Encounters With Her (From 1/17/18 to 9/12/18)
The dioramas in the above film were created during this period of time. And then they stopped so that this time could be defined as a period of time. Giving way to a new period of time in one’s life. For artists, it is usually a period of time controlled by some artistic muse of the artist. All artists are controlled by this muse as much as they don’t want to admit it. She is with the artist at all times. The basic power of the artistic muse (which I think is feminine) is her ability to convince individuals that they have power and importance in life. Even in the midst of the onslaught of media images.
From January to September of 2018, I was somewhat possessed by my artistic muse of model making. It was’t really a new muse in my life. My father had been an avid model railroading hobbyist when I was growing up in the 60s and much of his love of model making rubbed off on me. He hated the society parties of the town and company that he had just arrived at from California and somewhat retreated to his basement model train layout during those years we lived in the midwest. I know because I had a little hobby desk right next to him in the basement under those florescent lights in the 60s.
His HO train layout was huge and went the entire length of one section of the basement. Up close to the furnace and pipes and all. But it was a large layout. Thirty feet by fifteen feet. One of the larger layouts around at the time. It consisted of a huge gentle oval two-track loop around a frame my father had a carpenter friend built over the course of a few weeks. His work desk was at one end of the huge layout and my desk next to his. There were many Walthers car kits to be built to put on the railroad. He planned to model the Santa Fe railroad that ran through the desert southwest of America. All his life he held almost sacred California and the Southwestern part of America. The American desert. Our family would constantly travel through it on Route 66 when we lived in Los Angeles. Although he was born in Mississippi and had relatives in Kentucky.
The Last Dinosaur / A Homage to Tourist Traps Along the old Route 66
Of course my dad’s HO railroad layout was to feature the desert with Santa Fe trains. There could be nothing else for him. Both of us sat up at nights planning scenery for the layout. There would be a mountain on the layout. We thought about a mining town high up in the mountains. A special mining train would run up to the mining town on narrow gauge tracks. Just like it used to be. Dad and I planned far into some nights. He had a huge sheet of architect’s paper and we continually developed scenery for the layout. The would be a town on the layout named after my sister. So much seemed possible to create on the huge 30 x 15 foot structure containing two parallel tracks. So far. Not the hint of the my father’s beloved desert so far in the way of scenery.
* * *
But there was so much inspiration in the issues of Model Railroader magazine that would come every month. Dad would avidly wait for the new issues that featured how to articles and news of new structures and train engines and cars. The inspirational thing for both of us were the photos and articles in Model Railroader magazine of the Gorre & Daphetid RR (pronounced Gory & Defeated) created by John Allen about the G&D railroad layout in the basement of his home in Monterey, California. For Allen, model railroading was not just a hobby but a lifelong passion. It was Allen who moved the hobby away from the era of three-rail Lionel Trains to a new realism. His skill was not just in building lifelike his railroad, but in lighting and photographing his layout as his education and training was as a photographer. I remember studying the photos of the G&D and realizing that amazing worlds could be created by this craft.
John Allen’s Gorre & Daphetid RR / Inspiration in the 1950s
Then, the news that my father is being transferred to New York City for a new position. The need for the family to pack things up in Ohio and move to New York City. Of course, such a change. But one was giving up this grand diorama of his called a model railroad resembling the operations of the Santa Fe in the southwestern part of the nation. There had been a grand vision about this little world we created and it was stopped during it’s first (and dreaming) structural phase of the overall project that was conceived by my father and me.
It was that period before the model railroader would add scenery to the layout. That is, enclose the message of the structure and tracks of the layout within the medium of the context of the place of scenery in the world. I remember those years my father and I were building this huge model railroad together that I read all the Model Railroader Magazines and other model catalogs (like Walthers) he subscribed to. Almost every weekend during the winter months in Ohio, he would take me along with him to the Hobby Haven model railroading shop on the north part of town. He was well known at the hobby shop. In fact, a few guys from the shop had visited his layout and wanted to get it to Model Railroader Magazine.
But the transfer to New York and the removal from this passion of his. I certainly observed this passion and love of something he controlled in life. Perhaps known as a hobby. Yet perhaps so much more. Perhaps the power of the great artistic muse in life.
Perhaps like the muse I experienced from this diorama-making period in my life.
It seems unusual yet perhaps true that the images the two of us conceived all this years ago, might reappear during my particular diorama period from January to September of 2018. Could it be that they all came from images the two of us conjured up all those years ago. When we dreamed and discussed our model railroad world in the basement those nights. The string of florescent lights softly buzzing above the vast structure of the model railroad layout behind our two work benches. There were few feelings better than this in my youth.
The major thing was that all of this was some process to create a vision to some type of physical reality. Here, the little world based around model railroads. In so many ways for my father, a much more reliable and trustworthy world than the real world. Could one perhaps live in this little world? Or make this little world into the big world?
* * *
Such an interesting world of people it seems to me. The Model Railroaders Club my father was a member of. The fact that Model Railroader Magazine had contacted him and wanted to visit and do an article on the layout. Dad kept putting them off saying that the scenery of the layout was not quite finished in the way he wanted it to be,
But then the home with the big layout in the basement was sold when we moved to New York City. My father had an important new position in communications but I knew he missed creating his railroad empire. He had been a decorated hero in the Army Air Corp. Years in private business after his brilliant military career had little motivation for him. There was nothing more for him to prove in life it seemed. At least to others. He turned inward (and backwards in his own life, it seems to me). It was at this time, he turned more to his hobbies and pastimes such as model railroading and golf.
These model railroaders. Creators of their own worlds, apart from the real world. Never any interest in the big names of science in psychology, sociology, Jungian symbolism. There has always seemed so much more aspects of the psyche involved in these diorama muse periods like I experienced. More than anything, it was bringing up images from the past and the scenery for that layout my father and I were building. That we were never allowed to complete. Maybe these old ghost muses (one might call them) whirl about in life landing in one’s life at certain times. Streams of images and memories. Of something not completed in the past.
Here, based mainly on psychological, inner ideas and thoughts, rather outer sociological ideas about life.
The dream that my father and I envisioned together during those nights in the basement of our home in the midwest was a dream that was started to be realized but never was. The structure for it had been built with a two track oval of HO track. But we moved before the scenery and any sof our visions for it came to life
I wondered. Had these ideas perhaps come back into my life during this diorama-making period in my life. Defined after it as a return to photography and writing. And flying drones.
Had the ideas about the full layout that was never created somehow stuck around (maybe in the Cloud?). It had not gone away for sure. Maybe it got unstuck and inspired this period in my life from January to September 2018.
The video shows these nine months pretty much in the chronological order the dioramas were made.
(Music / Breakout from Swing Out Sister)
4 thoughts on “The Diorama Muse”
Interesting piece, John. Like reading a chapter in a memoir.
It is a chapter in a memoir.
What a blessing you and your father had together – sounds like bff to me.
Loved your dioarama period – humor, dark humor, whimsical, says a lot below the surface of growing up in the baby boomer years. It went so fast. I’ll have to watch again and be ready to take screen shots – especially the can of peas 🙂
Thanks, John – you have a wonderful mind.
A very interesting and thought provoking article John. I loved the reference to model railroading’s history, especially to your dad, and also to John Allen, whom I’ve admired for years as well. The arrival of Model Railroader Magazine was a monthly event, and always inspired many new project thoughts. Sadly, those times, those simpler times are gone. They’ve been replace with something different, both filled with a lot more information, but also a lot less enjoyment and creative individuality. I pray the ‘Diorama Muse’ is just taking a much deserve break, and will be back soon.