PHILADELPHIA – On April 27, 2022, Amtrak revealed a new custom art exhibit designed by longtime Amtrak customer and local artist Virginia Maksymowicz. Located in the North Waiting Room of William H. Gray III 30th Street Station, the exhibit is a 14×10 foot replica map of the Amtrak network created in 2021-2022.
Titled Tools of the Trade, the sculpture is meant to make visible the often-invisible role that railroad workers play in building and maintaining Amtrak’s infrastructure.
Maksymowicz commuted on Amtrak’s Keystone Service for over 25 years, spending countless hours riding between her home in Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she taught as a professor of sculpture at Franklin & Marshall College. Maksymowicz credits her time traveling on the train for producing some of her best thinking, including designing, researching and planning many of her artworks.
When Amtrak revamped its now-retired onboard magazine, renaming it The National, she was particularly struck by a new feature that invited artists to interpret the Amtrak national route system and decided to make a proposal to design a map, which was accepted.
The artist had already been working on a series of sculptures involving plaster casts of tools and bones, metaphorically relating them to various structures. It occurred to her that Amtrak’s national route system is another kind of structure, one that connects north and south, east and west, much like a bodily skeleton connects head to toe and hand to hand. She wanted to represent this structure through casts of the type of tools that Amtrak workers might use on the job.
She went about collecting vintage tools, railroad spikes and clips; she made silicone molds from them and cast them into low-density urethane resin. The casting process allowed for making multiple positive casts from the negative molds.
She then downloaded a copy of the Amtrak route map, traced the lines and projected the drawing, which guided the placement of the tools. She kept the tools a bonelike white, as a reference to skeletal structure. Casts of spikes and bolts suggest mountains, and S-curved wrenches, calipers and railroad clips signify water.
The map was photographed for the December 2019/January 2020 issue of The National. Amtrak’s installation of the map now puts the three-dimensional version on public view. It joins other large-scale artworks at the station, including Karl Bitter’s 1895 bas-relief, The Spirit of Transportation, and Walker Hancock’s 1950 Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial, a sculpture honoring Pennsylvania Railroad employees who died in military service during World War II.
Virginia Maksymowicz has exhibited her work in galleries and museums throughout the United States and abroad. She has received numerous grants and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in sculpture. She has also been a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome and a fellow at the Vermont Studio Center.
Posted April 27, 2022.