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.
Once a year The New York Botanical Garden gets dressed up in the reds, greens, whites, sparkles, golds and silvers that echo all that is bright for the wintry weather and coming cold and snow. Though some dislike all the fuss of the holidays, I enjoy it, because I visit family and friends. Thankfully, I don’t have a tree and pets to wreck it.
I help decorate my family’s trees and enjoy the celebration of present giving especially with my young nephews and nieces. For folks like me who tangentially celebrate with friends and family, but don’t do a lot of decorating at home, the New York Botanical Garden is the place to go to feel festive. And what makes the Garden especially celebratory during the holidays is their annual train show.
Each year various innovations are made. Displays change. Sometimes, I find I lose whole areas of New York City replicas (Coney Island, Central Park, Museum Row,) that normally are featured together. When I don’t see them, I wonder if they have been saved and stored for next year. But then I find them again in a different section of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory than they were the previous year. Indeed, there appears to be an infinite variety of placements of the over 175 replicas that compromise the permanent Holiday Train Show collection that collaborators Applied Imagination and NYBG create for one of the most well attended events the Garden offers.
Thousands of first-time tourists, visitors and members attend each year, participating in Bar Car Nights, the Holiday Tree and Minorah Lighting Ceremony, the Annual Bird Count and much more. However, the central themes of winter reside in trains as a throwback of the past. Ironically, they are the most mechanized feature of the train show along with the colorful lights interspersed throughout. For Founder Paul Busse eschewed using the plastic villages that came with model trains. When he decided to make his architectural “villages” of organic plant parts to husband the environment and throw down the “fake,” it was a boon. For every model, ever bridge, every house, gate, feature he and later others on his staff designed, use as their building blocks plants: twigs, bark, acorns, gourds, fruits, seeds, leaves, ferns, fungus, moss, nuts, nut shells, plant fiber and much more.
Both Applied Imagination who creates the stupendous replicas of iconic New York City buildings and the New York Botanical Garden team work like Santa’s elves for two weeks. During that time they set up the more than 25 HG model trains that skip and breeze over 1/2 mile of track non-stop during the daytime when the Garden is open through 6 pm when it shuts down. Then the trains glide from 7-10:30 pm on select Bar Car Nights, their headlights glinting through the dark mystery of the Garden’s dense, exotic evening atmosphere.
What those who have been attending the show for a while and certainly the newcomers do not realize in this 27th year of the Holiday Train Show is its evolution. Each year buildings have been added to the collection. Paul Busse always strives to forge out and tackle the different and unique, so he and his creators in Applied Imagination’s Alexandria, Kentucky Studio plan ahead with conceptualizations. After decisions in collaboration with the NYBG team, then the drawings are finalized. Then the construction begins and all is completed around the time the Garden staff strikes down the fall exhibits in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the soil is regraded and plants chosen and prepared to feature the Holiday Train Show’s old and newly fabricated models.
The journey from start to finish is a prodigious one, but the Applied Imagination team headed up by owner Laura Busse Dolan are practiced artisans. Clearly, they enjoy giving children and adults pleasure which one can easily assess just walking from one end of the conservatory to the other listening to the kids screams (daytime exhibit) and seeing adults relaxed amble with drink in hand through sections of the conservatory during Bar Car Nights. Those nights or Member Days are a great time to reconnect with friends, lovers and partners while enjoying the splendors of the Garden’s wintertime loveliness.
The festive and popular Bar Car Nights on select Fridays and Saturdays from 7-10:30 pm, December 15, 21, 22, 28, 29, January 5, 12. for adults over 21. Have a bite to eat fro the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-up, There are fire pits in the Leon Levy Visitor enter. Watch live ice-sculpting demonstrations, sing along to favorite tunes with dueling pianos in the Pine Tree Cafe and listen to roving a cappella groups as they guide you through the Garden.
Join former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins for a special reading of poems on December 16 at 2 pm. New this year as part of the Kids’ Poetry Contest and in partnership with the Poetry Society of America, Collins will select 12 winning poems to be displayed at NYBG during the Holiday Train Show. And the student authors will share their work during the special reading.
For special programming during the Holiday Train Show 2018, go to the New York Botanical Garden website.
If you have not been to Bar Car Night of the NYBG Holiday Train Show, this weekend will be your last chance. The entire week, the cold has softened into the sunshine and snow melt. It would be a wonderful time to go with friends, partner, spouse, lover, blind date, seeing date or just yourself. Have a few drinks, saunter through the gorgeous conservatory and various galleries appreciating Applied Imagination’s love letter to New York and NYC and go home refreshed and ready for a new week.
The show’s main Palms of the World Gallery features the new exhibits of Mid Town Manhattan and the show is splendid with some of the seasonal decorations still hanging and lights twinkling. everywhere. One of the most popular of the NYBG shows, ‘Bar Car Nights’ is the time to leave the kids at home and enjoy the quiet, low surrounding conversations as you note the incredibly imagined replicas that pay homage to old world Victorian New York and the twentieth century.
The show advances our historical knowledge of many buildings and structures that have either been demolished or destroyed. Five bridges of New York (Brooklyn, Queensboro, Manhattan, Hells Gate and the George Washington sparkle their lights as trolleys and passenger cars slip quickly over the bridge trestles. One also notes various sections of Manhattan-Museum Row, NYPL,Central Park, Morris Jumel Mansion, Park Avenue Armory, Mid-town Manhattan-Empire State Building, East Side/West Side Row Houses; Brooklyn-Coney Island’ Queens-the TWA Flight Center, the Bronx-Poe Cottage, NYBG Haupt Conservatory, Yankee Stadium, Hudson River Valley mansions and more.
Whether you move slowly observing all of the sustainable, botanical wonder (stems, leaves, twigs, see pods, pine cones, acorn caps, cinnamon, etc.) that create finials, roof tops, gables, windows, decorative elements and stones, or just jet through taking in the overall sensual experience, you will feel wellness spark your soul. The creative energy, joy and love demonstrated by the details of the structures and placement among the NYBG’s finest living panoramas and water features will delight. It is worth it to take a trip for the evening magic and variety of visual and aural sights that will titillate, yet soothe your senses.
The show enjoying 26 years at the New York Botanical Garden has been engineered, created and lovingly collaborated to delight and enthrall by the team at Applied Imagination. Applied Imagination’s baton has passed from creator and founder Paul Busse to his daughter Laura Busse Dolan. She discussed her Dad’s evolving the show over the years. Laura Busse Dolan has fulfilled and maintained her Dad’s intention to create a world of New York grandeur in miniature. And around the fantastic replicas wholly created with sustainable plant parts and biodegradable materials, 25 gauge trains leap, choo-choo, slip smoothly.
The amazement of Bar Car Nights for me always becomes noting the differences of the daytime Holiday Train Show and the cold wintry evening in the shadowy NYGB. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a fountain of sunlight streaming brilliantly through the latticework and glass cheers. The delicacy of the replicas, the intricacy of their botanical components from magnolia seed pods to cinnamon sticks, bamboo, eucalyptus, acorn caps and more fascinate. How does the team innovate the use of a twig or bark for various buildings to simulate Senator William Clark’s guilded-age mansion? Clearly, their intimacy and knowledge and experience with materials and collaborative efforts prompt them to top themselves each year as they place the buildings among gorgeous flowering shrubs, orchids, palms and water displays.
The NYBG Holiday Train Show ends on 15 January. This is the last week and weekend of the show. You may check for tickets HERE. Bar Car Nights end on 13 of January, this Saturday. Pick up tickets by CLICKING HERE.
If you missed The Holiday Train Show select programming this year because you were out of town, the show will be presented annually and you should mark your calendar for special events that happen during the winter season inclusive of the Holiday Train Show. From music to dance, from movies to poetry readings, the New York Botanical Garden is a hive of activity for the entire family. If you are a New Yorker, you probably are apprised of this. If you are a global traveler, this is one of the places to be during the Christmas and Holiday season. If you can’t make it this year, check for the show around Thanksgiving in November of next year.
The Holiday Train Show is always a spectacular reaffirmation of what is beautiful, shining and creative in the human spirit. This year seems more so against a backdrop of tumultuous, grimy political scandals and redundant “breaking news” moments that jar the nerves and chill one’s core. I heartily appreciate an escape from the unsettling thesis of chaos to the antithesis of children’s screams of laughter and twinkling, colorful Holiday lights of assurance. The felt innocence is more lovely than the low details of worldly goings on. And I am uplifted to remember that throughout the labored struggles of men and women who strive to retain power, there is something more worthy and spiritual in the human soul that the season reminds us to seek and direct our attention to.
Thus, for me especially this year, and for the friends I visit with, The Holiday Train Show in the New York Botanical Garden is a sanctuary of refinement, a haven of peace. Amidst the lovingly arranged pageantry, the plantings strike poses between the stunning miniature replicas of New York’s icons, historical landmarks and stupendous structures of the gilded age, made into museums or torn down because they were too expensive to maintain.
As I note the complexity of the constructions from plant parts as tiny as a barely seed and as large as a gourd, and wander slowly in amazement at the specificity of creation, solace is delivered in cupfuls and happiness in bushels. I take picture after picture, trying to stir my memories about the location of the recreations in previous years.
If I take my time without rushing to the show finale, my memory serves me. The Poe house is situated more prominently this year on the opposite side of the central theatrical showcase. I am glad because I am writing a play about Poe and I feel akin to this replica. For example, I know that Poe’s wife Virginia Clemm died of tuberculous in Poe Cottage which is in Fordham in the Bronx a few miles from the Garden. The replica is modest, a no frills structure which is a miniature facsimile of the real Poe Cottage. The Poes were impoverished for all of their marriage a terrific irony considering just one of Poe’s short handwritten letters brought in almost $100,000 at auction a few years ago.
I see that the New York Public Library (Stephen A Schwartzman building) is up front and center as it should be. The Fifth Avenue Manhattan library with the stentorian lions is under renovation and receiving technological updates that will be completed by 2020. I note that the Coney Island display is prominent with the Elephantine Colossus, Wonder Wheel (now a film of the same name by Woody Allen about Coney Island and gangsters), The Steeple Chase, Luna Park, the Cyclone (with moving parts) and more. These structures backdropped with waterfall and reflecting pools are encircled by sauntering trains lazily enjoying their pace in the 360 degree central showcase of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Last year they were in the Palms of the World Gallery.
As I appreciate the Elephantine Colossus so carefully and brilliantly created out of variously shaped gourds and other plant pieces, I consider Leslie Salka’s (Director of Applied Imagination whose creations we love) comments about the construction of the replica of the Elephant shaped hotel. The unusual structure was an example of the period’s novelty architecture, designed by James V. Lafferty to bring in tourists. The seven-story building, which served as a hotel, concert hall and amusement bazaar, stood above Surf Avenue from 1885 to 1896 when it burned down. Leslie decided they should include the hotel in the Coney Island display in memoriam of Topsy the female elephant who was electrocuted in Coney Island’s Luna Park in 1903.
Topsy’s demise had been all but forgotten until someone noted a film had been made of her electrocution and clips of it were included in a Ric Burns documentary about Coney Island. After Burns’ film the subject of Topsy’s death has been featured in popular culture and media and has been the subject of poetry, fiction, songs and journalist Michael Daly’s book about her. Contrary to belief there is no purported direct association of Topsy’s death at Luna Park with Thomas Edison. Though Edison did electrocute animals 15 years earlier during the War of Currents when he was attempting to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current, he was not responsible for Topsy’s death. The Elephantine Colossus replica is gorgeous and the backstory of Topsy’s life and death, the preservation of the film clip, and her rise to celebrity is a notable piece of history found in The Holiday Train Show if you enjoy digging deeper.
What I particularly appreciate about The Holiday Train Show is that there is something for everyone young and ancient. Children see the trains and love to hear and watch them. Adults see the history, and depending upon their day and mood go deep or gloss over the displays. No one sees all of it during each visit. If you glean 20% of the entire production which pays homage to history, trains, New York, the five New York City boroughs and their landmarks interspersed fancifully throughout the Garden’s botanical kingdom, you will have walked away with a treasure.
The Show is overwhelming. So one may jaunt through it appreciating the overarching dazzling spectacle and briefly glance at the replicas, taking a few moments to identify the name of a particularly striking recreation. Or you may more closely observe, inspect and take a leisurely microscopic view of how each of the replicas was assembled ingeniously with twigs, varieties of flower and grain seeds, pine cones, stems, leaves, nut shells, acorn caps, pods, gourds, varieties of moss, mushrooms, flowers, herbs, spices and more.
And the trains? Use your phone video feature to capture the particularly cool passenger trains or trolleys flying over the Manhattan or Queensboro bridge high above your head. Most NYC bridges (five out of the nine) are featured. Or snap the cute novelty cars painted with butterflies or other insects trolling back and forth over the tracks. All of the trains are G-scale, whether ancient or modern, whether locomotives and freight cars or diesel engines, electrified passenger trains, trolleys and streetcars. There are over 25 full fledged train set ups clanging, whirling, zipping, steaming, chugging, purring and careening over 1/2 mile of track situated between rocks, over bridges and water features, through tree stump tunnels and under low hanging tree branches throughout the conservatory.
In the 3000 foot 360 degree display whose extension was added a few years ago, you’ll see a grand memorial to traindome. You’ll note various New York historical station replicas that are throwbacks to a time when travelers stayed at inns before they journeyed to relatives. These have since been torn down to make way for flat-looking, rectangular, unappealing buildings signifying what has been lost to progress. You will note Grand Central Station saved by Jacqueline Onassis and the magnificent station that developers couldn’t wait to get their grimy hands on, the Beaux Arts beauty, built in 1910, Pennsylvania Station. The Applied Imagination replica is a memorial to history, grand architectural effort that remains timeless though Penn Station itself was torn down in 1963. But there the miniature building stands for us to admire at The Holiday Train Show. Just consider that for a second or two.
The Palms of the World Gallery exhibit is the glorious conclusion that sends you out into the sterling night of stars if you go to Bar Car Nights (December 22, 23, 29, 30, January 6, 13) with a date, friends or are just slumming by yourself. Or if brushing by the palm fronds with goodbyes to Garden staff dressed as train engineers you slip from the tropical paradise into the bright, cold atmosphere and sunshine with a beaming smile on your face because the final exhibit is just…just. Well! You’ll have to go and see the show and come up with your own descriptors. Marvelous? Rising? Scintillating? Neat? Memorable? Illustrious?
It’s all of that and more as the display in the large reflecting pool glimmers and splits into double images which lengthen the buildings and set them skimming across the water. This segment in particular memorializes why Manhattan is its own tribute to itself: skyscraper-particular, iconic, architecturally astonishing, mesmerizing, glowing. Whether its Rockefeller Plaza, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the GE Building, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, St. Bartholomew’s Church, this is what tourists, natives and even botanical adventurers love about New York City. Take some time to especially view the last four replicas listed here, all of which are new.
I was struck by the extravagant details and was rather gobsmacked at the illusion which is created in this gallery. These buildings effect their namesakes, but are built with completely organic, sustainable materials, unlike their reality of concrete, glass and steel. The effect will draw you in as you remember the essence of the Applied Imagination’s vision to set a monument to nature’s ineffable and infinite botanical variety and the wonder of at plants’ creative usefulness as building blocks for humans. Read that sentence again, to ken the full meaning. Heart!
There is no leaving the Palms of the World Gallery after the first minute of arrival. You leave when you receive the full effect of the display upon your senses and decide that The Holiday Train Show is a celebration of the best of who we can be as creators and lovers of nature’s bounty of which we are an integral part.
For all the intriguing programming during the Train Show, from the Evergreen Express and family events, Billy Collins poetry reading and more, go to the Garden website HERE. For BAR CAR NIGHTS, HERE. To learn about Paul Busse artistic visionary, founder and 25 year creator of Applied Imagination replicas and themes with his team click HERE.