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Sausalito artist Enid Foster remembered in new biography

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Enid Foster steps out of obscurity, thanks to Carol and Allan Hayes.

When Allan and Carol Hayes first came to Sausalito 60 years ago, they were told the town was an artist’s colony. “When we got here, we found that was an understatement,” says Allan Hayes. “It was really a magical place.”

Following WWII, with houseboats filling abandoned shipyards, Sausalito’s artistic community was thriving as the Beat generation took over the Bay Area. One of the first things the Hayeses did after arriving in town was to buy a painting at the Glad Hand Restaurant, a hip hangout for Sausalito’s Beat artists. On bringing the painting home, they showed it to a friend who pointed out that the artist, Enid Foster, was a local.

“She told my wife that Enid was an interesting person and we should ask her to lunch, which Carol did,” says Hayes. “When we met Enid, we found out that we’d met the town character. We also found out she was an incredible artist. We instantly became great friends.”

Later this year, the Hayeses celebrate and remember their friend with the release of the new book, Enid Foster: Artist, Sculptor, Poet, Playwright, Creative Force, Ringleader, Cultural Icon, which is both a definitive biography and comprehensive gallery of Foster’s work.

Born in 1895, Foster was an elderly lady known for walking through town in beat-up clothes and bothering tourists by the time the Hayeses made her acquaintance, though her place in art history had already been secured.

Raised in San Francisco and Marin County, Foster was a prodigy sculptor and became highly recognized in her early 20s. After the death of her father in 1928, Foster moved to Europe for a decade. She came back to Sausalito in 1939, just as the military took over the foundry, and soon switched her focus from sculpture to paintings and other 2D artworks.

“It was her flat art, I think, that is the reason she should be remembered today,” says Hayes. “Her flat art was so individual, the work that she did in Sausalito between 1950 and the early 1970s.”

Foster became an accomplished oil painter in that time, and her drawings remain interesting, but Foster’s greatest achievement in art is the medium she invented, which she called the monotype pen drawing. These colorful and intricate works began life as blobs of paint transferred from glass to paper that would produce random patterns. Foster would visualize an image within those blobs, and draw scenes that satirically poked fun at modern society.

In addition to visual arts, Foster was a performance artist and writer, a contemporary of Sausalito legends like Jean Varda, and an exuberant mischief-maker.

If Foster’s name is not a household one, it may very well be because she was so ahead of her time. In Sausalito in the 1960s, Hayes explains, all anyone was interested in was abstract expressionism. “Enid’s art was so far removed from the mainstream, she became pigeon-holed as an amusing eccentric who made irrelevant art,” says Hayes. “Nobody really looked at her art and figured out what she was doing.”

Though Foster died in 1979, Allan and Carol remained under her artistic spell for the rest of their lives, and wrote the forthcoming book to honor and share her memory.

“Enid wouldn’t let us rest until we did it,” says Hayes. “We figured that she just should not be forgotten, she should be in the permanent record. You should be able to look up Enid Foster on the internet or in the library and see her work. And the best way to do that was a book.”

Together, Allan and Carol, who died last year, spent 12 years researching Foster’s life story and compiling every image of her art that they could find from several collectors and the Sausalito Historical Society. “As we say in the book, there’s a lot more out there, hanging on walls or in attics or in thrift shops,” says Hayes. “There’s a ton of stuff to be found.

“She was prolific, and her works are as fresh and vital and alive today as they were 50 or 60 years ago, and not many artists achieve that.”

‘Enid Foster: Artist, Sculptor, Poet, Playwright, Creative Force, Ringleader, Cultural Icon’ by Allan and Carol Hayes will be released on April 9 from Roundtree Press.

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