SIKESTON - Although not open to the public until this weekend, Artrain USA already has stirred quite a bit of interest from inquiring visitors eager to find out what it's all about.
Even before Sunday night's arrival, the uniqueness of an art museum on a train became the focal point of many discussions involving those not wanting to miss a chance of a lifetime.
Since there will be artwork commissioned by NASA featured on the train, the Sikeston Public Library thought what better way to promote the Artrain than by incorporating children's artwork. The staff contacted art teacher Ginger Miller who in turn approached Amanda Fris, a fourth-grade teacher at Matthews Elementary.
"We did this age group because this is the group that was selected to go on the school tour," Miller said. "We thought these kids would have a better idea of what to expect if they had something to go by so Amanda designed a lesson with that in mind. First the students viewed a website about the Artrain and that got them excited. Then she had them imagine they were on the moon, looking down on earth and they were to show the view from there. I loved their expressions when they were doing it. Now, when they go, they will be able to relate to what they see better."
The Sikeston Public Library is displaying the children's artwork in its community room and the staff said the creations are a welcomed addition. "Famous art is on the walls of the Artrain, future art is on the walls of the library," quipped Sue Tangeman, library director.
Even local and area artists are getting in on the action. Volunteers will demonstrate how to do pottery, quilt and paint among other talents. Others are being trained to serve as tour guides at various stations on the Artrain during its stay.
"I think the young people especially will enjoy seeing the artists that work on the train," said Ellen Brandom, general chairman of the steering committee. "There will be two places where the artists will work and they will be set up like a studio with everything they might need. One place will be for a member of the art staff and the other will be for a local artist. This will be fun for all ages."
Thursday and Friday was set aside for previously scheduled tours given to Sikeston Public Schools. On those days 1,200 students will go through the Artrain.
The Artrain staff makes an extra effort to see that their youngest visitors enjoy themselves. Marie-Claire Lamarre, the train's tour manager, said children on the tours are asked to give their input on certain artwork. They might be asked whether or not they like a certain piece and to explain their reasoning.
"We ask them questions as we go along like how many men are in this picture or how does this particular piece make you feel. We get some really good questions, some that even I can't answer," she said. One piece she said youngsters particularly like is one created by Andy Warhol which many of them recognize from MTV.
Also, on the weekends the staff conducts a treasure hunt aboard the train for the children and the winner is sent a prize.
Although Brandom said the Artrain is like nothing she could have imagined, what she is most impressed with is the Artrain staff. "The people who came with the train are all young and all but one I think have art backgrounds," she said. "They're enthusiasm about the Artrain is contagious."
Brandom praised the community's willingness to pull together and support the venture, remarking that everyone asked to help has come through.
"Everyone has been extremely cooperative, we have a number of sponsors, the City has been wonderful about helping us when we needed it and we have approximately 100 volunteers. I'm just thrilled with all of the positive responses we've received, it's rewarding to me to see so much enthusiasm and support from our community."
Like most everyone else who has gone through it, she said talking about the Artrain is one thing, going through it is quite another. "Seeing is believing and anyone who goes through Artrain USA will really enjoy it."
Artrain USA, located on the railroad tracks in front of the Sikeston Depot, will be open free of charge to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.