By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A piece of Rocky Mountain railroad history has been preserved on a garage door in Morinville. St. Albert muralist Robert Murray completed a painting of a steam engine coming out of a tunnel on Frank Koenig’s garage last week.
The project, which took about 10 hours from start to finish, depicts the 6060, a steam engine assembled at the Montreal Locomotive Works in 1944. The steam engine was retired from service in 1959 and was placed in Jasper three years later as a static tourist display. The locomotive was restored to operating condition a decade later and conducted trips out of Toronto. The 6060 was presented to the people of Alberta in 1980 in honour of the province’s 75th anniversary. It was subsequently restored a second time, travelled to Vancouver for a steam exhibition, and eventually transported to Stettler.
Regarded as one of the best remaining examples of its class, the 6060 was the perfect choice for former railroad diesel shop employee Frank Koenig. “I worked for the railroad for 35 years, retired, and just like trains,” he said, adding the train was also a favourite of its engineer Harry Holmes. “That was his baby.”
Project on track for its artist
Depending on the style used, some artist’s work can be said to be a little off the wall. The opposite is true for artist Robert Murray. The muralist’s completion of Koenig’s beloved train is his latest mural project in Morinville. He has previously done murals for the Entheos Wellness Centre / Flower Stop building, Noah’s Ark Pets and Supplies, Rednex and Coach’s Corner.
Murray, who studied fine arts in the 1970s, spent his early artistic years working as a cartoonist, a discipline through which he published a few books in the Gary Larsen / Far Side vein. The transition to murals came about six years ago when he did a mural in his mother’s seniors’ facility.
“On the floor she was living on it was just sort of a white wall. I said maybe I’ll paint something a little more natural and organic looking,” Murray said, adding after getting permission to paint the mural he wound up doing similar on many other floors. “From that point the word slowly got out that I was painting murals. The size and scope began to grow steadily.”
Though Murray’s traditional mural work is of the scenic variety, the 6060 steam engine commission pushed his artistic boundaries a little further, a challenge he said he was up for. “It’s been an evolution as far as the different genres and subject matters,” he said. “Up until about two years ago my comfort zone was in the landscape and organic subject matter. Since that time it has taken a whole different direction. Four months ago I completed a series of four paintings for a company in St. Albert, all former military service men who served in Afghanistan and Rwanda. They wanted to do a tribute for their comrades they served with. I did a series of four paintings depicting different settings, scenes in the war there that they had gone through. It is something I had never done before.”
Murray said whenever he is asked to do something outside his comfort zone, like the steam engine, he stops, takes a breath and reminds himself he can do it. “When the dust settles it is not too bad, I hope,” he said.
Those looking for more information on Robert Murray and his work can visit the artist’s website at mastermurals.net.