When you gaze into a richly detailed Max Jacquiard painting, you can almost hear the metallic body of the steam engine clanging and snorting black as it approaches, feel the rumble and the rushing air as the living wall of steel roars past, massive and indomitable.
The smell of hot grease and steam fills the air, while the soprano note of the whistle fills the space in your head and excites the blood, later fading to a heart-stirring, echoing call so endemic to the Canadian landscape.
Trains, steam engines, the muscle and sinew that pulled this huge nation together against all odds, similarly faded into history as the modern, but less charismatic, diesel engines replaced them by the 1950s.
However, they are not forgotten. Canada's steam era is lovingly recreated by Coquitlam artist Max Jacquiard, who some call the Robert Bateman of trains for his painstakingly precise and true representations of engines, landscape, trestles and train stations.
The synthesis of detail, passion and evocative nature of his art has led to a loyal following around the world: Jacquiard works hang in homes, offices and even in the boardrooms of railway firms across North America.
In 2006, Jacquiard was inducted into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame, an honour normally reserved for those working in the railway industry.
After creating almost 400 originals over 30 years by his reckoning, Jacquiard, at 78, is about to release his newest, the Squamish Barge Slip, at the Abbotsford Art Gallery this weekend.
He is also presenting a book he created with renown B.C. railway historian Barry Sanford, called Train Master: The Railway Art of Max Jacquiard.
Jacquiard, a printer by trade, began painting in his 40s but was soon keen to focus on something he loved. He rekindled a boyhood passion for steam locomotives that began in Flin Flon, where he was born, and continued in Maillardville where his family moved when he was nine.
"It was an easy bicycle ride to the Barnet, where I could watch the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways as well as what was then the Great Northern Railway," he said. "Growing up with them as a child, they left an impression on me."
His love affair has never waned. You can sense it in him when Jacquiard talks about the iron horses of the steam era.
The steam engines, he explains, were often modified to their specific work and as a result had much greater variety compared to later mass-produced diesels.
Even the steam whistle of each engine had its own dialect.
"They had a life of their own. They had the smell of steam and of hot grease. A locomotive resting at a station would just sort of pant," said the artist.
Jacquiard's trainscapes always also feature breathtaking scenes of Canadian spaces: rolling prairie and sky; towering snow-cloaked peaks; or iconic train stations.
The Summer Afternoon at Banff shows a pair of elk vying for attention from the people meeting at the station, a scene familiar in the Rockies even today.
"I'm equally interested in the locations and landscapes. I like to set the trains in the landscapes in which they worked."
He usually has at least one painting on the go, but he doesn't know what the next will be. Jacquiard will immerse himself into his extensive train photo and art collection for inspiration. Many of those he collected himself over the years.
"I followed the railway lines and took colour slides, now digital. I enjoy looking for new angles and spots to portray," he said. "I'll spend days and days going through old photos and something will click, and then I'm happy.
Jacquiard's original acrylic canvases go for thousands of dollars and are usually quickly snapped up by collectors.
His images are mostly distributed as limited giclée prints - high resolution, high quality reprints of originals - that still fetch hundreds of dollars.
The book, Train Master: The Railway Art of Max Jacquiard will feature 97 of his paintings and will also feature a significant amount of text by Sanford.
After some delay in printing, some books will arrive in Abbotsford from Winnipeg on Saturday, said Jacquiard.
Both men will be at the Abbotsford Art Gallery to sign copies. Patrons can also bring any prints they previously bought for Jacquiard to sign. The gallery also has art cards for sale.
The art show and signing is on from 1 p.m. to at least 3 p.m.
- The Abbotsford Art Gallery is at 233286 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford. Call them at 604-853-8828 or visit the gallery's website at www.abbotsfordartgallery.com.