A Masterful Vision Comes to Life
Last year I wrote a blog about the impressive public art project in Huntington, West Virginia known as the Artisans Express.
A fund raiser for the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital, it was sponsored by the Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation.
The organization invited artists to submit their interpretations for train engine models (trains being a key element of a city founded by railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington).
After a winnowing process, a foundation committee selected 42 designs. Molds shipped from Nebraska—which arrived amid a foot of snow—were delivered to the artists, who created their masterpieces.
After a special unveiling at the Facing Hunger Foodbank in early May, they were placed throughout the downtown area and at Marshall University.
The creations were stunning in their originality and wide-varying array of designs. The display officially ended last October, with models then going to the sponsors who had purchased them. However, a number of the owners left them in place.
Coffee Table Book
This colorful collection now lives on in another way, through a 132-page, full-color coffee table book recently released by the hospital foundation. Reasonably priced at $30, the volume is available at Empire Books downtown, or can be ordered online.
Seeing the models in person was a fascinating experience. The first night they were placed downtown, the area hummed with activity despite it being a normally laid-back Sunday night. People touched the trains, climbed on them, photographed them, and “oohed” and “ah-ed” over them.
And yet, sitting back to appreciate them in print adds a new dimension to the exhibit. For one thing, this book collects all the engines in one place. Even though I attended the unveiling, inspected them on the street, and did some editing of the book, it wasn’t until I had my copy in hand that I gained a full appreciation for this project’s dazzling nature.
At the unveiling, there were simply too many trains to “see” all of them. Nor could we get around to look at each one. That’s why the multiple angles of the trains and accompanying artists’ photos give readers a unique look at this display.
This is more than a picture book, too. It contains historical information about the city and how the project got formed, and offers behind-the-scenes details about the artists and the concepts that went into their creations.
As I noted last year, public displays of sculpture have appeared everywhere from Chicago (pigs) to Lexington, Kentucky (horses).
And, while I recognize that the primary interest in this book will originate in the surrounding Tri-State Area of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio, it still retains universal appeal. Anyone who appreciates trains or fascinating artwork grounded in the limitless imaginations of their creators will find this book worthwhile.
The Artisans Express demonstrates that vision, artistic ability, and community spirit live well beyond the nation’s major metropolitan areas.