Tuesday 22 August 2017

RailEx NE - Railway Modelling as an Art Therapy

In my last post about one of my favourite pastimes, railway modelling, I looked at its therapeutic benefits. After a visit to RailEx NE, North East England's biggest annual model railway exhibition, I felt it was time to revisit it here in Adventures with Asperger's Syndrome, this time looking at what one may learn about themselves through building a model railway layout as well as uncovering one's artistic and creative abilities.

'Llantrevelyn', a highly-detailed diorama exhibited
at RailEx NE, modelled in 009 gauge of a fictional 
Welsh Valley narrow gauge railway. The detail and back scene 
add depth to a small physical space
As well as often being an inspiration to building a model railway layout, a day at a model railway exhibition also shows the aspiring railway modeller just how huge the choice is before them, as said by the late CJ Freezer. RailEx NE showed not only how huge the choice is with so many different model railway products available on the market, but also the wide range of themes and periods layouts can be based around. RailEx NE's range of layout on display featured multiple themes from country/rural to gritty/urban in a variety of gauges ranging from Z gauge (very small) to gauge 1 (large). The 'special effects' displayed on layouts including digital sophistication of sound to simple yet very effective use of scenic detailing and backscenes, which not only add realism to a layout, but also depth. This often creates and illusion on photographs that a layout is bigger than it actually is!

The increased availability of affordable LEDs for lighting up model buildings, street and station lamps, as well as enabling a model railway to 'come alive' at night, but also add to the multi-sensory experience for the modeller. This is where, to me, railway modelling extends beyond a pastime and becomes a form of art therapy. Obsessions with railways and trains has been a well-known stereotype associated with people with Asperger's Syndrome, but seen in a 'different light', I am finding that when approached in a different way, it can broaden one's horizons and experience.

Lighting up at night!
Applying realising when building a model railway, through observation the condition in which real life original scenes from old photographs that modelled scenes are either replicated or loosely based on helps to develop a deeper awareness of what the physical and sensory experiences of them may have, including gaining an appreciation of how different levels of lighting help to create different atmospheres. When placing figures on a model railway, it is a good way for me as a person with Asperger's Syndrome to enhance and apply social imagination by placing them as naturally as possible, looking like they are moving or delivering items, in the middle of a conversation or meeting up. Placing figurines in such way also adds to the realism of the layout.

Further realism is also enabled by creating a sense of period, which can make a layout almost like an open air museum in miniature. This approach to railway modelling was largely pioneered by the late Roye England, whose work is displayed at Pendon Museum in Oxfordshire. Originally from Perth, Australia, with an interest in England's Great Western Railway, Roye England arrived in the Vale of the White Horse region of south west England in the 1920s. Inspired by the Vale's idyllic rural scenes, England soon noticed that with modernisation gradually increasing in the Vale, England realised that such scenes wouldn't be around for much longer. To preserve a typical village of the Vale of the White Horse the way it would have been in around 1930, England set about creating one in miniature, using largely card, what he described as his main medium for the modelling the past for the future.

Some finely detailed farm buildings in Pendon Parva
Starting by taking details of the trains that ran through the vale, England then started to take measurements of the buildings he wanted to recreate in miniature. Taking measurements of cottages in the Vale involved knocking on doors and asking if he could come in and take measurements. Many of the Vale's residents were very obliging, often offering him cups of tea! England's eventual result was Pendon Parva, a imaginary yet highly realistic model of a typical village in the heart of the Vale set in the 1930s. As well as the GWR-liveried trains from the era, rural activities, including harvesting in the meadows are also displayed with an exceptional level of detail. Today, Pendon Parva can be seen in Pendon Museum, Oxfordshire, giving visitors a unique insight into ways of life from the past.

It is often said that with added scenery, small detailing and realism as applied by Roye England and encouraged by Cyril J Freezer, a train makes the transition from being simply a 'train set' to a 'model railway'. Doing the work involved to make this transition, I have found, takes it further to the point where railway modelling transcends into a form of art therapy. Researching scenes to model, as well as visiting Pendon Parva teach us a lot about the past, but I have also found that from modelling the scenes it can teach the modeller a lot about themselves, including how patient we can be, as well as tendencies to get a bit over eager at times!

My favourite scene I have modelled, train passing windmill,
a scene inspired by Weybourne on the North Norfolfk Railway
Ultimately though what the railway modeller learns about him/herself from the activity enables and enhances creativity. In relation to being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, as well as a creative space it also provides me with an escape to an alternative world that I would perhaps have liked to have grown up in or maybe retire to, where I can be who am I am relation to my Asperger's Syndrome in between coping in the full-sized world!