One of the benefits of the winter season in the Northeast is that it looks and feels appropriate to celebrate all things related to holiday celebrations: decorated Christmas trees, seasonal concerts, tree lightings, choraling, feasts, hot apple cider, and yummy desserts like pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie. Likewise, The NYBG Holiday Train Show is one of those lovely traditions that New Yorkers and tourists take advantage of. This year’s 23rd Annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx opens on Saturday, November 15th, and runs through Sunday, January 19th, 2015. I had the opportunity to take a sneak peak at the beautiful displays Monday, November 10th. Present for questions were Paul Busse and some of his team at Applied Imagination who designed, crafted and assembled the show before they left that evening to other assignments around the country. I also spoke to the Director of Exhibitions and Seasonal Displays the NYBG, Karen Daubmann.
Paul Busse has enjoyed working on this splendid event since its inception. In my brief discussion with him, he commented that the show speaks to the heart of “kids of all ages” in its joyful fun and ingeniously crafted replicas of New York landmarks. There are over 150 replicas. One of the exhibits in the Artist’s Studio is a presentation of the step-by-step process of how the Applied Imagination Team puts the buildings together (i.e. everything from the old Pennsylvania Station, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Hudson River mansions like Olanna, Edgar Allan Poe’s House, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Yankee Stadium and many more). Each is crafted of natural materials such as bark, twigs, stems, fruits, seeds, and pine cones and coated with resin so they are maintained.
Amidst these amazing miniatures of natural grace are waterways, living plants, and gorgeous flowers in a fresh, vibrant, and colorful terrain that makes one feel this is the way that people should live, surrounded by the finest of gardens. To top it off there is movement and the sound of wheels and bells and horns and puffing smoke chugging. It’s the trains! Everyone loves the trains. There are over 20 large-scale model railway trains and trolleys-American steam engines and streetcars from the late 1800s to modern freight and high-speed passenger trains. These blaze along a quarter-mile of track across high bridges (is that the Brooklyn Bridge or the Queensboro Bridge we are seeing), overhead trestles, through archways, tunnels, and overhanging forested foliage, past plunging waterfalls and bubbling streams. They traverse magical landscapes that are breathtaking and filled with botanical wonder. If you see the show at night, which I did two years ago, you are in a fantastical garden of twinkling lights and surreal beauty. It is this combination of mystery and seductive delight that recalls the finest memories of the wonders of childhood belief that anything is possible.
In my discussion with Karen Daubman, the director of exhibits mentioned that the designers and creators enjoy bringing in a few different buildings each year as they make sure to rearrange the exhibit, changing the order of the buildings and the nature of the train displays. She said, “This year, we are focusing on the World’s Fair. It is a commeration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 New York World’s Fair.” In the Artist’s Studio they’ve included the well known replicas of The Unisphere and the Observatory Towers to name a few of the World’s Fair replicas you will see. Karen discussed how the kids love the trains and they, “literally lay on the floor and watch Thomas go round and round.” (Karen is referring to All Aboard with Thomas & Friends™ in January 3-25 on select dates) Thomas and Driver Sam move on a sing-along, mini-performance adventure and kids can help them decorate the station in time for the surprise party before the guest of honor arrives.
The NYBG is especially active in the holiday season. Visitors can enjoy Evergreen Express in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garedn, classical concerts; and in January a new performance of Thomas & Friends™ . Of course, the popular Bar Car Nights return on select Fridays and Saturdays in November, December, and January.
There is also a poetry reading. I asked Karen about Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, some of whose poems are on large placards on the walkway to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory where the train show is held. For the second year Billy Collins will be presenting a special reading of his works, some of which are train-themed poems. Others are beloved winter poetry selections to celebrate the season. This special event with Billy Collins will be held on Saturday, December 13, at 2 p.m.
How did you elicit Billy Collins for this event?
We’ve been working with the Poetry Society of America for a couple of years now and they really help us find poets and connect us with poets and we’re really thankful for them. We worked with Billy Collins last year and we had such a good time that we decided to ask him again and his poems are just perfect for this exhibition. And he gets really excited about it too.
He teaches at Lehman College and Stony Brook, so perhaps he’ll encourage his students to come and that will be fun.
I hope so. You saw the poetry boards? They’re big easels out on the landscape around where people will be traveling for the holidays.* So you really can’t help but stop and stare and read the poems. They are in large format and there are audio tours so you can call in on your cell phones and listen to Billy Collins speak about his poems to give it a really nice touch. We did an Emily Dickinson show years ago, and that’s when we started introducing poetry into the gardens. We found that people stop and read the poems. It’s almost like having an exclamation mark in the gardens as visitors pause to read and reflect.
Great idea because the poems have been selected to create an atmosphere and infuse feelings with the ambiance you are creating.
When you call in and listen to someone from the Poetry Society of America explaining the poems or Billy Collins talking about the poems himself it adds a whole other layer. You know, sometimes poetry frightens people a little bit, or they’re like ‘well, I hated poetry or I didn’t do well in poetry in school and when you hear someone explain it to you it sort of makes sense.
Those walls break down. (Yes, absolutely) How many people do you expect for the train show…is it one of your biggest shows?
It is one of the biggest shows. It will probably be close to 300,000. It’s a long run. It opens this Saturday which is November 15th and goes up to Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, closing on Sunday, January 19, 2015.
*If you stroll through the Leon Levy Visitor Center and along Perennial Garden Way, you will be able to read Billy Collins poems and for an explanation, use your cell phone; it’s part of the Poetry for Every Season: Holiday Poetry Walk.
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