En train air

I guess the cat’s now out of the bag, so I can tell you all about this crazy idea. There’s a lot of verbiage that follows, so I’ll make it brief. I’ve had an idea for a long time rolling around upstairs that a plein air train trip would be really fun and, to my knowledge, has not really been done. It began with Amtrak and my love for old travel posters, specifically the train posters of days gone by. I thought that Amtrak could use some of this old school branding. So I wrote them with the following idea:

Dear Amtrak,

Wouldn’t it be cool if a small group of artists climbed on board your train in, say, Miami, and rolled north until the line ends, getting out for a day at various locations to paint what’s there. Why do people take the train anyway? It’s not to get there quick, it’s to see the country. At the end of the run, we take the best paintings and translate them into one-off posters for each of the stations we paint from. You don’t have to do anything but if you want to promote the idea, that would be great.

And the response was… non-existent. I got tired of sending them emails so I messaged someone I knew had intimate knowledge of trains, Charlie “reasonably fine artist” Hunter, who thought it was a brilliant notion. I had no idea just how involved in trains and scheduling rides on trains he was. Within two days, he had a line, the stops, the destination and where we might stay along the way, all hammered out in great detail. I was floored! All I did was throw out an idea and he made it happen. I’m still amazed.

This also turned into (thanks again to Charlie) a potential show in Santa Fe and a roundtable discussion of our yet to occur excursion at the Plein Air Convention and Expo in San Fran. And I will also be presenting my thoughts on creativity and authenticity at the expo. It’s all kind of amazing, thanks to Charlie.

If there’s a message to this story, it’s just put it out there. If you think it, do it.


The following is a summary of what’s happening and with whom (as stolen from Charlie Hunter):

Take six of America’s top outdoor painters, artists with a background in design and illustration, painters with a love of small towns, rail travel and classic American representational art. Put them on a legendary American passenger train. Each day, they ride one stop down the line, disembark, paint for a day, catch the next day’s train, and move on. 

All aboard….

Our debut journey takes place in April, 2019, along one of America's most storied rail lines, that of the famed “train of the stars,” the Santa Fe SUPER CHIEF. Today Amtrak’s daily train from Chicago to Los Angeles, the SOUTHWEST CHIEF, plies much of that same route. Stopping at thirty intermediate communities and providing the only public transportation to many of them, the CHIEF provides riders a spectacular opportunity to see America up close, at speeds time-competitive with driving, in comfortable, if unpretentious, surroundings. Like most of Amtrak’s western long-distance trains, the CHIEF features sleeping cars, coaches, full dining car, an observation-lounge and checked baggage service, and operates at or near capacity for much of the year. 

Current Amtrak management, however, sees the future of passenger rail in state-supported services between major cities in corridors of 400 miles or less, and gives little consideration to Amtrak’s social contract, legislative mandate to serve a national network, and important role connecting so-called ‘flyover country’ to the rest of the nation. In August, 2018, Amtrak proposed discontinuing the middle segment of the train and substitute a 500-mile “bus bridge” between either Dodge City, KS or La Junta, Colorado and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Overnight coach-only stub trains, running from Chicago to Dodge City/La Junta and Los Angeles to Albuquerque, would connect to the bus segment (it bears noting that this substitution would trigger a provision in Federal law requiring the affected states to pay for the service, rather than Amtrak having to shoulder the costs).

During the summer of 2018, significant pushback occurred from citizens' groups, communities along the line and Congressional delegations of the affected states. A bipartisan, bicameral group of federal lawmakers responded to Amtrak’s refusal to pay its promised $3 million match to unlock a $16 million TIGER IX grant. The grant, tentatively awarded to Colfax County, New Mexico by the USDOT for the SOUTHWEST CHIEF was intended to fund track repairs in New Mexico. Lawmakers confronted Amtrak Executive Management and have proposed legislation that would provide an additional $50 million for track repairs while forcing Amtrak to provide its promised match. In response, Amtrak has pledged to continue running the CHIEF through fiscal 2019, although the train’s future remains very much in doubt.

The initial En Train Air trip (a play on ‘En Plein Air’, the French term for outdoor painting) focuses on the critically endangered portion of the line - the segment between La Junta, Colorado and Albuquerque, NM. The painters board in Chicago, travel overnight to La Junta, Colorado, then stop to paint in La Junta and Trinidad, Colorado, Raton, Las Vegas and Lamy, New Mexico.

Lamy is the Amtrak stop for Santa Fe, one of the largest art markets in the world, where the painters will present a pop-up show hosted by McLarry Fine Art, 225 Canyon Road, Santa Fe. 

Reboarding the train in Albuquerque, the artists will travel a few hours west, then stop for two days as the guests of La Posada in Winslow, Arizona. While there, they will paint on the La Posada grounds one afternoon in an event open to the public. From there they will continue by rail to the CHIEF’s terminus of Los Angeles, then connecting to Amtrak’s COAST STARLIGHT for the trip up the coast to the Bay Area and the eighth annual Plein Air Convention and Expo

This project celebrates a little-observed, but crucial aspect of the American experience - the coming and going of the daily train, linking small towns to the nation at large. Should this trip prove successful, En Train Air-1 will serve as a prototype for further journeys. 

Underwriting for ETA-1 is provided by: 
THE PLAZA HOTEL, Las Vegas, New Mexico   •   LA POSADA, Winslow, Arizona



Aimee Erikson - Erickson is an oil painter living in Portland, Oregon. She was trained as an illustrator and has developed a pictorial voice grounded in traditional realism, informed by the principles of design, and inspired by nature and human experience. She holds a BFA in Visual Communication Design, and has also studied with a number of prominent painters including Sherrie McGraw, David Leffel, Burton Silverman, Joseph Paquet, William Park, Stephen Hayes, and Ray Roberts. Aimee is the first woman artist to paint an Oregon gubernatorial portrait, that of Barbara Roberts in 1997. Aimee teaches studio and plein-air painting, drawing, and color theory locally and at venues nationwide. Aimee’s work has been awarded top prizes in many national competitions, including Oil Painters of America, American Women Artists, the Portrait Society of America, and multiple plein air competitions. 

  • 2018 American Impressionist Society Small Works Showcase

  • 2018 "Nocturnes" solo showcase, Meyer Vogl Gallery

  • 2018 Oil Painters of America Salon Show

  • https://www.aimeeerickson.com/

Charlie Hunter - “My goal is to paint beautifully that which is not traditionally considered beautiful. I like to paint what nature does to what man creates. I growing up in a small town in New Hampshire, I'd walk home from school along the tracks of the Boston & Maine and read the names and slogans on the box cars that'd roll by, things like "The Nickel Plate Road" and "Santa Fe All The Way.” I drew a lot. In college, I was lucky enough to be forced to draw the figure three days a week from 8:00 am till noon under the tutelage of William Bailey. Afterwards, I got a job designing tour posters for acts like The Clash, REM and The Jerry Garcia Band. I got to design a lot of album covers, became a music manager, and, in the early 2000’s started running music trains (rootsontherails.com). Now painting is my primary focus.” Hunter is active in efforts to preserve the Southwest Chief and organized En Train Air 2019..

  • American Masters Show, Salamagundi Club, NYC 2018, 2016, 2015

  • Curator, Boxcars, Rail Imagery in Contemporary Realism

  • First place/Award of Excellence Door County, WI Plein Air Invitational (2018), Mountain Maryland (2017, 2016), Laguna Plein Air Invitational (2016) and others.

  • https://www.charliehunter.art

Shelby Keefe - Keefe is an award-winning, impressionistic painter, teacher and performance artist. Born in Whitewater, WI, she graduated in 1981 with a BFA from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Always painting even while working as a self-employed graphic designer, it was in 2005 when her success as a fine artist allowed her to become a full-time painter. Her award-winning urban landscape paintings and plein air work have earned her participation in prestigious national juried shows, plein air painting competitions, residencies, and arts festivals as well as garnering commission work for many corporate clients and private collectors. She has been written about and featured on the cover of SouthwestArt and PleinAir Magazines and continues to grow her reputation nationally.

  • American Impressionist Society, National juried exhibitions, 2012-2016

  • Oil Painters of America, National juried exhibitions, 2017, 2015

  • American Women Artists, National juried exhibitions, 2013-2017

  • http://www.studioshelby.com/

Larry Moore - I’m planning on taking my gouaches for this one… I love them!

Randall Sexton - Sexton is known for the color and expressive brushwork in his oil paintings of the vernacular. Raised in rural Connecticut, Sexton moved to San Francisco, CA in 1980 where he taught classes in drawing, painting, and composition at the San Francisco Academy of Art until 2005. He now leads private workshops around the country and teaches at Pixar Studios in Emeryville, CA. He has garnered national awards for his paintings. Most notably, in 2008, Randy was honored with the coveted “Artists’ Choice Award” in Laguna Beach Plein Air event held at the Laguna Museum Of Art. He also won the same award in Telluride, CO (Sheridan Plein Air Festival) and in Napa, CA (Napa Valley Land Trust Art Festival). He has been featured in various national journals including: “American Artist”-August 2000, “Southwest Art”-July 2003, “Plein Air”-November 2004, and “Workshop”-December 2006 He has been a member of the California Art Club, The Laguna Beach Plein Air Painters Association, “The Outsiders”, a group of artists loosely connected to “The Society of Six” and The Baywood Artists Group, committed to working on environmentally sensitive projects.

Jason Sacran - Jason Sacran is an artist living in Arkansas, and has won numerous awards with such organizations as the Oil Painters of America and the American Impressionists Society. Sacran has also had feature articles in publications such as Southwest Art Magazine, International Artist, Artist Magazine, and PleinAir Magazine. “I am a contemporary representational painter, working primarily outdoors. I paint what catches my interest in the moment. This could be almost anything; an orchestration of shapes, color contrast, light and shadow patterns, a mood or atmosphere, a subject I have never tried, or a subject I enjoy, etc. I am drawn to paint places and things that say something about the day and time I live in now. Although my work is not necessarily subject driven, I find myself painting the overlooked and simultaneously familiar aspects of everyday life - scenes we pass by but rarely take the time to fully consider. In the chaos of daily life, I believe we all take the simple and familiar for granted. Sometimes it is these quiet unadorned places that make the most worthy subjects.”

  • Grand Prize Winner –Maui Plein Air Invitational

  • Grand Prize Winner –En Plein Air Texas Plein Air Invitational

  • Grand Prize Winner – 2015 Plein Air Easton juried Invitational

  • Best of Show & Artists Choice – 2015 Plein Air Rockies juried Invitational

  • http://www.jasonsacran.com


Saturday, April 13 - depart CHICAGO 2:50 pm (CT) - The artists board Train #3, The SOUTHWEST CHIEF, at Chicago Union Station. Cross Mississippi River at Ft. Madison, IA. Overnight on board

Sunday, April 14 - arrive LA JUNTA, CO 7:49 am (MT) - "La Junta" means "The Junction" in Spanish, and is where the east/west rail line meets the line north to Pueblo and Denver. This is high plains country. Small downtown. PAINTING TIME AVAILABLE: 8 AM TO BEDTIME. April avg. high/low 70/36, 1.26” precip., 4074 elev.

Monday, April 15 - 
depart LAJ 8:04 am, arrive TRINIDAD, CO 9:24 am - Train 1 hour and twenty minutes to Trinidad, CO. Ride is across the high plains. Gradually, the snow-covered peaks of the southern Rockies become visible to the north. Town is located at base of Raton Pass. Mitchell Museum of Western Art, fabulous gilded-age small-town architecture. PAINTING TIME AVAILABLE: 10 AM TO BEDTIME. April avg. high/low 65/34, 1.14” precip., 6010 elev.

Tuesday, April 16
 - depart TRI 9:24 am, arrive RATON, NM 10:30 am - A brief but spectacular ride over Raton Pass to the small town of Raton. At 3.5%, this is the steepest grade on the Amtrak system, past the Wooton Ranch, paralleling I-25 to the south, the old Santa Fe Trail visible to the north. PAINTING TIME AVAILABLE: 11 AM TO BEDTIME, SUNRISE UNTIL 10 AM. April avg. high/low 62/33, 1.3” precip., 6680 elev.

Wednesday, April 17
 - depart RAT 10:30 am, arrive LAS VEGAS, NM 12:12 pm - A ride across The Big Empty to Las Vegas, NM, a town that is on the upswing. Home to the long-dormant La Casteneda, located next to the station and one of the original Harvey Houses along the Santa Fe tracks, now being renovated. Artist rooms provided courtesy of the Plaza HotelPAINTING TIME AVAILABLE: 12:30 PM TO BEDTIME, SUNRISE TO 11:45 AM. April avg. high/low 63/33, .98” precip., 6424 elev.

Thursday, April 18
 - depart LSV 12:12 pm, arrive LAMY, NM 1:58 pm - A gorgeous hour-and-a-half-long ride, over the amazing engineering of the S-curves around Rowe, NM, past Pecos Monument, over Glorieta Pass (site of the westernmost battle of the Civil War) and through the tiny-but-serpentine Apache Canyon to Lamy. Lamy is virtually a ghost town, with a beautiful small-town station, the Santa Fe Southern rail line, and a row of three shops, all dormant (but one, the Legal Tender Saloon), may be reopened by the time we get there. PAINTING TIME AVAILABLE: 2:00 PM TO BEDTIME. April avg. high/low 65/32, .79” precip., 6483 elev.

Friday, April 19 - 5:00-7:00 pm - Pop-up Show, 
McLarry Fine Art, 225 Canyon Rd., Santa Fe, 505-988-1161.

Saturday, April 20 - 
depart ALBUQUERQUE, NM 4:19 pm, arrive WINSLOW, AZ 7:30 pm (MST). Departing the Duke City, we cross the Rio Grande and head west for 4+ hours, through vast red rock country and forbidding lava fields. Passing through the Indian-trading-center of Gallup, NM, we arrive at La Posada in Winslow as night falls. 

 - Public is welcome to watch the artists paint the grounds of La Posada and Museum from 1-4 pm, then artworks on display/sale - details TBA. Artist rooms courtesy of La Posada. April avg. high/low 72/37, .28” precip., 4850 elev.

Monday, April 22 - depart Winslow 7:30 pm
, riding overnight paralleling Route 66 through Flagstaff, Kingman, Needes, Victorville, and descend Cajon Pass in early morning into the Los Angeles basin.

Tuesday, April 23 - arrive 
Los Angeles Union Station 8:00 am; depart 10:10 am on The Coast Starlight for a stunning ride up the California Coast through miles of roadless area, turning inland at San Luis Obispo, through the rich agricultural area near Salinas, arriving in the Bay Area in the evening.

larry moore3 Comments