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Roundhouse painter put research into work

May 31, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - John Foflygen paid attention to detail when painting his Civil War-era rendition of the Martinsburg B&O Roundhouse.

He looked up photos of the train complex from the 1870s. He determined the proper gauge of the tracks.

As a model for the consolidated train entering his canvas from the north, Foflygen relied on a picture of a rare train called a "Jersey greenback," nicknamed for its place of origin and its color. The greenback, an eight-wheeler with an extra wood-burning unit, was used mainly for hauling, Foflygen said.

Last summer, Greg and Janie Henry, owners of the Queen Street Gallery in Martinsburg, commissioned Foflygen, of Frederick, Md., to paint the roundhouse. The Henrys donate half of the profits from every print of the oil painting they sell to the roundhouse preservation effort.

Roger Boyer, a member of the Roundhouse Authority, said the potential contribution is more than $35,000.

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Foflygen, a fan of both railroads and historic preservation, said he is pleased to help the cause.

"I feel really good about that," he said. "I'm glad to see the society getting the funds together to get this thing off the ground. I like to see some civic pride going on."

Foflygen said he is bothered when old structures go to waste. They should be used, and not just as museums, he said.

"I guess I was born 100 years too late," Foflygen said.

The Henrys have owned the Queen Street Gallery in Martinsburg for about three years. Henry said he has known Foflygen, who has other works on display at the gallery, for more than 15 years.

Foflygen, 56, spent more than a month researching how the roundhouse and the adjacent shops might have looked just after the Civil War ended.

He said he tried to work quickly after hearing that someone else might be painting a similar scene. On the other hand, his free time was about to decrease, as he was starting a new silk screening job. Foflygen works the afternoon and night shift at Phoenix-Mecano in Frederick.

It took him about three months of weekends to research and paint the picture. The vantage point of Foflygen's daytime scene is just over the roof line, looking down at the railroad tracks and the buildings behind them.

The Henrys had 900 regular edition prints and 100 "artist proof" prints, which are smaller, made at York Graphics in York, Pa.

The 22-by-29 3/8-inch prints cost $100.

They went on sale last year, but the Henrys haven't publicized them until now. Greg Henry said his offer to split the profits with the authority is in effect for two years.

"We're big supporters of the roundhouse," he said. "I'd hate to see buildings like that torn down."

According to Boyer, other roundhouse fund-raisers are being developed. Mugs, T-shirts and other merchandise are on sale throughout the area.

Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III, chairman of the Roundhouse Authority, recently told the Berkeley County Commission that the authority has received about $1.3 million in grants and that renovation work is under way.

Martin said the authority will review a new consultant's report on possible uses for the site and hopes to have its proposals and cost estimates ready by the end of September.

According to a certificate of authenticity that comes with each print, Foflygen "was strongly influenced by the Boston and Old Lyme Schools of Painting during his stay in Connecticut in the late '70's, which only deepened his commitment to his lifelong passion for figure painting and fluid technique."

Foflygen, who has several of his works on display at the Queen Street Gallery, teaches art out of his home. He has taught drawing and painting at the former York (Pa.) Academy of Art and at the Guilford Art School in Guilford, Conn.

He grew up near Pittsburgh. After a teaching stint in Connecticut, he moved to Maryland to be closer to the art markets in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

While living in Harrisburg, Pa., Foflygen worked on a railroad track crew for three or four summers, putting in rails and tearing them up. It was a way to earn money for vacations to Maine, he said.

He said he likes to paint in three different styles: realism, impressionism and Fauvism. The last style is one of "color for color's sake," Foflygen explained.

In some situations, color tells a story better than shape or form. "Certain things can't be expressed any other way," he said.

This is the second painting of the roundhouse that the Henrys have commissioned. The first one, a watercolor by P. Buckley Moss, was sold to raise money for the Apple Harvest Festival's 20th anniversary.

About 300 prints were sold, and the Queen Street Gallery contributed about $5,200 to the festival commission, Greg Henry said.

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