The train isn’t coming back anytime soon. The last passenger train to serve Las Vegas—Amtrak’s Desert Wind line—was discontinued in 1997, perhaps because a westbound trip from here to Los Angeles took an astonishing seven hours and 15 minutes due to freight train congestion. Talk of a high-speed rail line between Downtown Vegas and Victorville is ongoing, but still, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see a train pull into this town for many years.
Paintings of trains, however, are another story. Beginning September 30 and continuing through January 18, the Origen Museum at the Springs Preserve presents the annual juried show by the American Society of Railway Artists (ASRA), an organization whose members … well, they paint portraits of trains. Old ones, newer ones, all of them making their sure and steady way through their native environment—the America that Woody Guthrie once wrote music for. It’s the place where you’d probably rather be right now, if only we had a train that went there.
It’s a nice precursor of bigger things to come, says Aaron Micallef, curator of exhibits for Springs Preserve. “We’re getting ready to open our Boomtown 1905 exhibit in early 2017,” he says—a recreation of “our early Las Vegas townsite” as it looked the year our city was founded. The ASRA show is actually a happy bit of serendipity, Micallef says: he learned of the organization around the same time another exhibit fell through. He saw “a nice way to get people excited about what we’re doing,” in addition to presenting some gorgeous, rarely-seen Americana.
The exhibit will include 21 pieces in oil, acrylic and even digital photography. Yet despite the difference in mediums, all the featured works inspire a similar feeling of wistfulness, of wanderlust. It’s impossible to look at Line’ Tutwiler’s Crossing the Diamond, a vividly colored, dreamlike oil of a modern engine making its way through a small town, without feeling an overwhelming urge to make a run for that train and jump aboard. And the frontier-era Illinois tableau of Ron Hatch’s acrylic Spoon River Crossing both tells a story and opens up dozens of others: Where are the passengers going? Why are they going there?
When we traveled by train, we had the time and the inclination to meet our fellow passengers, stare out the window and marvel at the world. Today, travel is at best a several-hour annoyance between destinations. Perhaps this ASRA show will remind us what the journey once meant. At the least, it’ll keep us occupied until we reach the boomtown.
The American Society of Railway Artists Annual Juried Show On display September 30-January 8, The Origen Museum at Springs Preserve. Free for Springs Preserve members or $10 admission.