Great Dome Art

“An impressive feature of the Great Domes is the dramatic use of color and art in the interiors,” says this little brochure about the Great Domes. “Developed by Philip Will Jr., nationally known Chicago architect, the decor was inspired by the art forms of the Haida Indians of the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of British Columbia. The brilliant colors and striking designs of the Haida sculpture, painting and weaving are faithfully translated in the basic decorative schemes of the Empire Builder‘s Great Domes.”

Click image to download a PDF of this brochure.

We know the actual artworks were done by Pierre Bourdelle and Pearson Berlinghof, who were selected to do the work by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson (successor to Paul Cret‘s firm). So all that Philip Will must have done is suggest that Haida Indian art be used as the inspiration for the interior decor. Wherever the suggestion came from, it was an inspired choice.

I never rode the Great Northern Empire Builder, but I did ride in former Empire Builder domes when they were owned by Amtrak and I photographed many of the linoleum carvings in two of the cars. The biggest carvings were on the bulkheads in the smaller coach section in front of the dome. You can click any color photo for a larger view.

This bulkhead has the images of an eagle, an orca, a wolf, and a snake. The colors are somewhat muted from what I would expect with Northwest Indian art, which is a surprise considering the GN’s bright red seats which made Amtrak’s purple-and-blue upholstery look conservative by comparison.

This bulkhead shows a person and at least five different kinds of birds, which I’d venture to say include a pelican, gull, and raven. There is also the head of something peaking out from the bottom–perhaps a bear recently killed by the hunter?

This GN publicity photo shows the bulkhead I missed, which appears to show several birds and fish.

Here are two carvings, one below and one above the luggage rack at the long end of the coach behind the dome. Click here to download a zip file with seven more photos of carvings from the cars.

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