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Published May 11, 2023
Just in time for graduation, the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center (AHC) has opened a new exhibition, “The Art of the Railroad: Seeing Romance in Reality.”
The exhibition, which opened this week and will run into the fall, is designed to cut through the nitty-gritty of the railroad’s reality to view it as a place of artistic romance.
The AHC archives hold numerous railroad collections, containing materials ranging from the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s -- a technological achievement that brought together the nation’s two halves -- to the modern transportation network that moves people and freight around the country.
“The center has hundreds of thousands of railroad-related photographs,” AHC Director Paul Flesher says. “Many of them were taken with the intent of recording everyday activities, the railroad’s tracks and the machines that traveled upon them.”
“From the beginning, many photographers saw an aesthetic beauty in the railroad,” says Theoren Sheppard, who curated the exhibition’s photographs. “They grasped its romance and the attractive appeal that rose above the everyday reality of heat, metal, wood and odors. Seeking to capture that indefinable attraction, they took camera in hand and went out to capture it through the lens.”
Patty Kessler curated the exhibition’s display cases.
“Railroad companies saw the public’s fascination with train travel and took advantage of it,” she says. “For daily use, they presented themselves as reliable and on time. For adventure, the companies pitched the railroad as a source of discovery. Anyone could travel to new frontiers, see fresh vistas, meet new people and sample novel foods -- whether by journeying to a historical location or a place of exotic natural beauty.”
Located in the AHC’s Loggia Gallery at the Centennial Complex on the UW campus, “The Art of the Railroad” exhibition is open weekdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and on graduation Saturday, May 13, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. It will run until Nov. 10.
Railroad history constitutes an important collecting area at the AHC. The exhibition draws on several collections, including those of Howard F. Greene, James Ehernberger and the Union Pacific Historical Society (UPHS). Greene, Ehernberger and the UPHS have, for decades, donated to the AHC materials that help preserve the history of Western railroads. These materials range from photographs of “everything railroad” to marketing posters and brochures, timetables, employee publications and blueprints. All railroad collections are available for viewing and research at the AHC.