RAILWAY NOVEL: Visual Art and the Iron Road

Fri, Jan 30th, 2015 10:38:57 am

          The picture-book version of Gordon Lightfoot's CANADIAN RAILROAD TRILOGY contains stunning work by noted Canadian artist Ian Wallace.
          His paintings dominate the book as each of the 24 double-page spreads use just one line from the song.
          The art respects the natural landscape and the people most affected by the railway, the First Nations.  Wallace also pays tribute to railway workers (including the Chinese).
          This is an important book because earlier histories focused on the politicians and financiers of the railway, and used it to celebrate man's "triumph" over a forbidding geography.
          Wallace presents many images of the First Nations, including Salish wood carvings, Woodlands dwellings, prairie teepees, beadwork, and many aboriginal people. It clearly shows that Canada occupies land that belonged to the Native peoples.
         In his Illustrator's Notes, Wallace notes that the railroad's arrival led to "the decimatiopn of a people and a culture."
          As for railway workers, Wallace honors them too. They are drawn large (compared to the puny missionaries). They are strong and sturdy. Panel 9 portrays the men in earth colors; in Panel 13, the men's overalls are the color of the sky. The workers are all human: they need companions, they drink, they sing, and they sleep and dream.
         Wallace presents vistas of Canada's mountains, waterfalls, forests, and muskeg. One irony is this: the train is one means by which humans reach the wilderness, but it is also humans who are most destructive of those natural habitats.
          Ian Wallace's paintings appear here courtesy of the publisher House of Anansi Press/Groundwood Books.(www.groundwoodbooks.com)

This impression of a railway spike, actual size, is pressed into the front cover of Gordon Lightfoot's CANADIAN RAILROAD TRILOGY. The book was designed by Michael Solomon
Panel 9: Workers lay down wooden ties using iron spikes. Left, a First Nations worker wears a glove with beads of Aboriginal design.
Thousands of navvies worked on the railroad.
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