En Train Air - plein air painting trip
Jason Sacran, “The Five O’Clock,” 30 x 40 in. Private collection.

This spring, six accomplished representational artists ride a legendary train line, stopping for a day at each of six locations along the route. They paint for a day, re-board the train, and move on.

Staying at small-town motels some nights and beautifully-restored historic hotels on others, the artists finish their campaign with three public events. They stop in Santa Fe for a one-night pop-up show at a respected gallery. The six then ride the rails west to a fabled railway hotel in Winslow, Arizona, where they oversee a public painting event. Finally, after an overnight ride to the Pacific and train trek up the coast, the journey, the artists, and their work are featured at the Plein Air Convention & Expo in San Francisco.

En Train Air - plein air painting trip
Santa Fe Railway, “Super Chief” train

The rail line they’re riding is itself historic — and imperiled. This is the route of the legendary Super Chief, paralleling the Santa Fe Trail and Route 66, threatened with discontinuance by Amtrak management, which sees a clouded future for long-distance trains. Remarkably, in this era of hyper-partisanship, the Congressional delegations of these affected communities have banded together, working to try to save the Chief, the only public transportation link for many of these towns.

En Train Air - plein air painting trip
Amtrak, “Southwest Chief” in western New Mexico

Engaging in the great tradition of field painting — a tradition that stretches back to Thomas Moran and the painters of the West (who themselves traveled to the opening frontier by rail), through the Impressionists, and back further to the Renaissance — these artists capture the essence of these small communities, struggling perhaps, but tied together by the rails.

The project is called En Train Air, the title a play on “En Plein Air,” the French term for outdoor painting.

En Train Air - plein air painting trip
Charlie Hunter, “Lamy Station,” February 2010, Lamy, New Mexico, 9 x 14.5 in. Private collection. Painted en plein air at the Lamy train station, looking westward. The temperature was in the mid-30s. Lamy is the Amtrak stop for Santa Fe. Sign up for news about Charlie Hunter’s upcoming art video workshop here!
En Train Air - plein air painting trip
Charlie Hunter, “Santa Fe Southern,” April 2010, 20 x 20 in. Private collection. Studio painting from field study. This is one of the Santa Fe Southern’s two locomotives (the functioning one), in the Santa Fe railyards.
En Train Air - plein air painting trip
Shelby Keefe, “Other Side of the Tracks,” 28 x 22 in. Private collection. Studio.

Story submitted by Charlie Hunter. You can read more about the trip and the artists at:

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  1. I enjoyed the Plein Air Podcast episode about this adventure. I was so impressed with the concept behind this trip; this would be so fun to do. There are so many different ideas for Plein Air trips and adventures here in the US!
    I am more of a studio still life painter and college art teacher these days but when I was a young beginning art student, 3-4 of us fledgling painters would go out to paint on a regular basis. We didn’t call it plein air back then…we didn’t know what that was. We didn’t know about plein air easels, what to bring, how to manage the materials or any of that back then. We only knew we wanted to do what the Impressionists did. I miss those days.


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