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Sesquicentennial commission unveils colorful trains paying homage to city's past

Jonathan Roberts • Sep 29, 2019 at 7:45 AM

Were it not for trains and railroad companies, Johnson City likely wouldn’t exist today — at least not in the way residents have come to love and enjoy.

So with the inaugural Art Struck Festival as the backdrop, the Johnson City Sesquicentennial Commission didn’t have to think too hard on how they’d pay homage to the city’s 150th birthday — they were going to commission artists to paint fiberglass trains.

“Johnson City is rich in history, arts and culture, and it’s so important for us to highlight local artists particularly and try and engage the community in our area,” said Sesquicentennial Commissioner Joy Fulkerson. “This project does that.”

Eight artists had their work on display, and one of them — Marty Henley — put a unique spin on his art, adding Al Capone as the conductor, while incorporating Johnson City landmarks and, of course, the Blue Plum Festival.

“It’s fantastic,” Henley said of having his work displayed. “I grew up in and around Johnson City and there wasn’t a lot of artwork around downtown, and to see the local arts scene kind of bloom and flourish is just fantastic.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this, and hopefully these trains will inspire more young people to get into art,” Henley said.

Another artist, Virginia Salazar Buda, created her train with the help of her family. Her 11-year-old daughter, London, came up with the idea to celebrate the “little engine that could,” which was transformed into a working design by her mother, and painted into reality by her partner, Ian Butler.

“I asked my kids what I should do with this train, and they both came up with some incredible ideas,” Salazar Bude said before her 13-year-old son, Miles Buda, joked that she rejected his idea. But despite a possible sibling rivalry, all were happy to see something they collaborated on be put on display for everyone to see.

“I think it’s an honor to be here, and a privilege,” Salazar Buda said. “To have something that begins during Johnson City’s anniversary is a privilege and honor.”

During a speech at the unveiling of the trains in Founders Park, Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said the festival was “wonderful” for the city, and thanked the commission for their work not just with the trains, but with all the celebrations they’ve hosted throughout the year.

Speaking to the Press earlier this week, Fulkerson said the trains are “intended to foster an appreciation of our city’s history, as well as the city’s strong art community.”

At the festival’s conclusion, the trains will be placed in the windows of the former JC Penney building at 309 E. Main Street in the coming weeks, and will then move to the Johnson City Public Library until spring, when they’ll be moved back to downtown locations downtown.

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