Rail Explorers provides a venue for large outdoor sculptures

James Meyer’s Piston Orange

Susan Buroker’s Hidden Pockets

When your art involves the creation of little illuminated gnomes or a nearly life-sized metal cutout of girls jumping double-dutch, where do you place your work so people will see them? Such is the challenge for creators of outdoor sculpture.  

Soon after Rail Explorers (REX) began running their pedal-powered rail ride between Phoenicia and Boiceville this spring, they agreed to let Shandaken artist Dave Channon put up four of his clever, whimsical scrap metal sculptures outside the Mount Tremper train station, visible to both rail bikers and motorists passing by on Route 28. On Saturday, October 27, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., other sculptors will share the spotlight at “Train of Thought,” the soft opening of the Art Info Depot, just northwest of the Emerson Inn and about half a mile southeast of the Phoenicia Diner. 

The Hudson Valley has one of the world’s premier outdoor sculpture parks, Storm King, near Newburgh, but what is an artist to do if they’re not yet up to the level of Alexander Calder or David Smith? Some put their work right out in the front yard, like the late Bob Jacobson, whose wooden sculptures were visible for years near the Route 212 crossroads in Mount Tremper. Channon’s strategy has been to unite with other artists, believing that what benefits one can benefit all.

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Eleven years ago, he and assemblage artist Judith Singer founded the Shandaken Art Studio Tour, which brings exposure to dozens of local artists on a weekend each July. In 2015, when the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center (CIC) opened, Channon obtained permission to set up sculptures by local artists on the lawn at the entrance to the site near Boiceville. After opening a nature trail on the grounds, the CIC suggested focusing on sculptures at locations along the trail, to get people out and walking.

A few sculptures did go up within the site, including, at the entrance to the trail, two giant metal dung beetles rolling balls of real-life debris (a phone booth, an air conditioner, etc.), by Adrian Langdon. Channon was offered a spot at the other end of the parking lot, where his metal mermaid, “Atargatis,” now presides. Shortly thereafter, former Congressman Maurice Hinchey died and was buried, at his own request, adjacent to the tiny historic Winne family cemetery on the grounds, which happens to be right next to the mermaid. “When you visit the mermaid, remember Maurice with love,” said Channon.

Carl Grieco’s Plant Spirits

Meanwhile, he started seeking another location for artists to display their outdoor sculptures. He found Rail Explorers an enthusiastic supporter of the arts. The front lawn of their tiny Mount Tremper train station provides a high-visibility spot near the rail crossing on Route 28. REX hopes to place additional sculptures along the rail line when they resume operations in the spring.

“Rail Explorers is like a breath of balsam fresh air blowing into our beautiful home,” said Channon. “We need people to slow down and see the beauty and see what people take for granted while they zip along Route 28 at 60 miles an hour. Going slowly on pedal power, you see so much more.”

In addition to the scenery, passersby will see Sam Tuftnell’s glowing resin “Gnomes,” lit by small solar panels that will make them visible at night; Susan Buroker’s “Hidden Pockets,” with hands uplifted to the sky; James Meyer’s “Piston Orange,” the crisply cut-out scene of double-dutch jump-ropers; Carl Grieco’s ferro cement “Plant Sprits;” a work by the artist Herrat; as well as Channon’s “Thunderhoof,” “Steampunk Dragster,” “Rail Trail,” and “Hiker.” These sculptors are part of a network of artists Channon has engaged while displaying his work in various locations. 

“The opportunities are growing,” he said. “Towns are incorporating sculpture into their main streets. It adds panache to a village, but it’s risky to put art in the public eye. Outdoor sculpture artists are willing to take that risk. We bond and share opportunities.” A limiting factor is the challenge of carting a sculpture weighing hundreds of pounds or more, to install it for no money and little protection from the elements. 

Artists in the current group come from near and far. Tuftnell lives near Rosendale, and Buroker comes from way out on Long Island. Other sculptures will be added later in the fall, and still more artists are lined up for the spring, when volunteers will be sought to help clean up the interior of the depot for the display of information on the local art scene, as well as paintings and smaller sculptures. Outside are elegant antique street lamps and a long stretch of meadow alongside the tracks, ideal for display of sculptures. “The train station has enormous potential,” said Channon. “It’s a beautiful building that could be a great micro museum.” 

The opening takes place on the last weekend of Rail Explorers’ regularly scheduled autumn rides. After viewing the sculptures, visit Cara Cruickshank’s magical Halloween Journey for kids at the conveniently nearby CIC.

“Train of Thought @ Art Info Depot” opens at Rail Explorers’ Mount Tremper Train Station on Route 28, Saturday, Oct 27, 4 p.m.-8 p.m. For more information, contact Dave@ShandakenArt.com. Cara Cruickshank’s Halloween Journey will be held just down the road at Catskill Interpretive Center, 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Visit https://www.halloweenjourney.com for details and tickets. For more on Rail Explorers, see https://www.railexplorers.net.