Thursday, August 07, 2008

Railroad art for sale at Snow Goose Gallery

From: "Blair Purcell"

Good railroad images:

railroad painting

Coming of the Iron Horse, [by western artist Frank McCarthy]. [Enlarge]

Of all the innovations of the nineteenth century, none changed the landscape of the American West more than the steam locomotive. A monument to speed, industry and westward expansion, the locomotive charged across the landscape, changing the face of frontier life forever, but it did not happen overnight. Past and present collided in the prairies and plains, as workers laying tracks for the trains met with resistance from local wildlife. Even the mighty locomotive engine itself, with all its power and might, occasionally ran into the unstoppable force of nature.

"Huge migrating herds of buffalo could stall a train for hours," said Frank McCarthy. "For sport, travelers sometimes took potshots at them from the cars while they waitied for the processsion to pass." It would not be long before progress and profesional hide hunters rendered the threat of buffalo on train tracks nearly extinct.

Print released 1989.
Canvas released 2008.

railroad painting

Powder Monkeys – Cape Horn 1865, [by Mian Situ] [Enlarge]

The California Gold Rush and the opening of the West drove economic interest and demand for a Transcontinental Railroad. In 1863, the Union Pacific began laying track from Omaha to the west while the Central Pacific Railroad Company headed east from Sacramento, California.The two rails would eventually connect on an historic day in May, 1869 in Promontory, Utah.The Central Pacific, plagued by labor and financial problems, laid down only 50 miles of track in the first two years.To compound their problems, the construction path now faced treacherous terrain that rose 7,000 feet into the high Sierras. In his painting, The Powder Monkeys, artist Mian Situ honors the Chinese laborers who, in 1865, were hired for $28 per month to do the very dangerous work of blasting tunnels and laying tracks. ...

Canvas released 2006.

... Here's another ... that brings back one of those glorious days in American history recognized by both the participants and by posterity:

railroad painting

Ten Miles in One Day, [by Mian Situ] [Enlarge]

In 1862 the Pacific Railway Act provided funding for a transcontinental railway that would connect burgeoning California with the rest of the country. The Union Pacific Railroad was given the contract to build west from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific Railroad would build east from Sacramento, California. In 1869 the two railroads met at Promontory Summit in Utah Territory.

Victory Camp (later named Rozel Point), located west of Promontory, was so called because Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific won a $10,000 wager from the Union Pacific that his crews could lay more miles of track than the Union Pacific. The Central Pacific hired an additional crew of Chinese laborers. Working alongside the Irish track layers, they built over ten miles of track in twelve hours, a feat that has never been equaled. Their efforts completed the Central Pacific segment of the Transcontinental Railroad. On May 10, 1869, the two tracks met at Promontory Summit in the famous Golden Spike ceremony. Local officials turned out to drive the ceremonial Golden Spike with the ceremonial silver sledgehammer, which made official the joining of the East Coast and the West. After the ceremony had ended, the Golden Spike and laurel railroad tie were removed, and Chinese laborers quietly finished the track with a wooden tie and steel spike.

Mian Situ, recipient of the numerous awards from the Autry Museum of the American West, celebrates this milestone in his new painting. At the Museum’s 2007 Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale, Ten Miles in One Day sold for $251,200 at silent-bid auction.

Canvas released 2007.

railroad painting

I'll Hold You in My Dreams, [by Americana artist William Phillips] [Enlarge]

The Noon Coast Daylight (train 97 from Los Angeles to San Francisco - see number board to left of stack) is pulling into Santa Barbara station. The time is 2:32 pm on a warm winter day in 1941, less than a month after Pearl Harbor.

This train was discontinued by the Southern Pacific Railroad in January of '42 - prior to the resumption of daylight savings. Standard time had prevailed year round since the end of WW1. Consequently, the sun angle spells out the same story as the train is actually headed a little south of west here in Santa Barbara.

Locomotive 4443, one of the famous GS-4 class, is still moving slowly as it eases to a stop with the observation car still blocking State Street. The locomotive and head end will be further along the platform to the benefit of passengers boarding from near where they are now standing.

The car inspector (man in overalls at the edge of the platform) is ready to start walking the length of the train, tapping the wheels of each car with his hammer - looking for broken flanges or other defects. Scheduled departure for San Franciscois 2:35 pm - a lot to do in three minutes. But railroad workers are a proud lot - and this train is one of the Daylights. It always gets special attention. And keeping State Street blocked any longer than neccesary is frowned on by SP management.

Next stop? San Luis Obispo, 119 miles up the line. 2 hours and 18 minutes scheduled running time. Now, that's long enough for dinner in the diner - if you want to spend a minimum of ninety cents or really splurge with the fresh mountain trout at $1.50.

Just above the station (left side) there are two P-38 fighter aircraft on their first test flight, only a few days after rolling off the assembly line at the Lockheed plant in Burbank. Full production of operational aircraft has continued round the clock since October of the previous year. The 4-8-4 is not much older, having been delivered from Lima Locomotive Works in May of '41.

Businessmen wait to board as does Rosie the Riveter (far left). Amongst a sprinkling of other military personnel, the young Army Air Force Lieutenant stands out as he bids his fiancee goodbye. Look closely, you can see a small diamond on her ring finger. She will be there to welcome him home in the summer of '45.

I thought these would be enjoyed. ... As a railfan and a gallery owner, I am always pleased when quality railroad images are offered by the publishers we represent.


—Blair Purcell

Courtesy Blair Purcell, Copyright © 2008


Blogger Unknown said...

I began my career as a railroad historian by first having been a studio artist. The two disciplines have merged over the years. In that role, I offer this critique of these four paintings.

All are painterly, well-composed and colorful, not just in pigments used but in subject matter chosen. They each are dramatic presentations of "history." Only the latter one, set in 1941, captures reality with utmost fidelity to the historic record.

While I admire the first three paintings for their composition of elements, they each present strange inaccuracies which come about because the artist chose style over substance.

First, we see Frank McCarthy's portrayal of Central Pacific No.60, Jupiter, heading a passenger train amidst a herd of bison. Bison did not occupy any of the Central Pacific's territory (California, Nevada and western Utah) - they did inhabit the Union Pacific's line in Nebraska. There's a significant natural and zoological error as a result. We now know, as the artist may not have, that CPRR's Schenectady-built engines 60, 61, 62 & 63 were not principally scarlet-painted but a deep blue. It is also unlikely -- as a woodburner -- that Jupiter or her sisters would have generated so much smoke. Again, we must note that the painter is emphasizing drama over accuracy. However, this can have an ill-effect in the future as younger generations of viewers take the paintings for fact. Such is the case, tool, with 19th century painter Thomas Hill's "The Last Spike," a deliberately contrived idyllic portrait of the May 10th 1869 ceremonies that only loosely clings to the factual record.

Mian Situ's paintings of the CPRR's Chinese laborers are admirably constructed, and while I can only see a small digital version, I suspect is brushwork is top-notch calibre. However, his Cape Horn looks more like the Southern Colorado Animas River Canyon, and he makes the sad oft-repeated error of placing his laborers in baskets being lowered into or out of the blasting zone. In the last 25 years, western and railroad historians have been able to put this late 19th century hyperbolic myth to rest. The workers were most likely belted (or not) into an equivalent of a marine "bosun's chair" to dangle against the rock face while doing the drilling. But the baskets are a fallacy.

The same artist's companion painting has been lifted right out of John Ford's 1920s silent movie, Iron Horse, right down to the presence of a black-painted Southern Pacific Company No.1, C.P. Huntington. With the movie I always found it a little odd that Ford didn't get the SP to let him at least put the Huntington's original Central Pacific number 3 on her when she was borrowed to star in the movie. But here, because Mian Situ is artist first and historian not so much, we see the much evolved and modernized engine instead of any other proper Central Pacific locomotive or the silhouette of one. This is a less grievous error than danging workers in baskets in the opposite painting, but is still an error that misleads the unsuspecting viewer. Fortunately his renderings of human anatomy and the overall composition is quite good, as is the implied sunlight. I wonder, however, whether he might have implied an even more historically accurate presentation of the Ten Miles in One Day record-setting track-laying effort by painting the scene in darkness, since the crews worked from before sunup to well after nightfall. Torchlight and bonfires might have made a much more rich and evocative painting.

~K.V. Bunker, Portland, OR

8/09/2008 9:49 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Blair Purcell"

It is interesting – and personally gratifying - that K. V. should pick this painting out as being the most accurate of the four.

As background, I assume Bill Phillips probably worked from a photograph that showed the train arriving in Santa Barbara. Further, the train number was probably visible in the photo. However, Phillips intended to set the scene in 1944 – not realizing the significance of the train number. As one of the publisher's network of galleries, we were furnished an advance .jpg image which we promotionally circulated among some SP fans via the internet. Almost immediately, it was pointed out to me that the year simply did not work for '44 as that train number (97) was discontinued in January of '42.

The publisher catalog sheets were in the final day of preparation and the quandary was whether to go as was (ignore the discrepancy), change the year or to repaint the train number (to make it the earlier Daylight). The latter option wasn't appropriate because of the sun angle. They even asked me if 1944 could be justified by the concept of late running of the 8:00 am departure! The final decision was simply to go with the 1941 date. Even the Ford "woodie" station wagon was a pre-war model!

Then, in consultation with the SP fans who caught the original error, I was the one who rewrote the history of the image as now on our website and the publisher abridged the story slightly for their catalog. We had a lot of fun going back and forth!

And this painting was the only one in which I played any role in writing the "history." ...

8/10/2008 11:08 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The historic details of the Chinese Central Pacific Railroad workers is a difficult topic as there is so much misinformation in the secondary literature.

For example, baskets were not used at Cape Horn, and only a small number of casualties are documented.

8/10/2008 11:26 AM  

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