Three times a month an art gallery literally rolls into town by train.
Aboard Via Rail’s Jasper-Prince Rupert train, also known as the Rupert Rocket, passengers are invited to create works of art out of garbage bags.
“It started by accident one day when the train was very late and the people were about to mutiny that they were about to miss their rafting trip in Jasper,” said the man behind Rupert Rocket Art, Bruce Brown. “I created a diversion to kill time and not having much supplies I had the garbage bags and the free crayons we give to kids and gave them out to everybody. We brought them out into another lounge and put it all up on the wall and then we had a little vernissage, wine and cheese.”
Brown is the service manager on the Rupert Rocket, a choice position he’s worked himself into after being with Via Rail since 1981.
The Bullet Lounge, where the original make-shift art show took place approximately 14 years ago, has become a permanent gallery.
“I thought it was a one-off but the same tour leader came on a month later. She said, ‘Oh, Bruce, I got my people all excited to do this art program.’ I said, ‘This is a one-off, we don’t do it all the time’,” he replied. But she begged until he agreed.
The art program developed from there. Using the paper garbage bags found behind each seat, passengers are invited to visit the Bullet Lounge to use the art supplies and let their creativity flow. “Passengers come and draw and write poetry and get creative with the bags and also with the cardboard trains that we have,” Brown said.
With a bit of humour, he calls it garbage bag art, yet some of the work is anything but. Brown said some pieces were too good to be recycled back into the original purpose. To preserve the art created on the Rupert Rocket, Brown takes photos and has printed a book of the greatest hits.
One of works of art he’s cherished is by Prince Rupert artist, Brenna Boucher, although her work was done on a laptop. The graphic designer and realist painter was on a dream vacation celebrating her 10-year-anniversary with her husband, Joe. The couple wanted to take trains across Canada, and on the first leg they met Brown.
“It’s the prettiest part of the trip,” Boucher said.
She was working on her own art project when she embarked on the journey.
“I thought it would be really fun to make travel posters for places I’ve been and places that I know, especially places along the train,” she said.
Boucher designed a poster of the Rupert Rocket along the Skeena route, with geometric mountains jutting up to the sky behind the train.
“When I got back to Prince Rupert I showed Bruce some of the photos I did and he was so enthusiastic he said, ‘I’m going to get that on a jacket’,” she said. The poster is mounted to a wall in the train for all to see. Brown also had the design stitched onto a jacket, which he gave to Boucher as a gift.
One of a kind is how another Prince Rupert artist, Rachel Ernst, describes Brown. She rides the train to Terrace for safety reasons, and while aboard Brown encourages her to draw. In January, the back window of the Bullet Lounge was coloured with Ernst’s art.
“I think it’s cool it can ride around for a short time until someone else comes along,” Ernst said.
The art train started with three crayons, and then the collection grew with charcoal, pastels, paints, pencil crayons to window crayons — all supplied by Brown. Even when delayed, a trip on the Rupert Rocket is never dull if you have the creative spirit and Brown aboard to encourage the inner artist.
“He just has a heart of gold, you would know if you met him, you would know,” Ernst said.