Regardless of how busy I am, I always attend the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, NY. One of the most well attended of their shows along with their Orchid Show and special summer exhibits, The Holiday Train Show holds lustrous wonders. And whenever possible before the start of the show, I enjoy speaking with Applied Imagination personnel. For they have conceptualized, designed and created the innovations for the NYBG Holiday Train Show since its inception.
Now in its 27th year the show’s expansion continues. Indeed, more trains have been added. Also, the materials used to perk up the displays appear fresh and more vibrantly colorful than ever.
The introductory film, referencing Applied Imagination Studio workshops in Alexandra, Kentucky, discloses a behind the scenes look. From Alexandria, the miniature botanical sculptures rise from their humble plant-part beginnings.
In addition to showing the workshops at Applied Imagination Studio, staff and the team of the NYBG (for example Karen Daubmann, Todd Forrest) and for Applied Imagination (Leslie Salka and Laura Busse Dolan) explain which replicas are their favorites. Indeed, each year Applied Imagination adds excitement and grandeur to their New York collection. This year the newest replicas shine in the reflecting pool of the Palms of the World Gallery.
The best way to see The Holiday Train Show is to visit a few times. One time, visit with family. Especially bring children who will adore the variety of trains from trolleys, to passenger liners, to freights, locomotives and diesels. And come on Member Day. Then you will receive a 20% discount in the Garden Shop to spend on gifts.
Also, meander through the conservatory taking your time, if there aren’t crowds. Appreciate the intricate detail of each replica. Compare the plant parts to architectural structures, like roofs, cornices, columns, bricks, slate, stone and more. Try to identify what plants are used. Look for the moss, the leaves, the shelf fungus and the gourds. Look for the seed pods and acorns.
On the New York Public Library, the lions faces are carved from pods. Look for the berries used for color on Poe Cottage. You will perhaps take in only 1/100 of the detail present. And then you will probably forget it by the time you visit the show next year. Why? The various replicas will be arranged in completely different displays. And there will be new innovations and new replicas with their maverick conceptualizations. If there is one thing about the Museum quality spectacles with the NYBG exhibits, they are always unique with tremendous variety. It is almost impossible to keep track unless you have photos or maps of the display changes each year.
Applied Imagination craftspersons design the replicas to miniature scale and they, like engineers attempt to get the proportions correct. That takes consummate drafting skills. Constructing with precision, they follow archived historic photographs. What most amazes me is their assiduous attention to biological forms, for example how a banana shaped gourd might follow the shape of an elephant tusk. Or how the breadth of shelf fungus would simulated a roof. Truly, through years of experience, they have mastered the art of replica-making and have brought us to the edge of heaven by using plants which you would never imagine could entertain and delight in the way they use them.
Only when I move slowly do I appreciate the botanical replicas of buildings that once sat in high esteem during New York’s Gilded Age. These buildings so expensive to maintain, owners demolished (Senator William Andrews Clark House). This made way for modern apartment buildings to house the growing uban population.
In the case of The Samuel J. Tilden House (The National Arts Club), The Morris-Jumel Mansion and The Felix M. Warburg House (The Jewish Museum), un-affordable grand mansions became museums, funded by non profit organizations. By profoundly, carefully viewing the structures in the Holiday Train Show, you take a stroll back into the history of New York. And what an amazing and precious stroll this is, for it inspires your imagination to reflect about the past. And this reflection grounds you front and center in the present.
Applied Imagination and the NYBG team collaborate for months beforehand. After they agree on the innovations and drawings and their placement in the conservatory, then begins the next phase. They construct the replicas from botanicals (sticks, fungus, moss, leaves, gourds, bark, acorns, nut shells, pepper flakes, etc.). Some of these plant parts come from around the fields of Alexandria, Kentucky. Other bits and pieces (various gourd parts, etc.), come from suppliers.
After the construction Applied Imagination ships the replicas to the NYBG. Then additional fun begins. Within the span of two weeks, volunteers and staff set the stored and new models in beautiful plantings. Indeed, the arrangements accommodate permanent conservatory trees, etc. And a variety of completely new floral plantings (orchids, violets, bromeliads, cyclamen, Christmas Cactus, lilies, etc.), and various ferns, bamboo, ivy, pothos, dracena, Norfolk Island Pines and other shrubs and greenery volunteers and staff position to complement the 25 gauge model trains sweeping down 1/2 miles of railroad track.
Quaintly, the trains peek out from low hanging branches and water displays. Then they emerge and whip around the tracks like racers. In the 3000 foot expansion a myriad number and type of trains fly above on trestles and bridges.
Locomotives, freights, trolleys and passenger liners whoosh around The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory replica. And they bustle through replicas that include Grand Central Station and historic Pennsylvania Station (demolished 1964). What a fantasy wonderland! It is an unparalleled treasure for New Yorkers, Manhattanites and tourists who come to the city for the holidays.
As the piece de resistance this year, the Holiday Train Show presents the birthplace of New York City, Lower Manhattan as its star attraction. Of course the central feature is One World Trade Center. Branches form the sides of the building and the emphasis is on freedom and a resurrection from the destruction in 2001. Also in the Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool, you will find the replica of the Beaux-Arts Battery Maritime Building. Gliding in stasis on the pool surface are two vintage ferry boat replicas (Bronx and Manhattan).
Other buildings include the Battery Park Control House, the 60-story Woolworth Building, the Terminal Warehouse (1890), and the crown jewel replica, One World Trade Center. One World Trade remains the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth-tallest building in the world. Additionally, the unique Oculus replica is placed at the foot of One World Trade Center. The Oculus that opened in 2016 connects 11 lines of NYC’s subways, New Jersey’s PATH rail system and the Battery Park City Ferry Terminal.
For specific programming, go to the New York Botanical Garden website. To sum up look for Bar Car Nights on select Fridays and Saturdays (December 15, 21, 22, 28, 29; January 5, 12). Warm up around the fire pits in the Leon Levy Visitor Center. Indeed, for the artist in you, watch live ice-sculpting demonstrations. Or sing along with dueling pianos in the Pine Tree Cafe and listen to roving a cappella groups.
Finally, enjoy former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins for a special poetry reading. Collins will select 12 winning poems by students submitted to the Kid’s Poetry Contest. The poems will be displayed at NYBG during the Holiday Train Show. And the student authors will share their work during this special reading on Sunday, December 16, at 2 p.m. For more information about how to enter the Kids’ Poetry Contest visit http://www.nybg.org/poets
The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show 2018 ends on 21 January.