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Hal Higdon

Running by South Shore Line

Hal Higdon's new poster features Dunes Runner
Dunes Runner

The classic South Shore Line posters always have appealed to me: less from artistic merit and more from funky grittyness. The art looked so, well, "retro." The colors often were more muted than bright. Even the hand-lettered words on the posters, often crooked, added to their appeal.

This wasn't Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge; nevertheless, South Shore Line posters speak to all of us in Michiana, as well as to art-lovers anywhere.

Ski PosterMy wife Rose and I have a copy of the 1928 poster, "Spring in the Dunes by South Shore Line" by artist Raymond Huelster, hanging in our Florida condo. A flowery scene, it reminds us of home while we're away winter months. Our daughter Laura has the "Dunes Beaches" (bathing beauty) poster by Urgelles and "Winter Sports" (cross-country skier) poster by Oscar Rabe Hanson hanging in her Minnesota living room. It calls to her from her childhood. When the book Moonlight in Duneland showcased all the classic South Shore Line posters from the 1920s plus some new ones, we bought extra copies for Christmas gifts. (South Shore Line posters can be purchased at The Framing Station in Michigan City, Indiana or at the Chicago Historical Society and numerous poster shops in Chicago.)

Running in the Dunes

But none of the posters, past or current, featured my sport of running. Notre Dame football, yes. Running, no. This oversight needed to be addressed. I not only wanted to own such a running poster; I wanted to draw one.

Wonder WomanI chose the cross-country ski poster as my guide, retaining the classic design but changing the girl in the poster from skier to runner. "Winter Sports in the Dunes by South Shore Line" became "Running in the Dunes by South Shore Line."

This would not be my first attempt at mimicking the South Shore Line posters. Several years ago, I painted a "poster" in imitation of the "Dunes Beaches," but with Wonder Woman in place of the bathing suit girl. I later painted another featuring The Batman. But both were single paintings on canvas, not posters that might be reproduced in large numbers.

Clearly, I was operating out of my league, so I decided to consult several individuals with poster expertise. One was Jo Ann Finney, owner of The Framing Station in Michigan City. The other was Neil Kienitz, a local watercolor artist who has done numerous posters, including several featuring the South Shore Line theme.

Legal Issues

With my first paintings, I dodged the legal issue of using "South Shore Line," substituting "Lake Shore Line." But for a poster in the classic mold, that seemed a cop-out. Finney advised that while the consortium producing the current posters had trade-marked "Just around the corner by South Shore Line," no problems involved use of the railroad name. Nevertheless, she gave me the name of the railroad's president, Terry Hearst. When I spoke with Hearst by phone, he offered his blessing.

Covered legally, I next consulted poster artist Kienitz. I felt comfortable with the art, but producing a poster involves other details. During a visit to Kienitz's studio on Tenth Street in Michigan City, he walked me through the technical process including size choice. "You want to choose a standard size, such as 24 by 36, or 18 by 24," he advised. "That way your customers can purchase ready-made frames for less money."

Kienitz also discussed choice of materials, suggesting 140-pound hot press watercolor paper or one-eighth-inch tempered Masonite. He recommended brushes and pencils, even choice of ink. I accepted some suggestions, rejected others. One difference between us as artists is that Kienitz paints with watercolors; I use acrylics. Eventually, I decided to use acrylics on illustration board for the original art. I wanted to go with what was familiar to me as an artist, not experiment with too many new techniques.

Dunes RunnerIn preparation for the poster, I executed four separate paintings, partly for color selection, partly for fun. Kienitz suggested a grayish sky that would retreat behind the central running figure rather than a bright blue. And rather than outline that figure with thick, black lines (as I do with some of my Pop Art), he advised a more subdued line, perhaps brown. It seems like a trivial change, but this was perhaps his key suggestion. Once I completed the art (oversized at 30 x 40 inches), Kienitz visited my studio and suggested several seemingly minor color modifications on the lettering that also helped the poster's overall look. Having copied the lettering from the original skier poster, I agonized over its uneven look. "It's supposed to look that way," Finney assured me.

Final Proofs

Both Kienitz and Finney had recommended Lithotone, Inc., an Elkhart printer, whose customers' orders dwarf mine. "Every life preserver sold in this country comes with one of our brochures," explained salesman Jim Auskalnis. "We print a million a year." Despite my miniscule order of 1,000 posters, Auskalnis seemed to delight in working with me.

I traveled to Elkhart to okay the final proofs. My art had been scanned into a computer. I considered several color modifications before I finally signed off on the job. "Let the presses roll," I told Auskalnis. It took less than an hour to print my job. The classic South Shore Line posters were 24 by 36 inches. I chose 18 x 24 inches for a practical reason. I often sell my running books at races, such as The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon. I figured the smaller posters would fit more easily onto our table at the Expo, two days before the marathon. And the price could be lower: $20 vs. $30. "Not everybody wants to pay several hundred dollars for a painting," Kienitz concedes. "Posters are more affordable." Would Toulouse-Lautrec have made a similar decision?

We offered the poster "Running in the Dunes by South Shore Line" both at the marathon Expo and at The Heart of Art Tour in LaPorte county later in the month. Of the 1,000 first printing, I numbered and signed the first 250 and sold each one within the first month. As of now, we have sold more than 800 of the first printing, and we have no plans for a second printing. We also sold all four preliminary paintings (pictured below) along with the original art of the poster itself. If you want a copy of this classic poster, act now.

Having completed my South Shore Line poster featuring a runner, I now need a new artistic challenge. Perhaps Notre Dame football.

To order a copy of the Running in the Dunes poster, go to the Shopping Cart

Prior to completing  "Running in the Dunes by South Shore Line," Higdon did four preliminary paintings featuring different colors. All have now sold.


Running in the Dunes by South Shore Line

Poster and Books by Hal Higdon