By Jo Watts
The production of visual art can be a long, long process. First, the artist has to have the inspiration and idea. Then, whether his vision be a painting, a mosaic, sculpture or another form of art, the engineer in him must then kick in. There are decisions to be made: the composition, the materials, the size, the colors and a number of other factors. He needs to know how to use his materials and his tools. It can take years of training, education, and most of all, experience, to reach the point in his or her career when an artist can actually accomplish what he has dreamed. And, make no mistake, every work of art begins with a dream.
Jeff Snyder is first of all an artist, but in order to make his most recent dream a reality, he had to wear many hats. The metallurgist part of him spent years learning about metals; part of the plan for the sculpture was to have the different metals develop their natural patinas as they weather over time, so he had to know about their colors and how they wear and change outdoors. There is this thing called composition and balance of sizes, colors, shapes and textures. In order to construct the tallest sculpture in Bastrop County and know that it wasn’t going to fall apart and crush vehicles on the highway, he had call on his “engineer gene.” He spent hours perfecting his welding skills; it takes more than Gorilla Glue to attach hundreds of pounds of metals together and know that they’ll stick. He also had to a bit of a weight lifter, because some of those pieces of metal weigh – lots.
And so, after more than two years in the making and waiting, Jeff’s sculpture has been installed on Highway 71 beside the entrance to Riverbend Park in Smithville. There will eventually be some railroad ties surrounding it – appropriate as this is a giant locomotive pointed at the sky.
Anyone can read anything into a work of art and I can’t tell you exactly what the artist had in mind or what each individual should see in a piece, but I can tell you what Jeff’s train says to me.
Firstly, it’s a tribute to Smithville’s history as a railroad hub – a busy, thriving town 75 years ago thanks to the railroad yards and the men who worked there. The sculpture is stylized and pointed at the heavens (a reference to “no tracks leading to the moon” is made in the upcoming melodrama, “Balderdash” at Playhouse Smithville. All in good fun, of course). I see that as something like Phoenix rising, hope for the future, moving forward and upward. Smithville hasn’t grown or thrived lately, but we’re not dead, either.
The hopes and plans for the cultural district designation, spearheaded by April Daniels, Jill Strube and the Lost Pines Artisans’ Alliance will contribute to positive growth. Public art, often backed by Richard Latham, already enriches our town. The motion picture industry loves us because we are a quiet and picturesque town with people who appreciate what we have here. We don’t wish to live in a hustling bustling metropolis (the choice to move to Houston or Austin is always there), but we do want our citizens to have what they need to live comfortable, rich lives. We want our children to be proud to say they are from Smithville, Texas, a town with a heart. Art is a big part of that.
Last weekend, members of the Bastrop fine Arts Guild and the Lost Pines Artisans’ Alliance came together at Riverbend Park to thank and praise Jeff for the beautiful tribute and gift to Smithville, past and future. Thank you, Jeff, we love our newest train!