Center for Railroad Photography & Art
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The Center for Railroad Photography & Art, in Madison, Wisconsin, was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in Wisconsin on December 9, 1997, to inform “the public about railroad photography and art through education, research and public service programs.” The Center was fostered by John Gruber of Madison, a career journalist with a lifelong interest in railroads and their history. Gruber has been a photographer of railroads since 1960. The Railway and Locomotive History Society honored Gruber in 1994 with a lifetime achievement award in railroad photography.
While the Center selectively collects high-quality photographs and works of art related to railroading and railroad workers, it has no museum, but rather collaborates with archives and public museums in creating programs with a national outreach. These programs include exhibitions, publications, conferences, a website, and an Internet archive (railroadheritage.org).
The Center’s first exhibition, Railroads and Photography: 150 Years of Great Images, opened in 1999 at Railfair at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, later traveling to Altoona, Pennsylvania; Madison, Wisconsin; Lake Forest and Champaign, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Carson City and Ely, Nevada; and Kennesaw, Georgia. Beginning in 2003, with support from the North American Railroad Foundation, the Center created seven photography exhibitions related to “Representations of Railroad Work, Past and Present,” which were shown on both coasts and in the Midwest, notably at Grand Central Terminal in New York City and the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. A summary report, It’s Work, resulted.
In 2006, the Center mounted an exhibition of photography and watercolors by the noted artist, Ted Rose, who was asked by the U.S. Postal Service to create railroad-themed U.S. postage stamps. The exhibition, which was shown at the Haggerty Museum of Marquette University in Milwaukee and the California State Railroad Museum, was accompanied by a catalog that summarizes Rose’s life and career. The Center also collaborated with Thomas H. Garver to prepare an exhibition (at the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum in Cape Girardeau and the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento) about the photographs of O. Winston Link, the famed railroad photographer and sound recorder.
Besides the catalogs associated with exhibitions, the Center has produced twenty issues of the journal Railroad Heritage, which began in 2000. Early issues carried articles about noted photographers and artists, plus news of contemporary events. Others have been devoted to conference proceedings, the role of women in railroading, representations of work in railroad photography and art, and the photography of Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg.
Since 2003, the Center has sponsored annual conferences and an awards program for contemporary railroad photography. In 2006, conferences in Milwaukee and in College Station, Texas, observed the centennial of the diesel locomotive with historical presentations and discussions of the diesel’s effect on railroad art. Public programs have accompanied each exhibition.
In 2007, again with support from the North American Railway Foundation, the Center launched a descriptive website, “railroadheritage.org.” It reproduces images related to railroading from the 1840s to the present, coupled with explanatory texts that describe the images’ content and their historical, technological, and aesthetic importance. The images are drawn from the Center’s own collections and from significant public and private collections around the country. A number of museums and archives are collaborating in the effort. In 2008, the Center extracted thirty-two images from railroadheritage.org and created "American Railroad History in a Nutshell," a feature on the site that depicts and describes, in a digest form, the importance of railroads, their development, and some social historical elements of railroads and railroading.