Jeff Ellingson, railroad artist
It was 1970 when Jeff first encountered the railroad. He was 11 years old. “I’d hear the whistle on 32nd Street,” he recalls, “jump on my ten speed, and ride on over to 10th Street” (near where they lived—his father was a professor at Fort Lewis College at the time.) “I’d sneak down and scope out the yard… have it all to myself when nobody else was there. There’s something about an abandoned railroad yard. All the old engines just sitting there, not steamed up… just waiting. There was a lot of special energy there.”
The call of the railroad stayed with him. He grew up, went to college, studied art in Denver, received an associates degree from the Colorado Institute of Art, then worked for a while doing architectural drafting. Jeff was good at it, but the job wasn’t good enough for him. That melodic, mesmerizing sound of that steam whistle lingered, and he soon grew homesick for Durango and its narrow gauge railroad.
In 1982 Jeff returned to Durango, where he was working again as a graphic artist when the imminent birth of his first child demanded he get a more dependable job. The railroad was hiring and he hired on. Initially, his career with the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was less than salubrious. Jeff began as a car cleaner. A few months later a spot opened up in the car shop, and there he remained, painting cars and locomotives, for 18 years. Which he still does. but now he does a whole lot more!
Equally at home on the railroad as an engineer, fireman, conductor, and railroad car restoration artisan, he currently serves as the Museum Curator for the Roundhouse Museum (Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad), a position he has held since it opened in 1998. “It’s been 37 years, now, since I’ve been with the railroad,” he says, and not a day goes by that I don’t realize how much I love my job.”
Jeff is also an acclaimed watercolorist, working almost entirely by commission. His subject matter? Trains, of course. His paintings depict an incredible amount of detail—detail of what he loves most, locomotives, railroad history, and the scenic San Juan Mountains. His love of his work and the art of painting it shines from every canvas, all of them, essentially, pre-sold. “When I pick up a paintbrush,” Jeff says, “the painting is already sold.” He also makes giclée prints of his work, so not only those who buy his original work can enjoy it, but so can others who purchase his prints.
Jeff’s work, comprised of original watercolors and giclées, will be on display during the month of July at the Montrose Center for the Arts community show featuring Narrow Gauge Railroads and the San Juan Mountain mining history. In addition to several privately-owned painting on exhibit, Jeff will have giclée prints and one original painting for sale during the show. Jeff has donated one giclée, The Lightner Creek Trestle, as a gift to the art center to be sold or auctioned; he has also offered to give a train talk during the show. “I love talking about the railroad!” he says.