Tools of the Trade at William H. Gray III 30th Street Station

TITLE OF SCULPTURE: Tools of the Trade
CREATED: 2021-2022
ARTIST: Virginia Maksymowicz
MATERIAL: Low-density urethane resin cast from actual tools

Tools of the Trade is meant to make visible the often-invisible role that railroad workers play in building and maintaining Amtrak’s infrastructure.

Artist Virginia 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.

Maksymowicz 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 the final material. The casting process allowed for making multiple positive casts from the negative molds.

The artist 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 in the North Waiting Room at William H. Gray III 30th Street Station 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.

About the Artist

Virginia Maksymowicz

Virginia Maksymowicz (b. 1952, New York City) is a sculptor living in Philadelphia. She received a BA in Fine Arts from Brooklyn College, CUNY, and a MFA from the University of California, San Diego.

Maksymowicz has exhibited her work at the Franklin Furnace, Alternative Museum, Elizabeth Foundation and Grey Gallery in New York City; the Michener, Woodmere and Delaware museums; and in galleries throughout the United States and abroad. She has received numerous grants and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in sculpture.

Her artwork has been reviewed in publications such as Sculpture magazine, The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her series, The History of Art, appears on the cover of The Female Body (University of Michigan Press).

She has been a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome, an artist-in-residence at the Powel House Museum in Philadelphia and a fellow at the Vermont Studio Center.