Washington Street, Syracuse, N. Y.

Washington Street, Syracuse, N.Y. (1933)

Artist's notes...

In 1988, I began a series of paintings for KeyBank.  Each depicted a
city in New York State where the bank had an important presence, and focused on some historic feature which made that community unique. The paintings were large, complex and represented different centuries. (Return of the Experiment, 1787; Buffalo Harbor, 1847) From the onset of the third commission, a Syracuse scene, my search for a subject focused on the 20th century. I started at the Onondaga Historical Society and it didnít take long to find what I was looking for.
          The 1930s were hardly a time of prosperity anywhere and yet Washington Street was still one of the busiest thoroughfares in Syracuse. The Yates Hotel, First Trust & Deposit Company, and dozens of small shops selling everything from cigars to office furniture somehow survived those lean years of the Great Depression. The texture of street activity would have been considered ďaverageĒ by any casual observer had it not been for one very peculiar feature. Passing within a few feet of the storefronts up to 68 times a day were the trains of the New York Central Railroad. These were not trolley lines or intercity trains, they were the mainline tracks of one of the countries largest railroads. The vast majority of passenger and freight transit from New York City to Buffalo passed through the middle of Syracuse. The routing of trains on Washington Street began in 1839 and didnít end until September of 1936. It was said in the 1930s that there was never a time, day or night, when there wasnít a train on the street.
          Unlike the previous works in the KeyBank series that represent, to contemporary society, little known events and places, I would be painting an altogether familiar local subject. Literally dozens of excellent photographs depicting steam locomotives pulling New York Central trains through Syracuse were taken in the 1930s. What could I add to this subject that would be new and unique?
          In addition to the physical differences between color paintings and black and white photographs, paintings possess infinite possibilities of light, shadow and atmospheric tone. My first design decision was to depict the city at night, thereby maximizing the effects of these elements. Once that was established, the very nature of my setting and focal point led me toward an irresistible set of image components. Rather than fight the obvious I pursued it: Trains, snow, holidays and nostalgia. I let it all happen. I never felt the image was trite, on the contrary, it seemed to emphasize the historical fact that New York Central trains ran through the middle of town.