ROCKHILL FURNACE, Pa. – Nationally known railroad artist J. Craig Thorpe (jcraigthorpe.com) will appear at the East Broad Top Railroad and Rockhill Trolley Museum on Saturday, May 6, to speak about his new autobiography and to sign books and art posters.
His newly released 194-page book, Railroad, Art, and American Life (Indiana University Press, 2023), describes his 30-year career as an illustrator and painter. In it, he describes how he paints subjects of the past for nostalgia, the present for documentation, and the future for projecting rail-based possibilities for enhancing transportation and community life.
Thorpe will display artwork and sign books and posters on the EBT station platform throughout the day, and will present a free program at the trolley museum pavilion at 2 p.m. Some of his East Broad Top artwork, and stories of his early involvement with EBT and the museum, appear in the book.
He will also discuss “Back at Work,” his recently completed painting (oil on canvas, 16 x 24 inches), showing EBT steam engine No. 16 and the M-1 gas-electric car near the Rockhill Furnace coal dock. The painting was commissioned by rail and electric-railway historian Robert Alkire of Rockford, Ill., who donated it to the EBT Foundation, Inc. Sales of prints of the painting scene will benefit the Foundation. Alkire will accompany Thorpe during his visit to Rockhill, one of nine stops on the book tour, which began at Chicago Union Station and continues through Pennsylvania and Maryland at railroad museums, tourist railroads, and railroad historical societies.
Thorpe is a native of Pittsburgh’s South Hills. When he was a child, his grandfather often took him to ride Pittsburgh Railways “PCC” streetcars, as well as the Baltimore & Ohio’s Rail Diesel Cars between Pittsburgh and McKeesport. These experiences imprinted on him the value of what he calls “ethical transportation choices” that are both friendly to the environment and contribute to the values of a civil society.
In the early 1960s, he and his parents often visited EBT and became well acquainted with former Operating Vice President C. Roy Wilburn, General Manager Stanley Hall, and Conductor (and original EBT employee) Steve Painter. Thorpe produced drawings, sketches, and maps for both EBT and the trolley museum, and redesigned the railroad’s brochure in 1969-1970. In addition, he sometimes served as an on-board announcer, detailing the line’s history for passengers.
In 1970 he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in design, and continued to use artwork to illustrate railroad and transit projects. After working for architects, he relocated to Seattle and began doing architectural renderings. A commission to portray a proposed train station for Olympia, Wash., caught the attention of Amtrak, which featured the painting on its 1993 national calendar.
Since then, his portfolio has centered almost exclusively on railroad subjects. These include not only historic themes and present-day scenes, but also concept portrayals of future trains, services, and facilities for agencies, state DOTs, and railroad museums. Corporate and private-commission work includes images produced for Amtrak; BNSF Railway; GE Transportation Systems; Union Tank Car Co.; Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad; Grand Canyon Railway; White Pass & Yukon Route; East Broad Top; Pennsylvania Trolley Museum of Washington, Pa.; Railroaders Memorial Museum of Altoona, Pa.; Northern Central Railway of York; and many other commuter, transit, excursion, and museum operations. This work has appeared on calendars, posters, reports, book covers, and commemorative items.
Thorpe and his wife Cathy live in Bellevue, Wash. They have three adult children and two grandchildren.<