15 Dec
Thu / 2016

Inside the MFAH
Making Holiday Magic, One Track at a Time

For the past three months, Steve Pine, senior conservator of decorative arts, has been hard at work constructing a model train set from scratch. He spoke with me about the process behind this magical work, which made its debut at the center of the Spiegeltent for this year’s Christmas Village at Bayou Bend.

How did you create the model train set?
I built the support and wired up the electrical system to power the trains and lights, and we obtained the toy trains, tracks, and little buildings from sources such as Lionel Trains and M.T.H. Electric Trains.

Steve Pine and the model.
Steve Pine adds details to mountains sculpted from scratch.

When designing and creating the model, I kept in mind ease of disassembly for transport and storage. Four tables are joined to support the mountain, which I built in sections that can be fitted around the 12-foot Christmas tree at the center of the Spiegeltent. To sculpt the mountain, I glued together layers of Styrofoam planks—the same planks normally used to insulate homes—and decorated the foam with paint, flexible grout, and miniature trees.

What would you like to highlight for visitors viewing the trains at Christmas Village?
There are three trains, each of which has its own character. The realism and attention to detailing of the coaches and locomotives is incredible. One of the two steam-engine trains is based on the film The Polar Express: The voice of the train conductor (Tom Hanks) booms lines from the movie while the locomotive blows smoke rings. The diesel-engine train is based on the storied Texas Special run by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. It features a realistic start-up progression of sounds with coaches dedicated to notable Texans, including Sam Houston, Edward Burleson, and David G. Burnet.

Steam-engine train at Bayou Bend
The trains blow smoke and makes sounds: bells, whistles, and engine noises.

The buildings, by the manufacturer Department 56, add a lot of character too. Some of the structures we’re using for the display are also for sale at the Shop at Bayou Bend.

Buildings by Department 56
The little buildings offer a wealth of detail.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I'd like to think the trains will stir up fond childhood memories in adults and kindle a new interest for children. While building the model, I often imagined what my granddaughter would enjoy most. At age 2, she finds trains of any size amazing and a treat almost beyond belief.


See the model train set for yourself! Christmas Village at Bayou Bend is open through January 1.

Special thanks to Department 56.

Recent Posts

Post Archives

Tag Cloud

17th-century 18th-century 1970s 19th-century 20th-century 35mm 5womenartists abstract activity african-art a-history-of-photography akan america american american-art ancient and angelica-kauffmann animals animation anna-atkins antiquities architecture archive armchair-travel art art-books artist artists art-of-the-islamic-worlds arts-of-india azaleas bayou bayou-bend bayou-bend-christmas-village bend bestowing-beauty biblical biography black book british british-arrows british-art broadways-amazing-mastersons buffalo-bayou-park-cistern campus campus-redevelopment cannes carroll-sterling-masterson chair chef chinese-art christmas christmas-fun cinema cisternrain classic classic-films cocktail coffee collection color colors-of-the-oasis community concrete conservation contemporary-art contemporary-arts-museum-houston contemporary-film contesting-modernity countess cullen-sculpture-garden culture curator curators-picks dance decorative-arts degas degas-a-new-vision design digital documentary documents dont-blink-robert-frank drama drawings dutch-art electronic elizabeth-i england e-records europe exhibition exhibitions eye-on-houston family family-programs fashion fashion-fusion feast festival fiber-arts field film films flowers food france francis-bacon free french french-art fun future futuremfah gainsborough gallery gallery-interpretation garden garden-paradise gardens george-iii glassell glassell-school-of-art google-art-project google-arts-and-culture habsburg-splendor-masterpieces-from-viennas-imperial-collections halloween happyhour happy-new-year harris-masterson-iii henry-viii hirsch-library history history-book-club holiday holiday-fun hollywood home homemfah homeso-different-so-appealing houston howe hurricane-harvey icaa ikat ima-hogg impressionism indian-art instagram interactive ipads islamic italian japanese-art john-biggers joshua-reynolds kenwood kids king kodak kusama latin latin-america latin-american latin-american-art latino-art latin-wave latinx laura-israel learning-and-interpretation love mail manet maria-fernanda-cardoso mastersons mayan-art media meditation mending-craft-and-community mexican-film mexican-modernism mexico mfa-cafe mfah mfah-book-club mfah-films mfah-in-the-community mfah-staff modern modernism movie movies movies-houstonians-love mueck mueckmfah museum museum-education music native-american-art new nhprc now-on-view now-playing organic oscar-de-la-renta oscars painting paintings paint-the-revolution paris paul-thomas-anderson peacock-in-the-desert-the-royal-arts-of-jodhpur-india peacockmfah persian persian-art photographs photography picasso portrait portraits pose prints prints-and-drawings programs queen-victoria radical rebel-jester-mystic-poet recipe rembrandt-van-rijn rienzi ron-mueck rothko sampler school sculpted-in-steel sculpture self-portrait shadow-monsters shepherds short-films slow-art-day snail snapshot spain spanish-art spring streaming style summer technology texas textiles thanksgiving the the-al-sabah-collection theater the-glamour-and-romance-of-oscar-de-la-renta trivia tudors-to-windsors valentines-day venezuelan-art video vincent-van-gogh vincent-van-gogh-his-life-in-art virtual wagner-garden-carpet watercolor winter women-filmmakers womens-history-month works-on-paper yoga zoom