Yet the display of 42 fiberglass, small train engine models that recently went up in Huntington, W. Va., is every bit as impressive as the online photos I’ve seen of similar public art displays.
In fact, photos don’t do this collection of artwork justice. To be fully appreciated, the Artisans Express demands a personal inspection. Only up close can one touch, feel, read and reflect on the artist’s vision.
As with all great art, the interpretation belongs to each person. The viewer brings to the object his or her own background, memories, thoughts and ideas, and leaves uplifted, pondering not only what has been but what can be in the future.
More than a Fund-Raiser
Originating as a fund-raiser for the new Hoops Family Children’s Hospital at Cabell Huntington Hospital, the project has become much more.
For one, it celebrates the city’s railroad heritage (founded by railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington.) Yet just as importantly, this project brings to light the wellspring of artistic creativity residing in the Tri-State Area where West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio converge along the Ohio River.
In the interest of full disclosure, I recently secured a job editing a coffee table book about the Artisans Express project that is targeted for an October release. Some may mistakenly perceive this as an attempt to “hype” that book.
True, I gained a much greater awareness of this project after meeting with the author who helped pull together this display. But my appreciation for the fullness of its potential occurred a day after the private unveiling of the engines.
Springing to Life
The reception, complete with greetings from the mayor, a band, and delicious food, occurred May 9 at the Facing Hunger Foodbank. Volunteers were then scheduled to transport the engines and place them on pedestals. Although primarily in the downtown area, one also sits across from the student center at Marshall University.
The next evening, I suggested to my wife that we head downtown to see some of the trains in their public settings. The effect was so overwhelming it left me (a writer) nearly speechless.
For starters, I noticed how many people were walking around downtown. The numbers were far greater than my last visit.
Not only were more people out, many were obviously inspecting the models, each painted and decorated in a unique style. Families and groups of friends were slowly surrounding them as children read, parents nodded, many smiled, and some commented on their significance.
The sheer array of styles invites closer inspection. There’s the train standing on end like a monolith, with colors of the rainbow dripping down and creating the image of a fine sculpture. Another covered in gleaming silver, as if it were a mirror to the area’s spirit.
One standing in the window of Huntington’s Kitchen (which served as Jamie Oliver’s cooking studio during his award-winning 2010 mini-series) commemorates the victims of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash that claimed 75 lives.
The Jungle Express sits on a pedestal crafted of bamboo. The Orphan Train calls attention to Forever Changed International, which operates an orphanage in Guatemala. I could go on, but you get the idea.
The trains will remain on display until October before their final destination of the sponsors and others who purchase them to help raise money for the children’s hospital. Yet the exhibit will live on in countless memories for years to come.