Leslie Ragan Paints for the South Shore

During the 1920s, the interurban Chicago, South Shore, and South Bend Railroad, best known simply as the South Shore, hired numerous poster artists to advertise its trains. Of these, the one who eventually became most famous is Leslie Ragan, whose later work for the New York Central and Budd epitomized the art of mid-twentieth-century rail paintings.

All of these posters except the last one were issued in 1927. Click to download a 2.2-MB, 3,772×5,691 JPG of this poster

Curiously, almost all of the poster artists I’ve featured over the last several days were born in the 1880s, the only exceptions being some of the contributors to the Southern Pacific posters. I suspect the reason for this seeming coincidence is that these artists happened to come of age at a time when printing technologies had advanced enough to make it economically feasible to print large numbers of multi-colored posters.

Click to download a 1.9-MB, 3,522×5,375 JPG of this poster

In an article about the South Shore’s posters, artist J. J. Sadelmeier describes how posters were printed. “Back then, the lithography process used to (re)produce these posters involved taking and artists artwork (in this case 15″X22″ water-based gouache paintings on board) and translating the designs to separate lithography stones–one for each color. The lithographer’s objective was to faithfully reproduce everything from color to texture and then register all the separate color levels during the printing process to replicate the original design. The final image was also enlarged to the standard 27″X41″ (one sheet) poster size for exterior display on the train platforms, etc.”

Click to download a 1.9-MB, 3,722×5,691 JPG of this poster

This process was replaced by modern four-color printing, which allows the reproduction of just about any color with just four passes. Four-color printing also made possible posters from photographs, which put most poster-making artists out of business.

Click to download a 1.6-MB, 3,778×5,684 JPG of this poster

The chief limitation of the lithographic process is that it required a separate print run for each and every color on the poster–and each print run is another opportunity to mess up. This is why so many artists made designs that were flat even though their paintings that weren’t intended to become posters tended to be much more detailed. Even these South Shore posters, which are pretty flat, require four, five, or more print runs.

Click to download a 1.5-MB, 3,607×5,363 JPG of this poster

Leslie Ragan was younger than the 1880s artists, having been born in Iowa in 1897. His youth allowed his career to extend well into the streamlined age, though most of his post-war work was published as magazine ads rather than posters.

This poster was published in 1928. Click to download a 1.6-MB, 3,551×5,334 JPG of this poster

Thanks to J. J. Sadelmeier for making available the high-resolution scans of these posters. His previously mentioned article about posters advertising the South Shore (and sister railroad North Shore) is well worth reading.


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