Close your eyes before walking into the gallery.
Hear that steady chugging? The constant turning of wheels?
It’s the sound that invites you to climb aboard for a magical trip into the past, those days when you woke up on Christmas morning to Santa’s treasures beneath the tree.
Maybe, if you’re a girl, it’s that doll you saw in the store window. If you’re a boy, you may have spent weeks leading up to this day wishing for a model train set.
Now open your eyes to discover that Santa has, indeed, delivered. There’s the train of your childhood traveling its holiday route in the LSU Museum of Art.
Actually, there are two trains running the tracks this year in the museum’s annual antique toy exhibit. The show’s theme this year is titled “Getting There” and features toys representing different modes of transportation chosen from the museum’s collection of antique toys.
While the show runs through mid March, it’s most popular during the holidays. The exhibit is a tradition that began when the museum was housed in Memorial Tower on campus.
Families often include the show in their holiday traditions, part of which was watching a toy train travel its track around a big Christmas tree. Other toys were placed beneath and around the tree, which created a sense of Christmas morning after Santa’s visit.
Christmas magic fills these galleries, as older visitors walk around and remember, while younger ones are introduced to a time when electronic gadgets were nowhere to be found.
This is a Christmas where toy airplanes, cars and boats transport you to the places of your dreams.
Curator Natalie Mault took all of this into consideration when choosing the pieces from the museum 700-plus toy collection to fit this year’s theme. There was a train in last year’s exhibition, but this year’s is a little different.
“We put our own set together last year,” Mault says. “This year, we asked the Greater Baton Rouge Model Railroaders to bring theirs. They have a model that they bring places when they do demonstrations, and they can easily put it together.”
That model now stands center stage in the exhibit’s second gallery. The organization also built a platform to make it easier for children to see the model as a whole.
“They also built the mountain in the center,” Mault says. “And it’s intriguing, because the trains will disappear behind the mountains, then reappear.”
And it doesn’t matter from which angle you’re watching. The two trains, running opposite directions on separate tracks, always disappear behind the mountain while miniature people mull about their tiny towns and await the trains’ arrival on the train platforms.
It doesn’t stop there. Look closely at the cars as they pass, and you’ll see passengers. Where are they going?
Maybe it’s to one of the places in Frank Becht’s photographs. He’s a retired train conductor who has traveled the world, and the photo collection from those train trips hangs throughout the two galleries.
Or maybe it’s to one of the places in the paintings from the museum’s collection also accompanying this show.
One thing’s for sure, passengers in the dining car are using the same kind of flatware and dinnerware exhibited in the display cases along the side of the gallery.
These pieces also belong to the Greater Baton Rouge Railroaders and were collected from old passenger trains.
Most of those trains probably have been decommissioned. But the memory of it all is here in the airplanes, the boats, the cars and the two trains.
It all depends on how you decide to get there. So, close your eyes, and let Christmas magic do the rest.