I went to the Antiquarian Society to read the letters and the oratory a number of times and one day after reading her letters, one day I went to her cemetery. I went there twice and I went to the little office where they keep the ledger of way back—I mean from the beginning of time in this—it's the Hope Cemetery here in Worcester. And they not only took me to her grave site but they told me that her husband and her were buried side by side and that Abby was buried in the middle and that her feet were facing the stone so that I felt it was okay to sit on her feet, leaning back on her stone. One day after reading her letters I meditated and that's when the feelings started–I am going to cry—that's when I tapped into her. It's like her spirit joined me or something it was incredible. And during the process of the painting and when I was doing the head, I had a long shelf here and I had a large half gallon can there, you see it there. That's my can of mineral spirits and this was full of empty cans and other stuff that I used to have and this was empty. I had stayed up all night long and I had painted it and I had stepped back and everything was dead quiet you couldn't even hear traffic, nothing. And I said, “Abby Kelly Foster, you are coming to life,” and as those words left my mouth it sounded like something hit really hard on that paint can behind me. I had goosebumps, and it being in the middle of the night! My son and husband were asleep upstairs, I felt like running! And my hairs were raised up and I said, “No, you’re here, with me, aren’t you?” and from that point on I really felt that she was with me.
Charlotte Wharton was born in Nowata, Oklahoma, in 1944. She later moved to New England following her marriage and became the local artist who painted Abby Kelley Foster’s portrait in Worcester’s Mechanics Hall. Charlotte earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Clark University and currently works out of a small studio in her home. She has earned dozens of major awards, including the Oil Painters of America Award for Excellence in Painting. In this interview Wharton discusses her process in approaching the portrait of Abby Kelley Foster and her journey throughout the creation of the piece. Originally she was not aware of who Foster was. She read many biographies, novels, and diary entries about Foster in order to capture her likeness and personality. The painting featured in Mechanics Hall has a significant meaning to her, as she later discovered she was related to Foster years after the painting was completed. Her spiritual journey is a touching one and Charlotte ties her strong sense of faith to the entire process. This interview with Charlotte Wharton depicts a woman with a deep tie to her faith, her community, and her history.