About Larry Foster

The finest whale chart, or one of the finest whale charts, of all time, showing in minute detail just the baleen whales. Here LF is happily posing with his original painting.

Born in Sacramento, California, in 1934, Larry Foster was, from a young age, captivated with the natural and scientific world around him, collecting and studying bugs and animals. He felt a special fascination for more information about the largest animals on Earth—whales. Larry’s education is not in biology or scientific illustration, but rather in fine art; he earned a BA (1956) and an MA (1960) from California State University Sacramento. Under the guidance of profound teacher, artist, and friend Wayne Thiebaud, Larry’s scholarly accomplishments became advanced. No doubt this training in the formal values of art helped Larry develop his awareness in color themes and classic composition, and sharpened his ability to capture the very essence of each subject.
With an insistent draft citation from the U.S. Army in the late 1950s, Larry served a two-year tour of duty in Colorado Springs. Then, after his service, Larry worked as a technical illustrator at Aerojet General in Rancho Cordova, California, while studying for his master’s degree. He soon discovered his natural propensity for teaching, and he secured a position as an art teacher at Encina High School in Sacramento. Six years later, after a move to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1968, he had established teaching positions at California State University Hayward, as well as at California College of Arts and Crafts, and Laney College, both in Oakland. During this time, he was uniquely inventive in the art of stained glass.
In the 1960s, many people began to look more closely at the deterioration of the Earth’s flora and fauna caused by humankind’s routine indifference. So, with that in mind and with a growing urge to study external whale anatomy, Larry dived into an aesthetic examination of whales and dolphins (Cetacea). His intention was to produce anatomically precise depictions of all species of Cetacea, a challenge fraught with difficulty. Whales are not easy subjects of living studies today; and this was especially true back in the 1960s and ’70s.

It was during this period that Larry created a non-profit cetological group called General Whale to promote efforts to spread the love of whales through art. He produced whale prints, posters, illustrations, bumper stickers, pewter jewelry, pendants, hat emblems, bumper stickers, more and more, as well as life-sized whale sculptures that traveled across the United States. All mediums to promote whale conservation. To view more archival materials about General Whale, visit generalwhale.com. This website, produced by Larry’s son Lonny Foster, is an excellent collection of visuals of all things General Whale.

Before Larry’s pioneering anatomically correct whale depictions, guesswork by whale artists had always prevailed. Larry played a key role in differentiating whales from whaling, and educated millions of humans over the years to appreciate the incredible and unique sleek, streamlined, beautiful animals that whales are. It’s interesting to note the fact that no one individual has done so much to correct our misinterpretations of the appearance of any group of animals as Larry. Dr. James Mead, Curator of Marine Mammals at the  Smithsonian Institution, has said of his work, “Larry Foster has turned whale illustration into a science. The depictions that he has done are the most anatomically correct I have seen.”
Larry has had other passions and interests during his full life: he’s been a sailboat builder and avid sailor; has played the Austrian zither (Munich tuning) since he was twelve; enjoyed many a pet rat; is an admirer of orchids and succulents; an advanced radio-controlled model airplane pilot; and has enjoyed ballroom and swing dancing for many decades (he has great rhythm). Larry and his sweetie, Mary, live on the beautiful Mendocino Coast with their highly evolved dog Jack.

Larry comments, “I became so engrossed in my quest for information on the external anatomy of Cetacea that I became divorced, quit my teaching job in Sacramento, moved to Oakland, and lived in a warehouse, which was a great whale studio. After several years of intense study and high artistic output, all at the grassroots level, many new images of whales, from glass to life-size sculptures and everything in between, were developing. Everything I did was a first. The animals were found to be not blimp shaped but more attenuate, with profoundly beautiful body forms. Then, to my surprise, National Geographic magazine came to me. They wanted to see and publish my corrected views of whales. So did the Smithsonian and many other publications, museums, universities, and environmental institutions. I was making whales look good for the first time. Today, over five decades later, I still am.”

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