Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Gift of Railroad Art

When you are the kind of guy that can hide his own Easter eggs, surprising me at Christmas really isn’t much of a challenge. Rendering me speechless, well, that is a little more difficult. Janice did both this year.

Off and on since about Thanksgiving, Janice would mention that not only she, but the staff at the Burlington Library couldn’t wait for my reaction to the gift she got me. Nice, all this while she would give me absolutely no help in trying to come up with something I could give her. Not too much pressure. (Hey, I came through in the clutch, however, thanks to a little help from new daughter-in-law, Bubbly Little Claire….silver cross necklace.)


So fast forward to yesterday morning. Tucked in behind the tree was a gift wrapped in brown butcher paper in the obvious shape of something that was mounted and framed. Now, I’m somewhat clueless about most of what goes on around the house. Alright, totally clueless, but even I had an idea or two at this point. Traditionally, Janice has done things with the covers of my books. We have two examples hanging in our living room right now, as a matter of fact. So yes, the thought crossed my mind that again, she did “something” with the cover of “Vis” to mark its publication.

Considering she did some of the design work for the cover, it wouldn’t have been hard for her to use some of the scans she had to fix-up a little something. We even had a spare cover or two floating around here that she could have incorporated, who knows?

So, Jr. F-up (Seth) is being “Santa” this year and hands me this large flat gift. Now I should set the scene a little. I’m in an overstuffed chair on one end of the room. To my immediate right is the couch occupied by #2 son Grant, and A #1 daughter-in-law, Bubbly Little Claire (BLC). To my right sits Janice and Jr. F-up is standing in front of me. You also have to remember, when the boys and I get together, our mentality drops from a mean of 39 to about 14.

Given that, being now 14 years old, I open it backwards…on purpose, just to be an idiot. I succeeded.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “Just what I always wanted, a blank back of a picture frame and all the shit I need to hang it!”

Now, as I am looking at the blank back, everyone else in the room is looking at what it actually is. My first tip-off that this was something out of the ordinary came from BLC’s reaction; a slight gasp and a “Oh, that’s beautiful!” Next was Jr. F-up…”Ah, Dad, you might want to quit being a moron and look at what you got there…’frickin’ Old Man.”

I turned it around, and that’s when the mind and vocal chords went blank. I was staring at one of the most (to steal BLC’s adjective) beautiful works of railroad art I have ever seen. Janice commissioned a local artist to make a painting the photo used for the cover of “Vis Major.” What is amazing is how he did it. It is in sepia/brown tones such that it looks like the black and white/aged original photograph given to me by the Meath family. It is double matted with a narrow brown surrounding the painting, and a larger light yellow finishing the work. The frame is a simple design in a light colored hardwood. On the bottom is a gold colored metallic plaque that is engraved with “Wellington circa 1910.” It is a fairly large piece, the painting measures 9” x 15”, frame and all is 18” x 24”.

The artist, Bob Williams did a masterful job of turning the photo into a painting. It is not a bolt for bolt attempt at making it a clone of the photo, and yet it is realistic to the point I would not go so far as to say it is a stylized representation. Bob does railroad paintings and so threading that narrow line is something he does, and does well. He is not quite as detailed as Fogg or Danneman, but maybe little more so than the water colors of Rose.

What is truly amazing is how he worked the grey and brown tones to maintain the look of an aged black and white photo. I truly believe had he done it as a color painting, it would have been much easier. To even add brown tones to the steam and snow must have taken some real effort.

Well folks, I was speechless. I just stared at it for a couple of minutes. I finally looked at Janice and asked her, “How’d you come up with this idea?”

“Well, when you gave away that photo to the museum, I just thought you should have a copy for yourself.”

There is a little more to the story. Bob had a display of his railroad art at the library this past fall and I took time to go look at the paintings. Some I had seen, and as I wandered from canvas to canvas, I remember telling Janice how much I liked his style, realistic enough to please the eye of a railfan/photographer, and yet still maintaining the look of the medium of paint, not film. It was shortly after that, she put Bob to work. Sadly, he doesn’t have a website, otherwise I’d give him a major plug.

We’re still not 100% certain where to hang the painting; somewhere in the living room for sure. I’ll get Janice to pull out her little point-and-shoot digi and take a few shots of it and post them somewhere...probably Facebook so other folks can enjoy the work as well.

The gift of railroad art: it will certainly go down as one of my all-time favorites.

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