The history as well as the present and future of U.S. railroads is now on display at Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Galleries at University Park. The display titled “The Railroad in American Life,” includes a collection of railroad art by 30 artists from throughout the United States.
Several different mediums are on display, including wood burning by West Virginia artist Paul Ends, a massive wood carving by Virginia artist David Cunningham, and images done in oils, watercolors and line art.
Ends, who specializes in wood burning, said people admire his work because the method he uses is so unique.
“It seems since I started wood burning, people are absolutely amazed by this lost art,” he said. “They have referred to it as an heirloom that can be passed down from generation to generation. The elderly will even stop and look at a piece and perhaps be reminded of their childhood, where the younger generation of people seem to have never heard of the art of wood burning but still are fascinated by the art.”
The particular piece chosen for the HUB exhibit was done on a piece of West Virginia walnut framed out in hickory, and took Ends more than 200 hours to complete.
The exhibit was organized by James D. Porterfield, who recently was named director for the newly created Center for Railway Tourism at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. He also was an instructor at Penn State’’s marketing and agricultural business management departments for more than 20 years. Porterfield said one of his goals is to encourage young people to pursue a career in railway heritage preservation and tourism.
“Artist workshops are to be a part of that program,” Porterfield said. “This exhibit was intended primarily as a showcase for the field, to exhibit what is being done, and what is possible.”
An experienced and well-known expert on railway tourism and history, Porterfield’s most recent endeavors include a website devoted to rail history, travel and preservation, “Journeys for a Railroad Tourist.”
The site includes a weekly blog, events calendar, comments and discussion forums, movie and book recommendations, and a changing array of site and article links. He has appeared on radio and television to talk about railroad history, rail dining and rail travel.
Porterfield’s purpose in creating this exhibit at Penn State was simple; he said he basically wanted to call attention to the work of some of today’s best railroad artists. There are roughly 175 men and women devoting their efforts to portraying trains past, present and even future. Porterfield said their work is critical to capturing and interpreting the important place railroads have in American social and economic history.
“Unlike museums and excursion operations, they show trains in their environment, doing what it is they are intended to do: move all manner of raw materials and manufactured goods, as well as people, between two or more points,” he said.
A variety of scenes and various Pennsylvania locations are portrayed in the art, but other states represented in the art exhibit include California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Montana, Utah and Wisconsin.
Greg Garrett, who lives in Alliance, Neb., works for the Union Pacific Railway and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and creates his art in his spare time, using acrylic airbrush paint and colored pencil. Garrett has been painting trains in his work for years but said he since has added some wildlife to his art for a different twist.
“The particular work displayed at the HUB is called ‘The Great Escape’ after the famous movie with Steve McQueen,” Garrett said. “I actually decided on the title before the actual painting. I sometimes do that and I’ll fit a scene to fit the title. ‘The Great Escape’ is self-explanatory as the hunters will fall short of bagging this whitetail due to the timing of the train going by.”
"The Railroad in American Life" runs through July 29 at the HUB Gallery, University Park. Visit www.studentaffairs.psu.edu/hub/artgalleries for more information.