Foster's Fancy Fotos . . .

John Best Foster was born in Lucas County, Iowa in 1870 and followed his maternal grandparents to California, probably some time in the mid-1880s. He established a photography business at Escondidio in the 1890s, but by 1899, when he was 29, Foster had moved back to Iowa and set up shop in the small, northeast Union County town of Lorimor.

Foster's Fancy Fotos

He called the Lorimor shop "Foster's Fancy Fotos." It's not clear why Foster chose Lorimor to establish a studio. It might have been because he had a brother living there already, or it might have been because there were no other photo studios in Lorimor at that time. Census and business records from this era indicate that competition among studio photographers was intense, with several studios already operating in nearby Creston, Afton, Winterset, and Osceola. Foster may have simply seen Lorimor as a good place in which to carve out a niche for himself and his business.

In addition to the experience he brought to Lorimor with him, Foster had a gimmick as well: his studio was built in a way that allowed it to be attached to a railway undercarriage and moved around from place to place. In the early days of photography this would have been quite a boon, as photographic equipment of this era was extremely bulky and, given the state of the roads at that time, it was probably much easier to move cameras and studio equipment by rail than by car. Having a portable studio gave Foster the advantage of being able to service several smaller towns in the area which were near the rail line but which didn't have the population to support a studio of their own. Although I don't have any photos of the studio on the tracks, you can tell from the photo of the studio I've included below that it was designed for speed.

Foster didn't invent the rail car photo studio (I have seen photos of other studios on wheels) but his is the only one I have heard of in Iowa.

Foster married Mina Victoria Westfall in 1905, in Saline County, Kansas. (Victoria appears in several of his Lorimor photographs.) By the early 1920s, he had left Lorimor and was living in Donaldson, Arkansas, where he died on July 7, 1950.

Commentary on this site is provided by David Preston unless noted otherwise. All photos are estimated to have been taken between 1899 and 1920.

–David Preston

Information and photos for this page were generously provided by Ed Marshall, grand nephew of J Best Foster.

More info on Ed Marshall family here.



Foster's Fancy Fotos

The Foster's Fancy Fotos studio in downtown Lorimor

I believe the studio was located on Main Street and this shot was taken facing south. It also seems to have been taken in lLate winter or early spring.

Compare this photo closely with the one above. In this view the studio appears to have been moved several more feet away from the nearest building. Note how the houses to the south (?) of town are now obscured. Also visible below the studio is the undercarriage, which rests on six iron-spoke wheels.

–David Preston

All photos by J. Best Foster
Click on any photo in this series to ENLARGE


J. Best Foster and Mina WESTFALL Foster

J. Best Foster and Mina WESTFALL Foster, Lorimor, IA

Unknown Female

Unknown female (Foster Studio)

Unknown Male

John Hart (Foster Studio)

Eva Foster, Daughter of Manuel

Eva Foster (Daughter of Manuel)
(Best Studio)

Someone on John Foster's mother's side of the family (the Best side) also had a photography business. It seems likely that this influenced John's career choice. The above photo is a sample product of that studio.

–Ed Marshall


Boys on Main Street

Boys on Main Street

This photo and the three photos below were probably taken during some kind of city festival, most like the 4th of July celebration. Note the brick buildings on either side of main street. Lorimor's Main Street was originally composed almost entirely of shops built of wood. In 1895, and again in 1898, the town caught fire (supposedly from embers produced by a locomotive engine) and most of main street burned to the ground. Town leaders decreed that the town would be rebuilt from brick to avoid a repetition of this catastrophe. Replacement buildings were apparently made from the same order of bright red bricks, giving the town the distinctive, fire engine red appearance it bears today.

Want more info about the Lorimor fires? Click here to read a page from the Lorimor Centennial book published in 1987. The book is entitled

Lorimor: The First Hundred Years
Lorimor Centennial, 1887 to 1987

Click on any photo in this series to ENLARGE

Main Street - Lorimor, IA
Fourth of the July Parade (?)
Watermelon Feast - Lorimor, IA

Watermelon eating on the 4th of July. Note the outhouses in the background –the ladies must have been behind one of the downtown businesses.

–Ed Marshall

Milliner's Shop, Lorimor, IA

This was taken in front of the milliner store. Mina Foster, J. Best's wife, is on the far right.

–Ed Marshall

Grain Threshing

Grain threshing

This photo might have been taken from the studio when it was on the rails. The threshing machine (in the back) is powered by a very long belt, attached to th flywheel of the tractor in front.

–David Preston


Two Couples in a Parlor

Two couples in a parlor




How can you not like this one? It has a certain grungy artistic quality to it. Look at those boots! Look at those holes in those boots.

Look at that hair!
Look at that face!
Look at that wallpaper!

On second thought, don't look at the wallpaper.

–David Preston


Man and Two Women

Man and two women under a tree


Hog Butchering and Windmill

Hog butchering and windmill

In the Foster collection are several photos useful for the chronicle of daily life they provide. Unfortunately, there are very few photos like this in the Agnew Studio collection. Where Caleb Agnew had an expert feel for the human figure and the posed portrait photograph, John Best Foster seems to have had a correspondingly good sense for the spontaneous, everyday scene.

–David Preston


Lorimro Bank Interior

Lorimor Bank interior

This bank has been restored and is now an antique shop called "Life's A Journey."

More biographical info on J Best Foster

J. Best Foster and Mina Foster in the 1940s
Donaldson, Arkansas

John Best Foster was called "J. Best," probably because his father's first name was also John.

After Foster left the photography business he moved to Donaldson, Arkansas, where I believe he earned his living as a carpenter. I understand that his home was located on perhaps five acres and that he also raised goats.

Mina and John stayed together throughout their lives.

John Best Foster and Leion Foster Marshall

J. Best Foster and Leona FOSTER Marshall (circa 1922)

Leona FOSTER Marshall is Ed Marshall's mother. She lived from 1915–2007.

–David Preston