Traveling museum brings art directly to the masses Train makes stop in Aberdeen

October 24, 1993|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,Contributing Writer

A visit to an art museum for schoolchildren doesn't usually begin with finding an empty siding and a locomotive to tug the museum into place.

But that's exactly what happens when Artrain, the nation's only museum on a traveling train, rolls into town.

On Thursday and Friday, about 420 Aberdeen students toured the four-car train parked on a CSX siding on Bel Air Avenue in Aberdeen.

The train features on-board artists as well as an exhibit of about 70 pieces of art showing trains, airplanes and cars, entitled "The Romance of Transportation.

The train consists of three Pullman cars that house the exhibit, the theme of which changes with each cross-country tour.

A car that once hauled equipment for the Ice Capades Show also serves as a studio for two artists who travel aboard the train. They are joined by 15 local artists who demonstrate their art on staggered shifts during the train's stay in a community.

Six staffers, including two technicians who handle train maintenance, have offices in a donated caboose.

Maureen Brady, train manager, says Artrain depends on local railroads to pull it from town to town.

Conrail and CSX moved it from Brownsville, Pa., to Aberdeen, and from here, CSX and Norfolk Southern will tug the train to its next stop in Cumberland.

The train typically travels on a Tuesday. Wednesday is a setup day, with valuable sculptures and paintings unpacked from cases used to safeguard them during transit.

What doesn't show up in photographs, sculptures or lithographs is the community support needed to pull off an Artrain visit.

Charles H. "Chuck" Jacobs Jr. spearheaded the local effort to round up volunteers. Mr. Jacobs chaired the Artrain committee and organized 80 volunteers to staff the train during its six-day visit to Aberdeen.

Artrain first visited Aberdeen last year as part of the city's centennial celebration. But Mr. Jacobs, who also chaired the centennial committee, says the last-minute visit was a logistical nightmare.

Just three weeks before the centennial, Artrain had a cancellation in its schedule. "They asked us if we wanted it, and we pulled it off," Mr. Jacobs said, noting that 3,000 people visited the train's exhibit.

Mr. Jacobs wanted the train to return for another visit but also wanted the time to better prepare for its arrival. The centennial committee turned their attention to this year's visit 12 months ago.

They raised $8,000 in donations, including a $2,900 grant from the county Cultural Advisory Board. The grant money was used to pay the $3,000 fee that provides operating costs for Artrain.

The Aberdeen Lions and Lionesses clubs provided volunteers. And, Mr. Jacobs says, virtually every civic organization in town provided either people or donations, as did many businesses.

Wednesday night is generally reserved for an opening reception, and then the exhibit opens to the public Thursday through Sunday. Monday, the staff packs up and prepares to travel again.

The multimedia artwork in the exhibit is donated or on loan from other museums and private collections.

Artrain was founded in 1971 by the Michigan Council for the Arts as a way to bring art directly to the people.

Towns invite the train, which has visited 300 communities in 33 states, and then provide the necessary volunteers and money to make the visit possible.

Mr. Jacobs, who is the executive vice president of Harford National Bank, says this time he's happy to have done it right. "We're hoping 5,000 people will come through, and that's maybe 5,000 people who normally wouldn't come to Aberdeen."

As for the local residents, he notes, "People don't have to travel to to Baltimore to see an art museum."

Joan Preston, who lives just outside of Aberdeen, strolled through the train Thursday.

"I thought it was really interesting. I particularly liked the lithographs -- and the quilt," she said.

The exhibit can be seen from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.

Admission is $1.50 for adults and 50 cents for children under 12. The train is wheelchair accessible.

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