Rag Tag Train Narrative
SEDALIA’S RAG TAG TRAIN
Engineered by artist Christine Schilling, in collaboration with school children of Sedalia, MO.
The Rail Road is a mighty force, magical and mysterious
Trains mean noise, rhythm, and change.
To many, trains seem a thing of the past, the stuff of story books.
The Sedalia Heritage Foundation’s art residency sought to help Sedalia’s school children form a rich image of Sedalia’s railroad history, and to think about change. Specifically: What changes arrived with the train, and what changes came with its passing? A more visual form of the question took shape for me while developing the Rag Tag Train: What winds of change blew in on the rails, and then wafted away with the steam?
I hope the work we created together is an intriguing visual answer.
Early in the residency, the children explored details of Sedalia’s history, its famous (and infamous) people, places and events. The schools were encouraged to develop curricular extensions which would reinforce this historical research.
As the artist in residence, my goal was to present a vivid artistic look at the railroad. For inspiration, I developed a diverse, colorful slide show of sculptures, paintings, drawings and etchings. I hoped to convey artists' fascination with the myths, legends, fantasies, and harsh realities that surround the railroad. I showed art which is both obscure and famous, contemporary and historic, serious and funny. This included work by Red Grooms, Currier and Ives, Chris VanArlesburg, and Claude Monet.
Because the ideas of motion, travel, time and change are central to the project’s theme, I especially featured work that is kinetic, work that moves, or has a shift in point of view. Extreme perspective was highlighted, too.
Following in the tracks of the settlers, the rails moved goods, services and the fashions of the times. The rails carried our culture west. I wanted the kids to imagine how modern day trains might reflect this new century’s culture. I asked “What would you put on a train, today?” “How would today’s trains deliver what you need?” Their drawings illustrate clearly that trains designed by kids today would transport a very different culture ·hauling fun stuff·kid stuff!
The sculpture's overall plan or design was fairly well developed before brainstorming in the schools, but I am struck by how compatible our overall vision was.Numerous parallel motifs appear. Marvelously playful flowing tracks and rails are seen in many drawings. Intricate detail, thoughtful and earnest, sweet and witty, is evidence of our shared commitment to the task.
The children’s work is full of action. They took enormous delight in figuring out how to make parts of the sculpture move. Figures, animals, and imaginary train cars joyously bounce, slide, jump, spring, hop, frolic and cavort. I incorporated and adapted as many of their ideas as I possibly could. They created so many fantastic, charming and surprising images that it was very hard to choose. Sometimes I combined images so I could use more of them.
I had to force myself to stop, but in truth there is no end to the richness of ideas the children provided. I wish I could have included more. I treasure every one of them.