maine.
She had more than 25 one-women shows over her lifetime and in 2000, Foskett was included in Photographing Maine 1840-2000, a published compendium of Maine’s most significant photographers. In 2013, she was included in Maine Women Pioneers III, a collection of Maine’s best women artists.
“A sensitive and exacting observer, Maggie Foskett reveals nature’s incredible variety in new and surprising ways as she penetrates the internal structure of birds, plants, insects and reptiles,” a curator wrote of her 1998 exhibit at the National Academy of Sciences.
In lieu of flowers, a charitable contribution in Foskett’s name may be made to: CROW, Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Sanibel, Florida.