Andrew G. Harmantas – A Remembrance

on Friday, October 31, 2014

Cover of New York Central’s Lightweight Passenger Cars, Trains and Travel. Cover art by Andrew G. Harmantas.
Along with names we associate with railroad art, Fogg, Rose, Danneman, is another – Harmantas. Like all artists, he had his own style and his own devoted following of those who warmed to it. And, in common with the others, his pictures told a story, but to each viewer the story held a personal connection.

Art, of course, is subjective in nature…either it speaks to you or it doesn’t. That’s the secret gift of a great artist. Andrew Harmantas had that gift.

Artists are often complex people but Andrew was down to earth and anything but complex. He was a world traveler with many interests aside from trains, including great artistic masterpieces, architecture, old cars, music, and probably others. He was attracted to style and design, and perhaps that is one reason why he liked to draw both steam and diesel drawn trains. In particular, he liked Alco PAs because their design possessed character. The same could be said of steam engines, I suppose. He also liked the Frisco (check his website: frisco484.com) and the Western Maryland, and if you look closely at some of his paintings you are likely to see a WM boxcar somewhere in the picture. It was his Alfred Hitchcock moment.

Andrew served our country honorably in Vietnam earning a Silver Star, and when he returned from that arduous duty, he continued to serve as a Department of the Army civilian, retiring from Fort Monroe as an operations officer. After his wife, painting was his second love.

Curiously, Andrew and I never met, but he and I quickly became friends over the phone when he was commissioned to create several of my book covers*, beginning in 1995. In a short time we discovered we had mutual tastes in classical music and old cars in addition to railroads. Over the ensuing years he’d send me via e-mail his “wet paint” reports, showing his latest creations on canvas – I have kept every one - and spontaneously sending me a photograph of an NYC engine or train he’d discovered on the internet. Brief missives would fly back and forth as we corresponded about music or other matters of mutual interest…and then a month might pass before another arrived, usually divulging some latest event or occurrence, perhaps a trip with his wife, and then it would end abruptly with something like, “Enough of my drivel. Back to painting.” It was always “back to painting…” – and for me, refreshing breaks to get a note from him.

Andrew G. Harmantas.
Creating cover art was an exercise in imagination. We’d talk about what subjects should be on my cover(s) and that became as much of the enjoyment as seeing the finished product. Andrew and I would chat on the phone while sitting in our respective easy chairs and let our imaginations roam, inhibited only by a hint of reality, until we hit upon the manner in which I wanted to present the book. Collaborating with an artist who shares your enthusiasm for the subject is a great treat. As we discussed ideas, we’d try them out on each other…then there would be a short soft spoken “Oooo.” When I heard that, I knew we had our subject. It was the same every time.

It would begin with a pencil sketch. From there he labored to work in the details.

He loved depicting steam, and since he loved architecture, we blended the two for my New York Central Stations and Terminals book. He leapt at the idea…Buffalo Central Terminal would be the subject with… “What do you want for steam?” he asked. I replied that I thought a Mohawk L1 would be nice... “Oooo…” came the response.

“What do you think, Andrew?…1951 with you and me looking at the L1 from the platform?”

“Oooo. Yeah”

I would have been one year old at the time, but, artistic license prevailed. That’s us on the platform. It’s strange, but had he seen a picture of me? I’ve never sat for a portrait, but that’s me standing next to him.

It’s been said that a good friend is somebody who can’t stand the same kind of music you can’t stand. The same goes for radio stations. We both got irritated by our local classical music channels and we’d share comments about certain pieces of music or some concert performance in the past we’d attended or experienced. Even though we had never met, I knew him for 20 years and was pleased that he thought of me as his friend, just as I did of him.

My last correspondence with Andrew was in March when he sent me a photo of a New York Central mail train that he thought would be of interest to me. I wrote to him again in August after not hearing from him for a while. His silence was unusual, but I thought he might be away. When I wrote again recently, nothing came as a reply and I became anxious. I did some searching and found his obituary on the internet. He had died, aged 71, in his sleep, at home, a month and two days after my last e-mail from him in March.

Losing a friend is depressing; a piece of you dies. It’s becoming more common as I get older. Of course, I am immensely proud that six of my books showcase his artwork on the covers. Now that he is gone, I am sorry I never told him how much I enjoyed knowing him and how I valued his friendship. He knew how much I enjoyed and admired his work, but I am going to miss his wit, his insights, the e-mails with photos, commentaries that seemed so impulsive on any of a variety of topics. It feels odd to be writing of him in the past tense. But, I suppose it is one of the enigmas of friendship that one doesn’t have to see or touch a person to develop a familiarity of the sort we had, but I am grateful for having shared that friendship with him for two decades, even at a distance.

And that will have to do from now on. Thank you, Andrew. It’s been fun.

*In case you are wondering, the eight books are: New York Central’s Great Steel Fleet (Vol. 1); New York Central’s Lightweight Passenger Cars, Trains and Travel; New York Central & the Trains of the Future (back cover); New York Central’s Stations and Terminals; New Haven in the Streamline Era; The New Haven’s Streamline Passenger Fleet; Burlington Route: The Early Zephyrs; Burlington Route: The Postwar Zephyrs

Comments
To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy