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John Baeder’s Road Well Taken

By: Jay Williams
272 pages
10 x 
10 in. 
 (25.4 x 
25.4 mm.), 
color illustrations
ISBN: 978-0-86565-319-1
Hardcover with jacket
US $45 / 
CAN $55 / 
PUBLISHED: Oct, 2015

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Echoing Paul Gauguin’s momentous decision of a century earlier, John Baeder, in 1972, suddenly made up his mind to forgo the growing riches of a career on Madison Avenue to become a full-time painter.  With little more to bank on than an offer by the legendary Ivan Karp of a future show at his New York gallery, Baeder bravely gambled his livelihood on Karp’s evaluation of his first four efforts at serious painting:  a diner, a motel, a gas station, a tourist camp. “They were works of cultural consequence, . . . works of visual power.”  Based on color-postcards in his growing collection of roadside memorabilia, John had made blow-ups of the cards “to see what they’d look like as paintings.”  It was a bold, inventive move, but typical Baeder as he continued to lay the groundwork for what soon became known, through his efforts, as “Diner Culture.”  And his masterful technique inevitably put him at the forefront of the growing photo-realist movement, along with Ralph Goings and Richard Estes.  Baeder’s paintings, particularly of vintage diners, were an immediate art world success, and this led him to continue scouring the countryside for prime examples to document before they all vanished from this earth. His dedicated efforts at capturing and preserving the remnants of this treasured phenomenon led to the publication of his famous book Diners, which remained in print for the better part of two decades, only to be followed by a revised edition.  His popular imagery so successfully tied in with the pulse of the American quotidian that it fueled a secondary market in reproductions on posters, calendars, advertising, fashion, and even in three-dimensional form, as a 20-piece diner-themed line of ceramic giftware, including, among other items, colorful canisters, planters, frames, and mugs.

Jay Williams, who organized Baeder’s recent four-museum retrospective Pleasant Journeys and Good Eats Along the Way:  The Paintings of John Baeder, also contributed in depth to that large exhibition’s catalog. In this new, authoritative volume, Williams concentrates on providing a full account of Baeder’s remarkable life and, through many interviews, the inside story of his multifaceted career. With more than 300 illustrations of his highly collectible paintings, watercolors, vintage photographs, printed ephemera, and three-dimensional memorabilia, John Baeder: A Road Well Taken is as fully a fascinating firsthand trip through the evocative remnants of a vanishing America as it is the deserving portrait of an artist who so successfully (and permanently) captured for the general public the nostalgic essence of what’s been lost.

Jay Williams has developed and overseen more than 40 major exhibitions during his thirty-year career as a university and art museum curator, most recently for the Vero Beach (Florida) Museum of Art.  He has organized significant exhibitions and contributed essays to accompanying catalogs in the fields of American impressionist and modernist painting, Southern folk art, and contemporary realism, including the pertinent retrospective, Pleasant Journeys and Good Eats Along the Way: The Paintings of John Baeder (2007-2009), which originated at the Morris Museum of Art (Augusta, Georgia) and traveled to the Ashville Museum (North Carolina), the Gibbs Museum of Art (Charleston), and the Tennessee State Museum (Nashville).

Nobody captured ‘diner consciousness’ quite like the realist painter Baeder. In this volume Williams creates a full account of Baeder’s life, including interviews with the artist and nearly 300 images of his collectable diner paintings, watercolors, vintage photos and memorabilia.

Associated Press

A great choice for lovers of photorealism and Americana alike.

Library Journal

John Baeder is legendary among roadside architectural enthusiasts…. [his] nuanced account of a certain period in America’s cultural life sparks an emotional reaction.

Chicago Tribune

What is it about images of old-fashioned roadside diners that makes many of us feel nostalgic—especially those of use who never experienced them in their pre-interstate heyday? It’s a curious phenomenon, and it’s in full force as you page through this collection of images of greasy spoons from California to Maine, all rendered in oils and watercolors by Baeder, a master of the photorealist form.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

An intimate and comprehensive portrait of Baeder’s multifaceted career. . . . Baeder’s life and career is one to be celebrated.

The Tennessean

John Baeder is known as one of the first photorealist artists. . . . Over 300 of John Baeder’s works have been brought together in a new monograph. . . take a closer look at his nostalgic scenes of Americana.

Atlas Obscura

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