Laurie and I were talking the other day about our love of model trains. I shared some stories of the train set my dad bought me for Christmas when I was six or seven. On reflection, he, most likely, bought the train set for himself. I happened to be a handy excuse at the time.
Every Christmas we would set up the train set under the Christmas tree. Every year he would buy another car or some other item to expand the layout. Over the years the components grew until it took over about one-third of the basement. When I left for college, my brother took over. He built large plywood tables and added scenery. The set became a permanent installation for years.
The fascination of trains
There is something about trains that fascinates most people. Edouard Manet created one of his iconic paintings called “The Railway” in 1873. One of its themes was the new industrialization that swept through Europe.Manet painted it in his studio overlooking an industrial railway yard. Manet was quite famous (and wealthy) at the time he purchased his new home. Manet could have afforded to live anywhere. You might think it odd that he bought a studio in such a location. In the late 19th century, though, that was the cool thing to do. One could amuse oneself by looking at the belching steam engines. The screeching wheels and shouts of the workmen as the trains moved in and out of the yard were a symphony of sound.
Manet created his painting in the years following the devastating Franco-Prussian War. It was also within two years of the disastrous French Commune. These events were body blows to French pride, and Manet hints at their effects on his countrymen in the painting.
The woman represents the modern French citizen. The child represents the hope for a better future for the country. The child looks toward the future and the new technology. The woman, in a sort of daze, stares into nothingness at the painter.
Art historians can’t seem to agree on what Manet inferred with this masterpiece. The painting, though, shows the storytelling potential of a great work of art. The artwork was, for the most part, ignored by the critics of the day. Their apathy was the catalyst that led to Manet joining the Impressionist movement.
A memorable role
Trains play a memorable role in American history. They opened the American West. They brought prosperity to the country as towns and cities popped up all along their rights of way. A train carried Lincoln’s body on a three-week journey to its final resting place. They played an influential role in many presidential campaigns from Truman to Kennedy.
They are going to play a role at Alexander Art. They symbolize something to us much more than Bessemer steel and high-pressure steam.
Railroad tracks lead to an unseen destination. They originate from a known starting point. Stations along the way provide landmarks. They affirm your direction and support your aim. It takes a while for a locomotive to get up a head of steam. Once it’s moving, though, it takes less effort to maintain its high speed. A train can pull a lot of cars with room for many passengers. Efficiency is a hallmark of a well-run railroad. It helps them keep their promise to get you where you want to go. And, oh yes, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the experience of getting there.
For the last three years, we’ve been provisioning our train, and it’s about to leave the station. All aboard!
We’re continuing to update the website. Watch for announcements soon about changes to our art courses and membership. Don’t miss what we’ve got planned for you for 2018!