Placing Out in America – The Orphan Trains — an Artist’s Book


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I have finally finished my book “Placing Out in America.”  This is the front of the book.  I used a little piece of rusted screen to create the window with the flag showing through it.

This was quite a project for me, and very different from my usual type of art.  Mostly because I was not using any drawings or paintings of my own, but found objects, and old photos.  I collect old photographs mainly based on the expression of the face.  I have a lot of children, they tell such a story with their faces.

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I tried to age all the paper used, including the found objects.  I loved finding this little flag, and tea dyed it and cut off the stars to indicate the year 1854.

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This is what I placed under the flag.  An old piece of  handmade quilt, completely in tatters.  I thought it indicated the longing for comfort and for a home.

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This is what is under the quilt, a notice of distribution, which seemed a cold term to me.  “The distribution of the children …”

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Here I used paste paper I ran through my printer  to print a scanned photograph directly onto the paste paper.  Also a piece from a gelatin print with rows of little houses, and a corrugated cardboard from a light bulb box to fashion a collaged house– found objects!

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These pages look crooked, but they really aren’t.

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I enjoyed manipulating the old photos making them come  to the forefront by how I built the layers of collage beneath. The train is printed directly onto paste paper.  I used a little gel transfer also – but for some reason none of them came out very well so I gave up. That’s a St Christopher medal hanging above the children standing in line.

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I used silhouettes whenever I wanted to fill in with something on the page.  The little tags with numbers represent the numbers the children were given so they could be identified to potential families.

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If you haven’t heard of the Orphan Trains, it is a real part of American history.  The trains ran from 1854 until 1929.  The Children’s Aid Society was formed in 1853 to take some of the homeless children off the streets of New York City.  Unfortunately there were more children than resources available and the idea of shipping these “unwanted” children to rural America and finding families for them was born.  The trains began running in 1854.

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The last page in the book is only a half width page – I liked how the pages on either side looked so I left it half page width.

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The scrap of fabric under the little wallet is a piece of flour sack print.  I liked how the wallet said “Don’t Forget.”  All these small drawers of small things do eventually find a use!

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Outside back of book.  I used a copy of one of my own paintings and cut the figures out.  I thought they looked like they belonged with the rest of the children.


10 responses »

  1. wow, olivia… although the subject is just about too sad for me to even think about, i love that you were able to take this awful thing and make a moving and beautiful book about it. i love the two girls on the back. it only seems right that your paintings of children should be somewhere in the book. somehow they make it all seem not so dark and mindless…

    as i’m always saying, you amaze me and i love everything you do…

  2. The way you have brought this sad subject to life is such a credit to you. Your treatment of each step, the colours and you use of found objects fit perfectly. It is a sad subject but you have done it such justice. Thank you for your sharing

  3. Thanks Rosemary,
    I’ve been working for weeks on this and I really wanted to bring this subject to the awareness of us all. I tried not to be too sentimental about it and just let the facts speak for themselves.

    Thank you for your comment – I do appreciate it very much. Thank you too for the reblog – that’s a first for me!

  4. Olivia, this is an outstanding accomplishment! I’m literally awestruck, not only with the subject matter, but with your incredible artistic vision in expressing it. This kind of media is such a perfect way to tell the story of the Orphan Trains. Your attention to detail shows the caring you put into it. Oh and the cover is perfect, love the rails on there and the window onto the flag. You never cease to amaze me!

  5. Hi Olivia : ) this is sooooo beautiful and like Lynne mentioned above, while the subject is almost too sad to think about or even imagine, you have managed to make it soooo incredibly beautiful – amazing – just amazing you are : ) Your painting of the children fits sooo perfect. will this wonderful work be exhibited or are you planning on publishing it ??? Thank you : )
    Blessings, Sandra in AZ : )

  6. Thanks Judee — you always make me feel like I am a “real artist”! It was quite a project, and I loved putting it together.

  7. Thank you, Sandra. Yes, it will be on exhibit at the Illahe Studios and Gallery in Ashland, Oregon in April for their book arts exhibit. Adding the two girls to the back cover was a last minute inspiration – I think it gave the whole a softer more hopeful finish.

  8. Well, it’s because you ARE an Artist, Olivia, in the truest sense of the word. You are one of the most creative people I’ve met.

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