Located within the garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the train show sits among the greenhouse lush plants and flowers, with trains weaving among the greenery. The Empire State Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the TWA Terminal at JFK, and dozens of historic houses are just a few of the structures built from plant parts. Rather than create exact replicas, the team works from photographs to capture each structures defining characteristics and telling details, like the lion sculptures in front of the New York Public Library or the bas relief on a landmarked building. The artist team gathers the materials from the woodlands surrounding their Kentucky studio, paying careful attention to not disrupt the natural environment.
Artist Paul Busse first debuted his wondrous landscapes made from fallen berries, broken bark and tiny twigs for the very first Holiday Train Show in 1992. Since then, he has produced numerous other shows throughout the country, and his Applied Imagination team has grown to a staff of more than 20. Botanical architects, bridge-building artists, cedar mountain sculptors, lighting technicians, track engineers, and train engine and car mechanics all work together to create new buildings and make the exhibit flawless.
The buildings range from small historic cottages to the sprawling original Penn Station. It can take the team 40 hours to build a smaller structure, while they may spend up to 1,000 hours on a piece that is larger and more intricate. For the first time this year, the train show included the “Artist Studio” exhibit which showed how a building is created. Each building has a foamboard skeleton that acts as the canvas for the plant pieces. Stones are made from different tree parks, shelf fungus forms balconies, moss lines windows, hundreds of leaves form shingles, pine cones and spices act as ornamental details — the creativity and variety of plant materials is astounding.
On view through January 16, the Holiday Train Show is not to be missed. Entry to the show is in ticketed 15-minute intervals, and you should purchase your tickets in advance so you get the time you want and can go straight to the conservatory upon arrival. If possible, try to go on a weekday as the show is extremely popular and gets very crowded on the weekends (speaking from experience here!). The show is open on Christmas Eve until 3 p.m., but closed on Christmas day.
all photos © Jessica Dailey for Inhabitat