This spring I was contacted from folks in Kansas who are raising funds to create an inclusive play park. It's meant to be a place for kids with all different abilities, to play together at the site where my sons went to school. Would I be interested to donate a painting?
Of course my answer was yes. My own younger son, who has multiple developmental challenges was so well served at Slate Creek Elementary. I have only positive memories of how he and we were given so much love and care on our journey together. Especially as parents with no experience raising a child with unknown challenges or destinations ahead, the help we received was priceless.
Being in a culture of acceptance and love for kids with ability challenges was life changing for us, and we could see how that ethic spilled over into the lives of all the kids in the school -- the tenderness they showed. That's what it takes doesn't it -- we all need role models for how to live in love, for ourselves and others.
So as a transplanted Scot, what to paint for my friends in Kansas? Looking through old ideas from my hometown of Newton, I came across a caboose photo that I'd always thought worthy. It's sitting on the 'siding' (the tracks where cars are parked when not in direct use) just near the iconic grain mill elevators that define the shape of so many Kansas towns.
When I mentioned the idea of a caboose to some friends here in Scotland I realised that word doesn't have much resonance here. Growing up in a train town like Newton, the little red caboose trailing on the end of the long freight trains was a cheery site -- the end of our crossing wait was near! They also carried a mystique that's harder to define -- the place where rail crews worked from on their long journeys across the vast prairie.
Well, now cabooses are essentially ghosts from the past (and mine as well). There are so many tales I could tell about the smell of the railroad ties, hanging about on trestles with my cousin, chucking fireworks into the creek below, and the sound of the freight train in my bedroom window drifting across a summer night.
As an artist I always found inspiration in the train yards, Newton's remarkable depot and the people who frequented there. In the era of train travel, the Newton depot was a stop for Hollywood stars as well as folks from all walks of life. Ghosts of the past, including a homeless man I met who jumped trains to escape the haunting past of his own fractured family. I met him while out looking for a painting idea. We talked awhile and I paid for a room and meal for his night.
From my reading I discovered that number 782, a 'Ce-11' model, is one of the last batch 75 of cabooses ever built for 'the Santa Fe'. Maybe we live in a world that's ever hasty to cast off what it deems not profitable for its purposes; people, old buildings and things? But I realise there's so much treasure we can find when we slow down to appreciate and really notice what might have otherwise been forgotten.
All proceeds of prints and the auction of this painting will be for the inclusive play park available through All Together Now (Newton Foundation): https://www.facebook.com/AllTogetherNewton