Wednesday, May 29, 2013

BEA, today!

BookExpo America arrives today. My studio mates Sophie Blackall, Eddie Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, and Sergio Ruzzier are preparing to welcome booksellers to our studio this afternoon. (We have tried to get it clean, but not too clean. We have certainly succeeded with the latter, possibly even the former.)

The other bit of BEA I’ll be taking part in is tonight’s auction of donated children’s book art. (Details here.) Above is the piece I pitched in, a drawing originally done for Locomotive — but then the page ended up needing a different engine, or a different angle, or a different engine from a different angle. I forget the details. Anyway, if you’re attending the auction tonight and your credit is good, this drawing of Union Pacific engine number 119 can be yours. (Click the image above for a closer look.)

And because I’m not above regional pandering in my effort to drum up bidding: visiting Omaha booksellers, here is Omaha’s own Union Pacific! Visiting Californians, here is one of the engines that linked far-away you to the rest of the country (and now you’re stuck with us)! Visiting Utah booksellers, this is one of the two engines that met at the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869. And New Jersey! New Jersey booksellers take note! This mighty engine of the West was built in your backyard by the Rogers Locomotive & Machine Works of Paterson! Happy viewing and bidding and BEA to all.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sic transit Brooklyn

We’re expecting guests in the studio next week when BookExpo America is in town and so the last few days I’ve been cleaning. Well, “cleaning” suggests cleanliness, and that’s going too far, but improvement is nevertheless afoot. As part of the process, old piles, old files, old piles of files are being examined. Above is a drawing I came across today (click to enlarge), a location drawing of a junk-strewn vacant lot in Williamsburg, down by the East River. This was done in maybe 2004. Now, in 2013, every Saturday, this site is host to the Smorgasburg outdoor food market. (Here.) Now on this site, you can visit dozens of vendors and then on open green fields with a view of the water and the Manhattan skyline you can sit with your friends and enjoy a foie-gras beignet with Nutella powder, or Tunisian pumpkin stew, or a micro-batch of Kurdish labneh flavored with brined garlic shoots, or what have you. But the price of progress: if you’ve got an old GMC or an International 4700 hood you’re looking to dump, you’re straight out of luck.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Parade of Trains

In conjunction with National Train Day (see last post) the Grand Centennial Parade of Trains is on at Grand Central Terminal this weekend, May 11-12. Details here

I swung by today. I hadn’t expected vendors selling historic railroading items, but there they were. I bought more than I meant to but less than I might have. (I mentioned idly to one vendor’s wife that I wasnt buying an antique brakeman’s lantern — reasonably priced! — because I knew in my heart that I had no real use for it. She assured me that her husband had gotten good service from the old lanterns during Hurricane Sandy. With oil and a good wick, the things still work! Well, why wouldn’t they? Still, I stayed strong.) 

Then it was on to the modelers, where I spent some time drawing the terrific N-scale setup shown above. I got to speak with Charlie Sanborn, who along with his partner in very small trains Walt Palmer constructed the scene, an imagined town and valley inspired by the landscape around New York’s Shawangunk Ridge. They drove the model in from upstate in the bed of Walts pickup truck; this made easier than it might sound because the model was precision designed to fit the truck bed. Like a great, busy, Richard Scarry spread, the model invites the eye to wander, rewards with interesting details, and suggests narratives. There’s a lonely hilltop house, a farm, cows, a city, a bridge, tunnels, hairpin turns, even a bit of graffiti on the cliff face (“Class of ’49”), a whole little world. If you’re near Grand Central tomorrow between 10 AM and 4 PM, it’s worth slogging through the crowds (the considerable crowds) to get a look!

Click the images for larger versions.

May 11!

Today, May 11, is National Train Day. (Truly. Amtrak and Wikipedia say so, here and here.) Here’s one train rider’s memory of a formative cross-country trip:

“I was fourteen when my parents returned from one of their trips out West to say that they had found a home in California and we would be moving to the town of Santa Barbara. The train ride from Pittsburg to California took us across country for nine days. The train was taking us from our past, through the vehicle of the present, to our future. The tracks in front of me, hugged the land, and became a living part of my memory. Parallel lines whose meaning was inexhaustible, whose purpose was infinite. This was, for me, the beginning of my ballet Frontier.”

That’s Martha Graham, from her autobiography Blood Memory. Today, May 11, is also Martha Graham’s birthday. Everything connects!

Martha Graham’s birthday is also remembered today on Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac site, here, where there is more posted about Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Thank you, Anita!

Happy May 11 to you, no matter how you celebrate it.

Above: a detail from Locomotive, coming in September.

Friday, May 10, 2013


May 10! It was on May 10 in 1869, 144 years ago today, that the first transcontinental railroad was completed. A trip from the East Coast to California, a trip that a few years earlier might have taken up to six dangerous months to make, now took a week. I crib from the author’s note from Locomotive (coming in September):

Imagine the change! At the beginning of the nineteenth century, you could move over land only as quickly as you could walk, or as quickly as an animal could carry or pull you—that fast, and no faster. That had been true for a hundred years, for a thousand years, for as far back as you could imagine.

Then came the steam locomotive. “Time & space,” said Asa Whitney, an early prophet of the transcontinental railroad, “are annihilated by steam.” 

The first steam locomotive in the United States, the Stourbridge Lion, arrived from England in 1829. America’s first regular passenger service came in 1831. By the 1840s serious discussion of a transcontinental line was underway. A road reaching from the growing network of rail in the East all the way to the Pacific would bind California to the rest of the nation, aid in settling the Great Plains, and provide a lucrative route for trade between Europe and Asia. In the wake of the Civil War, the Pacific railway became “the great work of the age.” When the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad Companies completed the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869, the news flashed via telegraph from one side of the the country to the other: “Done!” From across the nation came the response: cheers, speeches, fireworks, parades, cannon blasts, prayer. Other transcontinental lines followed; by 1893 five crossed the country. 

Locomotive is much more about a trip on the line than the line’s construction, but the endpapers and author’s note try to lay the foundation for that ride by introducing how and why the line was built. The drawing above will appear on the front endpapers; it’s a take on the famous A. J. Russell photo (here) of the Union Pacific’s Grenville Dodge and the Central Pacific’s Samuel Montague shaking hands after the driving of the symbolic golden spike. As a general rule I try not to have a drawing be based too closely on a familiar image, but with this picture I hoped that something (maybe) recognizable at the book’s beginning would serve as a point of connection for readers, something to help tie the book’s story to what they have and will see elsewhere about the subject. And, you know, also I really like the picture.