The first travel posters in America on display at OU

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NORMAN, OKLAHOMA -- Before the Santa Fe Railroad even laid tracks all the way to the Grand Canyon, officials with the company had already hired famous landscape painter Thomas Moran to make it look like a cool place to go.

"This poster," points art curator Hadley Jerman, "essentially says 'come to the Grand Canyon courtesy of the Santa Fe. There are already people there enjoying it."

Way before highways and cars took over travel plans for American families the railroads got help from landscape artists to make destinations look attractive.

In exchange for the copyrights to their paintings, the artists got free train tickets and, often, meal expenses paid.

Jerman says, "The artists were basically taking advantage of railway support to do what they wanted to do anyway."

This merge between commercial and fine art made for some of the very first travel posters in America, and, this fall, an exhibit at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

Jerman says, a century ago, if you walked through a hotel, or a train station you saw these prints plastered everywhere.

"Train hotels, train stations, ticket offices," say says.

Earlier painting of these natural wonders often made them look daunting and formidable.

Railway posters of the same places softened up the message to make the look accessible too.

"It's basically an impressionistic view of the West," she continues.

They made Native Americans look friendly, even the wild animals look pettable.

Jerman says, "An idealistic place to travel."

On a weekend in October we both wonder how a painter like Moran would have sketched the spectacle of a Cotton Bowl on game day.

"I think Thomas Moran would have been a Sooner fan," Jerman laughs.

When it comes to travel, it's the destination, not the journey people care about.

That's why you never saw a train in these posters, why we all accept cramped seats and long hours on bumpy roads to get where we're going, and why, more than a century later, these kinds of pictures still inspire our lust to wander.

Ticket to Ride: Artists, Designers, and Western Railways runs from October 5 to December 30, 2018 at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art on the OU campus.

For more information go to http://www.FJJMA.OU.EDU

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