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Historic railway posters and paintings exhibition opens at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
Maurice Logan (U.S., 1886-1877), Yosemite, Southern Pacific Poster, 1923. Offset Lithograph, 23 x 16 in. Courtesy of the California State Library.

NORMAN, OKLA.- The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art on the University of Oklahoma Norman campus opened its 2018 fall exhibition Ticket to Ride: Artists, Designers, and Western Railways, on Oct. 5. The exhibition features more than five dozen works by artists and commercial designers created between 1880 and the 1930s, the height of western railway travel.

The exhibition highlights how artists and railway companies together influenced lasting perceptions of the American West, particularly the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Coast and the Northwest. “Designers and artists sought railway patronage to achieve their own ends as much as railways courted image-makers for wanderlust-inducing imagery,” says Jerman. “This exhibition brings together, often for the first time, artists and designers who were engaged in parallel projects promoting western travel but also making use of railway patronage to promote their own careers and interests.”

Some, like celebrated American landscape painter Thomas Moran, sought an opportunity to camp and paint in dramatic western landscapes. Maynard Dixon, best known today for his easel paintings of the Southwest, produced many poster and billboard designs for multiple western railways which he exchanged for free transportation via “artist passes.” Women, including the Tacoma-based painter and activist Abby Williams Hill and St. Paul muralist Elsa Jemne, found in railway patronage an escape from turn-of-the-century social constraints. Other artists like W. Langdon Kihn and his teacher, Winold Reiss, bought into misguided period notions that Native populations were on the brink of “vanishing” as victims of modernity. In railway patronage, they found an entrée into the indigenous communities they aimed to record.

The images in this exhibit, then, simultaneously reflect corporate railway concerns along with their creators’ enthusiasm for dramatic landscapes and Native communities, particularly in the American Southwest, Montana and western Canada. This exhibition features paintings, studies, posters and graphics that emerged from the parallel relationships between artists and commercial designers with rail companies in the transnational American West.

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