J. Craig Thorpe Book Signing

As Railroads, Art and American Life: An Artist’s Memoir moved through publication the idea of a
book signing tour seemed inviting. The presentations would underscore the book’s theme: art
helps us understand that railroads provide a culture far more than just another form of
transportation. In mulling over options, it seemed that a tour focused in Pennsylvania would be
fitting. For starters, that was where my fascination with all things rail got started. Secondly, the
Keystone State has an abundance of noted rail museums, heritage operations, rail interest
groups and current main line rail services.

The tour started with a kick off signing event in Seattle, followed by a TV interview with a local
PBS affiliate (KBTC- Tacoma). In late April, a trip on Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Chicago started
the actual tour. Amtrak arranged for a day of displays at Chicago’s Union Station featuring the
book and other poster works. While there, TRAINS Magazine did a video interview to be
released in June.

Then it was off to the Pittsburgh district. A highlight was participation in a series of events at
the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum celebrating volunteers and progress on their campus
expansion. A side trip to the Western Maryland Scenic RR was followed by discussions with
design professors at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. This was not only my alma mater,
but the setting for my first job using art to interpret rail transportation options. A presentation
to the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society concluded that phase of the trip.
Central PA offered an extended range of venues starting with Altoona’s excellent Railroaders
Memorial Museum and the Everett Railroad. Then came several days at the East Broad Top
Railroad (EBT) and the Rockhill Trolley Museum, both of which played important roles in my
early days of art and railroading. Now under the leadership of the E.B.T. Foundation, Inc. the
EBT’s restoration is turning heads as it interprets the role of heritage railroading to the history
and vitality of rural communities. My newest painting, featuring the EBT, was unveiled and
appreciation extended to colleague Robert Alkire, whose generous gift enabled the production
and printing.

A display of my books and posters at the Civil War-era Northern Central Railroad gave visitors a
look at stories of railroads and American life as told through my art. The Harrisburg area offered
further displays and a presentation to a National Railway Historical Society group, a local
bookstore and the noted Pennsylvania State Railroad Museum. Since returning to Seattle I have
given several presentations, including via Zoom and others are scheduled in upcoming months.
This tour gave me many opportunites to develop the themes of painting the past, painting the
present and painting the possible. It further supported the overall message that art brings to
life rail’s relationship to the common good, as noted above. Not only did people engage on rail
history but they saw a new perspective of contemporary rail and that of the future.
Interestingly, the East Broad Top and the Rockhill Trolley Museum – institutions dedicated to
rail history – have on their properties a demonstration track for Pop Up Metro, an experimental
technology for battery-powered local and regional rail systems. This kind of project (along with
the art and conversations to interpret it) moves rail from “nostalgic” to “essential.” For
example, as dinner conversation unfolded on the Empire Builder headed to Chicago, a table
mate began to talk about trains as nostalgia. When I asked what that meant to him, he briefly
stumbled for words. Then on his own he recognized rail’s broader role in culture. It was almost
as though his monologue was scripted!

This sort of response was gratifying, as people engaged with the book and its art. Another sort
of connection was perhaps even more rewarding: talking with kids. This was exemplified by a
discussion with a ten-year-old who was fascinated by rail and art. He begged his family to drive
the 50 miles to the EBT so I could sign his copy of the book. Time alone will reveal the impact
his interests and talents will bring.

The list of hosts throughout the tour includes these organizations and individuals:

  • Amtrak: Marc Magliari, Morgan McGregor, Joe McHugh (ret)
  • Chicago News Now: Annette McNair and Brian Hatley
  • TRAINS Magazine: Bob Lettenberger
  • Pennsylvania Trolley Museum: Scott Becker
  • Western Maryland Scenic railroad: Eric Mensis
  • Carnegie Mellon University: Joseph Lyons
  • Railway & Locomotive Historical Society: Kevin Varrato
  • Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum: Brendan Betts and Joe DeFrancesco
  • Everett Railroad: Alan Maples and Jason Lamb
  • East Broad Top railroad: Brad Esposito, Henry Posner III, Bennett Levin
  • Rockhill trolley Museum: Joel Salomon
  • Pop Up Metro; Meg Richards
  • Northern Central Railroad: Ashley Zimmerman
  • Cupboard Maker Books: Michelle Haring
  • National Railway Historical Society: Mark Eyer
  • Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania: Pat Morrison

Many thanks to Dan Cupper, a longstanding friend and colleague, as well as Stephen Williams
and others at IUP for helping in venue arrangements. Without your assistance, encounters such
as these would not have happened. However, don’t close the book on book tours just yet: new
commissions are being discussed and some colleagues are suggesting plans for a mid-west tour!