Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Caboose on Pennsylvania Railroad

Acrylic on gessoed hardboard, 8 x 10''
Painting # 207, 2012

The only toy that I've kept from my own childhood is an electric toy train set, comprised of a steam engine, three wagons and a caboose. This Mantua train set was given to me by my next door neighbour when I was about 12 years old. It belonged to her youngest son who was more than 10 years my senior. At the time, he had moved out of the homestead and his mother came upon it while cleaning out the remaining of his stuff. I would estimate that it is close to 50 years old. 

When I started to read about the Pennsylvania Railroad Company on Wikipedia, the genesis for the composition came to me.  The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) was founded in 1846. It's headquarters was located in Philadelphia, PaThe PRR was the largest railroad by traffic and revenue in the U.S. for the first half of the twentieth century and was at one time the largest publicly traded corporation in the world. At its peak it controlled about 10,000 miles (16,000 km) of rail line. At one point the budget for the PRR was larger than that of the U.S. government and at its peak it employed about 250,000 workers. In 1968, it would merge with it's rival, the New York Central Lines to form the Penn Central Transportation CompanyThe Interstate Commerce Commission required that the ailing New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad be added in 1969. A series of events including inflation, poor management, abnormally harsh weather conditions and the withdrawal of a government-guaranteed 200-million-dollar operating loan forced the Penn Central to file for bankruptcy protection on June 21, 1970. The Penn Central rail lines were split between Amtrak and Conrail in the 1970s. After the breakup of Conrail in 1999, the portion which had been PRR territory largely became part of the Norfolk Southern Railway.

This painting chronicles in a whimsical way, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company during it's 122 years of operation from 1846 to 1968. I've been collecting stamps since my early teens. I've always viewed them as miniature artworks, so as the previous painting, I'm incorporating a very appropriate stamp in the composition. This first-day cover does not exist in real life. I took bits and pieces from of other medias to fabricate an imaginary first-day cover marking the last day (January 31, 1968) the company operated before merging with it’s rival, the New York  Central  Lines.This US stamp was actually issued at 32¢ on May 28, 1998, to celebrate the ''Electric Toy Train''. From a timeline of the US Postal Services, the cost for mailing a first-class letter in 1968 was 6¢, so I changed the amount accordingly for the painting.  

1998 US- 32¢ stamp celebrating the 
''Electric Toy Train'' used in the painting

I chose Atlantic City, NJ for the postmark, since the PPR once served the city and it is the setting for the Monopoly game on which the composition in anchored on.  The lone caboose serves as a sign of the times. Until the 1980’s, laws in the US and Canada required that all freight trains had a caboose and a full crew for safety. Technology eventually advanced such and in effort to save money and reduce crew members, it was stated that the caboose was unnecessary and their use has since declined and they are seldom seen on trains, except on locals and small railroads.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Museum which is located east of Philadelphia, outside of Strasbourg Pa in Amish country. In relation with my previous painting, Lucky Lindy flies the Airmail, that museum is currently restoring ''The Lindbergh engine'', PRR #460. During his first stop in Washington, DC on June 11, 1927, after returning from Europe and his transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh was promoted to colonel and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Calvin Coolidge. Two rival newsreel companies, who were each vying to be the first to have their films of the ceremony shown in New York theatres before Lindbergh's visit to the Big Apple two days later, chartered a train and an aircraft, respectively, from Washington to New York City. No. 460 headed up the charter train, pulling only its tender, a baggage car and a passenger car. The train departed Washington at 1:14 PM and arrived at the Manhattan Transfer, outside of New York City, 2 hours and 56 minutes later. Even though the aircraft arrived in New York first, the film brought by No. 460 was in theatres hours before the other, thanks to a film processing lab on board the baggage car.

This completes the trio of paintings for 
the ''Planes, Trains and Automobiles'' Invitational group show 
at the Elliott Fouts Gallery, Sacramento, CA, March 3- April 5, 2012.

Elliott Fouts Gallery
4749 J. Street Sacramento, California, USA , 95819 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lucky Lindy flies the Air Mail

Acrylic on gessoed hardboard, 10¼ x 12¼''
Painting # 206, 2012

This painting is my second entry for the ''Planes, Trains and Automobiles'' Invitational group show being held next month at the Elliott Fouts Gallery.

After reading Charles A. Lindbergh's biography on Wikipedia last fall, I started browsing on eBay to acquire some artifacts or memorabilia related to this much celebrated aviator. I would end up acquiring more than I could use. During the Christmas Holidays I read his first autobiography entitled WE, published on July 27, 1927, written only two months after his historic transatlantic flight. A testament to his phenomenal popularity, this June 1928 edition featured in the painting was already on its thirty-first printing. 

Charles A. Lindbergh was born in Detroit Michigan on February 4, 1902. His fascination with aeronautics started in 1912 at the age of 10, upon seeing his first airplane. After graduating High School, he enrolled in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 1920. By the end of March 1922, he quit college, hopped on his motorcycle en route to Lincoln Nebraska where he enrolled with the Nebraska Aircraft Corp. to earn his pilot's wings. Because the novice flyer could not afford to post a bond required to cover possible damages on the school only plane, he was never permitted to fly solo.  He took matters in his own hands and did his first solo flight in May 1923 after buying a WWI surplus Curtiss JN-4, ''Jenny'' bi-plane for $440 and trading-in his Harley-Davidson. Prior and after purchasing of the ''Jenny'', he did some barnstorming across the mid-west and at state fairs. Popular in the 1920's, barnstormers would land in a farmer's field and offer plane rides lasting five to 10 minutes for $5 to any adventurous bystanders. In order to attract crowds there was often some sort of aerial side show associated with wing walkers and parachutists of which Lindbergh would engage in, becoming somewhat of a daredevil. In March 1924, he began a year of military flight training with the US Army Air Service and would graduate top of his class. In October 1925, he was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corp. in St. Louis as an airmail pilot providing service to the newly designated 278-mile contract Air Mail between St. Louis Mo. and Chicago Ill, which included two intermediate stops in Springfield and Peoria Ill.

Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis

But Charles Lindbergh had loftier goals, one of which was pursuing the $25,000 Ortieg Prize to be awarded to the first successful non-stop flight made in either direction between New York City and Paris. He would later dedicate his best-selling book WE, to his mother and the eight spirited men from St. Louis who financed his adventurist project. Lindbergh would oversee the construction of the $15,000 one-seater, single-engine monoplane built by Ryan Airlines of San Diego, California. In order to keep the plane as light as possible, he carried an earth inductor compass, a periscope instead of a windshield, no radio, no parachute and no co-pilot, preferring to use the additional weight for extra fuel tanks carrying 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters)

The first successful  transatlantic flight had actually occurred eight years earlier on June 14-15, 1919. Two British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown flew a modified Vickers Vimy IV bomber from Lester's Field near St. John's Newfoundland over open waters covering a span of 1,890 miles to Clifden, Ireland.  

Several unsuccessful attempts to win the Ortieg Prize had claimed the lives of six pilots. On May 8, 1927, twelve days before Lindbergh's attempt, two French war heroes Captain Charles Nungesser and his navigator François Coli departed from Paris - Le Bouget Airport and contact was lost after crossing the coast of Ireland, never to be heard or seen again.

On May 20, 1927 at 7:52 am,  the twenty five year old Lindbergh took flight in the Spirit of St. Louis departing from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, NY.  For the following 33½ hours, the chosen curved line flight course of 3600 miles would take him over New England, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, eastward over the Atlantic, down past the southern tip of Ireland, across the narrow strip of England, the English Channel into France and over the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He faced many challenges including skimming over both storm clouds at 10,000 feet (3,000 m), wave tops at as low at 10 ft (3.0 m), wing icing, flying blind through fog for several hours and combating fatigue. He successfully landing his Ryan monoplane at Le Bouget Airport at 10:22 pm on May 21 where an estimated crowd of 150,000 awaited.  From that moment on,  life would never again be the same for the previously little known U.S. Air Mail pilot who had just achieved virtually instantaneous—and lifelong—world fame. 

After much deserve sleep he would remain in Paris for several days and for the following weeks would go on a tour where his exploit was celebrated. Among the festivities were ceremonies, dinner receptions, galas and parades. Everybody wanted to shake his hand, from the common mortal to royalty. Before leaving Europe, the cities of Brussels and London greeting the new aviation phenom with open arms. 

At the time it is probable that when Lindbergh reached America, he got the greatest welcome any man in history has ever received; certainly the greatest when judged by numbers. The celebratory victory tour focused on three American cities: Washington, DC, New York City and St. Louis. 

On June 11, 1927, Washington DC was more than ready to honour him. After being greeted by President Coolidge, it was the turn of Postmaster General Harry S. New  who presented Lindbergh with the first special airmail stamp. He concluded his speech with the following statement. ''It has no titles to bestow- no medal it can add to those that have been given in recognition of your splendid achievement. There is one thing, however, it can do that will everywhere be regarded as most appropriate. It has issued a stamp designed for a special use with the airmail which bears your name..... It is the first time a stamp has been issued in honour of a man still living- a distinction which you have worthily won''.

The Lindbergh Airmail stamp (C-10) that is 
featured in the above painting under magnifying glass 
is in mint condition and has been attached 
to the back of the frame for the prospect buyer.

On June 13, 1927, New York City was more than impatient in voicing that he hurry to the celebration awaiting him there. It is estimated that a crowd swelling from 3 to 4,5 millions, lined the streets of Manhattan where among the many festivities was a ticker tape parade. During his last day in New York City, on June 16 he went to Brooklyn where more than a million people gave him another moving welcome. He would attend a large tea and reception at the Hotel Brevoort where Raymond Orteig presented him with the $25,000 prize for the first New York to Paris flight.

On Saturday June 18, 1927, the city of St. Louis hosted a huge parade with luncheon and banquet to follow. The following day, he did an exhibition flight in the Spirit of St. Louis over the former 1904 World's Fair grounds. Not an hour, scarcely a waking minute, was he free from demands. It is estimated that he received more than 2,000,000 congratulatory letters. 

The top letter in my composition- postmarked St. Louis, on June 18, 1927, also bears a special ink stamp in celebration of his crowning achievement on the same day the city would honour him.  This random letter is addressed to an Albert Ellbogen of Chicago, which has an indirect link with the Elliott Fouts show's theme, since Mr. Ellbogen was a past vice president of the National Railway Time Service Company.

Although Lindbergh's piloting days for the U.S. Air Mail was over, his immense fame was used to help promote the use of the service, whose catch phrase was ''AIRMAIL SAVES TIMES''. In 1927, an Airmail stamp was 10¢ vs a First Class stamp using ground transportation was only 2¢. The following year, Lindbergh would return to his former airmail route of St. Louis to Chicago in a CAM-2 plane. During this promotional two days, he flew northbound on February 20, 1928, then southbound on the following day. Tens of thousands of self-addressed souvenir covers sent in from all over the nation and the world were flown, back stamped, and then returned to their senders as a further means to promote awareness and the use of the Air Mail Services. Souvenir covers and other artefacts associated with / or carried on flights piloted by Lindbergh are still actively collected under the general designation of "Lindberghiana." The bottom letter postmarked with a lucky horseshoe -''Lindbergh Again flies the Airmail'' was one among those thousands he carried that I was so grateful to acquire. 

Curiously enough, both envelopes featured in my painting bears the name Mr. L.A. Wehrle of Belleville, Ill. which is located only 17 miles away from St. Louis, MO. The first letter is as the sender, the other as the recipient. 

The book that grounds the composition is entitled, Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St.Louis by Dominick A. Pisani and Robert Van Der Linder, with foreword by his daughter Reeve Lindbergh. It was published by Harry S. Abrams Inc. in 2002 for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington where The Spirit of St. Louis is on display. I positioned the book so that in viewing the postage stamp under the magnifying glass, Lindbergh's eye from the cover is looking at the viewer from the other side.

 After reading WE, I also did several viewings of Billy Wilder's film ''The Spirit of St. Louis''  starring James Stewart as Lindy. The movie was based on the 1958 Pultizer Prize winning book of the same name penned by Lindbergh himself. Both gave me a glimpse of his visionary insight and of his will to further the advancements of aeronautics. He was a young lad, highly intelligent, courageous and a fearless adventurist. He attributed the success of his non-stop trans-Atlantic flight to meticulous planning and all those involved in financing and building the Spirit of St.Louis In his later years, Lindbergh became a prolific prize-winning author, international explorer, inventor, and environmentalist. It is a post that may seem endless, but I am just barely skimming the surface of who Charles Lindbergh was. I am only focusing on the narrative relating with the items I was fortunate enough to collect in order to set up the composition in this homage. 

Update- April 27, 2012

This past Easter, we took a 5-day vacation to Washington DC. On Easter Sunday, we visited the National Air and Space Museum where the original Spirit of St. Louis and other navigational instruments of the Ryan monoplane are housed and preserved. I had studied the plane so closely, so it was a surreal and a somewhat humbling experience to be there in its presence. After the Louvres in Paris, this museum is the second most visited in the world and for good reasons. It has a WOW factor the moment you step in.

''Planes, Trains and Automobiles'' Invitational group show 
at the Elliott Fouts Gallery, Sacramento, CA, March 3- April 5, 2012.

Elliott Fouts Gallery
4749 J. Street Sacramento, California, USA , 95819