I create meticulous drawings that invite people to consider their connection to the physical spaces they inhabit. Using photographs for reference, I engage in intense observation, dedicated to transcribing what I see, hoping to make something unseen visible. Through persistent marking, smudging and erasing of charcoal, I render real, dimensional places on flat paper. There is inherent stillness in my imagery, spaces depicted absent those who commonly occupy them. They invite expectation of arrival or departure, or of a moment before or after such action. They are a pause when a presence becomes, or could become, felt through absence.
Charcoal and graphite on paper suspended on steel over pedestal
Drawn from a photograph taken in the early 1900’s, this piece depicts a neighborhood that existed in downtown Baltimore prior to the building of the Preston Gardens park. The creation of this park required the demolition of a Black district that had been home to many prominent businesses and families. Home to lawyers, caterers, educational institutions, a newspaper headquarters, churches, social clubs, and more, this was a place of vitality. Through an ordinance passed in 1914, buildings were acquired by the city and subsequently torn down. The legislation was driven by then-mayor James H. Preston, who is considered a pioneer in using condemnation as a land acquisition tool to impose racial segregation.
I am pairing the image with quotes from two Baltimore newspapers. The quote from The Sun newspaper is from an article discussing the financial steps taken to create the park, and talks of how the neighborhood was “disease-infested,” and that its removal would benefit the surrounding neighborhoods, which were white. The quote from the Afro-American newspaper, whose headquarters had been located in this neighborhood, is from an article written a few years after the park was created, and it tells us of the former vibrancy of the displaced community.
The manner in which these two drawings are displayed is intended to mirror the way in which one cannot simultaneously hold such contradictory viewpoints as those exemplified in the two quotes, how perspective shapes what we see, and that the perspective of those in power literally shapes the landscape that we all inhabit.
Quoted text and source:
“A considerable part of the money will be used, the Mayor stated, in ‘wiping out congested and disease-infected sections in different parts of the city, so as to provide small squares or breathing places, for the health and comfort of the neighborhood.’ ”
"Mayor Fires Loan Gun: State’s Civic Centre Improvement Will Not Raise Tax Rate Breathing Spaces Needed Large Number Of Prominent Baltimoreans Mentioned In Statement As Favoring Plan." The Sun (1837-1994), Oct 30, 1917, pp. 11. ProQuest,
“When you pass through the beautiful Preston Gardens, now almost the heart of Baltimore’s humming business section, you are passing through a section where some beautiful brown-skinned girls and chivalrous youth who glided across hardwood floors to the tune of the old-time waltz while proud matrons and fathers looked on.”
"Northwest Now Center of Baltimore Social Life: Many Streets Once Prominent in High Society but Dilapidated Alleys Now." Afro-American (1893-1988), Apr 10, 1926, pp. 16. ProQuest,
Erin Fostel (b.1981, Baltimore, MD) spent the first few years of life navigating the world with blurred vision. Since the moment she first wore glasses, seeing things in focus for the very first time, she has been consumed with the joy of observation and a love of drawing.
In 2004, she received a BFA in Drawing from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her work has been featured in group and solo exhibitions both in the Mid-Atlantic Region and nationally. She is a past winner of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award and a Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City Travel Prize.
Her drawings have been included in local and international publications, as well as private and institutional collections. Her studio is based in Baltimore, MD.