Train Station

View from the middle of a train station looking down three different corridors. Scenes orf people of all age, race, and gender are seen with luggage, animals; boarding and walking.

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  • View from the middle of a train station looking down three different corridors. Scenes orf people of all age, race, and gender are seen with luggage, animals; boarding and walking.

Date:

1935

Artist:

Walter Ellison
American, 1899–1977

About this artwork

Like that of many African Americans, Walter Ellison’s life was shaped by the Great Migration, the massive movement of blacks from the rural South to the urban North after World War I. Originally from Eatonton, Georgia, he moved to Chicago in the 1920s; in the following decade, he attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was employed by the Illinois Art Project of the Works Progress Administration.

Many African American writers and artists, including Richard Wright and Jacob Lawrence, used trains as powerful metaphors. On one hand, they can symbolize movement, the future, and hope for prosperity. On the other, they can signify displacement, dispossession, and loss. Ellison’s Train Station depicts an energetic scene in which many travelers depart from a central terminal. The composition reflects how values in the 1930s prevented blacks and whites from mixing. Each of the painting’s three sections reveals the artist’s perceptions of the injustices associated with inequitable social conditions. On the left, white passengers board southbound trains for vacations, while, on the right, black passengers board northbound trains for destinations such as Chicago and Detroit, hopeful of being welcomed in cities where they can prosper. A sign above a doorway on the platform identifying the colored-only exit further underscores the dehumanizing conditions that African Americans had to endure at this time. In the center section, black porters help white passengers, but black travelers proceed unassisted.

The sharply exaggerated perspective creates a space that appears physically inaccessible, perhaps symbolizing remote destinations and unimaginable conditions at the end of the journey. By placing his initials on the suitcase that an old man in the right foreground tries to lift, Ellison inscribed his own experiences of racism and economic struggle into the work, creating an autobiographical account of his personal migration north.

On View

American Art, Gallery 263

Artist

Walter Ellison

Title

Train Station

Origin

United States

Date

1930–1940

Medium

Oil on cardboard

Inscriptions

Signed lower right: Walter W. Ellison Signed lower right (vertically on suitcase): W W E

Dimensions

20 × 36 cm (8 × 14 in.)

Credit Line

Charles M. Kurtz Charitable Trust and Barbara Neff Smith and Solomon Byron Smith funds; through prior gifts of Florence Jane Adams, Mr. and Mrs. Carter H. Harrison, and the estate of Celia Schmidt

Reference Number

1990.134

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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