Norfolk Southern has sold a well-known abstract expressionist painting and will use a portion of the proceeds to help fund the restoration and long-term maintenance of another American treasure, the Class J No. 611 steam passenger locomotive owned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
NS Chairman and CEO Wick Moorman said NS sold its untitled 1959 Mark Rothko painting through an auction in New York Cityon Nov. 14 and will direct $1.5 million of the proceeds to “Fire Up 611!,” the capital campaign to rehab the famous Norfolk & Western Railway streamliner and return it to passenger excursion service.
“No. 611 is an American classic, a reflection of a time and a people who put the country on their backs and carried it into to the modern age of railroading,” Moorman said. “611 is not an NS, N&W, Virginia, or Roanoke locomotive. It belongs to everyone and every generation. In that spirit, and on behalf of NS employees everywhere, I announce our strong support for bringing back a true national marvel.”
“People from 15 countries have contributed their time and resources to bring back the Queen of Steam,” said Bev Fitzpatrick, executive director of 611’s owner, the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Va. “NS’ generous and timely support gives us the best opportunity to reach the $5 million needed to put this icon back on the rails and keep her moving for decades.”
611 rolled out of N&W’s Roanoke shops in 1950 and with sister Class A and Y6 locomotives constituted the “Magnificent Three” that pulled passenger and heavy freight trains during the last two decades of steam railroading in the U.S. Class J locomotives such as 611 could pull 15 cars at 110 mph, and their builders once promoted the advanced engineering by showing how several men, with nothing more than a rope, could pull one on the track. 611 was retired in 1959, restored for excursion service in 1984, and retired again in 1994. Since then, 611 has been on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
The 611 plan contemplates making it available for service in NS’ 21st Century Steam program in 2014. In this program, several vintage steam locomotives from NS’ past give people throughout the railroad system opportunities to ride behind the marvelous, powerful locomotives of old, while learning how today’s railroads create jobs, support the economy, save fuel, protect the environment, and keep America competitive.
“With railroads as the backbone of the country’s transportation system – today as during 611’s time – we all can look forward to the brightest days of America’s future,” said NS President Jim Squires. “611 represents not just past glory but infinite possibilities for the future.”
Rothko (1903-1970) was a Latvian emigre who became one of the U.S.’ most famous post-World War II artists. He resisted having his works labeled, but art critics said he wanted people to have spiritual experiences when viewing them.
NS’ signed Rothko painting was created in 1959. The “oil on paper laid down on canvas” image measures 29-1/2 by 21-1/2 inches and features amorphous forms that float on top of each other, “…wonderfully capable of moving the viewer to extreme states of feeling…” according to Sotheby’s, the auction house.
NS bought the painting in 1996. It was part of the railroad’s collection of public area visual art and historical artifacts safeguarded throughout the history of the corporation, including train models, tools, clocks, safety and service awards, and maps. Some pieces – including the Rothko — have been loaned to museums in the U.S. and abroad for exhibitions.