Inspired by the Edward Hopper Painting
When John Armstrong designed this scene, he was inspired by the painting Nighthawks (1942) by the American painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Nighthawks (illustrated below) is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, which has graciously placed the painting in the public domain. Photograph of Nighthawks courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. All other photographs are by John H. Armstrong.
Much has been written about Hopper and the composition, content and lighting of his most famous painting. The name is generally understood as a reference to the people, not the diner, and portrays urban loneliness and alienation. The painting was not Hopper’s first foray into anonymous urban settings. Indeed, his Early Sunday Morning (1930) also depicts the row of muted commercial buildings opposite the diner.
John H. Armstrong (1920-2004) built the original model on which kit is based. John is well-known as the dean of model railroad layout design. His book Track Planning for Realistic Operation (Kalmbach Media, Milwaukee) remains the standard reference for layout design. However, John was also a consummate and detail-oriented model builder, as well as an art aficionado.
John tested his ideas on his O Scale 2 Rail Canandaigua Southern Railroad. He found a place on the layout near the Cattaraugus passenger terminal for his model of Nighthawks. The space available to him was smaller than a full-size model diner and surrounding buildings would require, so John used selective compression, forced perspective, and outright trickery (for example, the mirror at the back of the scene reflecting backward signs to give the appearance of greater depth) to reduce the scene to fit the footprint available.
John devoted great attention to recreate the perspectives Hopper had used for Nighthawks. He calculated the angles used by the artist to create the painting and then translated his calculations into a three-dimensional model. See his drawing. Note that the reversal of the street direction at the back of the scene exists only in the mirror. John placed the Nighthawks scene above the mainline tracks coming out of Cattaraugus and prepared an appropriate base to make the scene credible. A photograph of his placement of the layout over the tracks is included to provide inspiration. However, since every layout and track plan is different, the kit has been designed for street level installation.
John placed the Nighthawks scene above the mainline tracks coming out of Cattaraugus and prepared an appropriate base to make the scene credible. A photograph of his placement of the layout over the tracks is included to provide inspiration. However, since every layout and track plan is different, the kit has been designed for street level installation.
John Armstrong was a prolific writer; and, in its January 1989 issue, Model Railroader (Kalmbach Media, Milwaukee) published his article on the design and construction of his Nighthawks model. Far beyond the spare prose of model railroad construction articles, the article described both the artistic basis for the model and John’s work to “backwards engineer” the composition, perspectives, colors and lighting to match the model to the painting.
Following John’s death in 2004, the Armstrong family retained ownership of the Nighthawks model, as well as John’s papers, which included his drawings for and photographs of the model. This model kit is designed based on John’s original drawings and photographs, with the permission of the Armstrong family. The kit is as true to John’s design and is as fully detailed as the manufacturer can build, including custom figures to represent the diner’s customers and counter boy.
John’s original model was built in O Scale (1:48). No kit presentation would be complete without offering the project in O Scale, which gets the full impact of its mass and detail. This kit is also being offered in HO and N scale. All are limited editions and may not be re-run. The model is offered in three versions in each scale: a kit for the complete scene, a kit for the diner only and a fully assembled model. The latter will be built only to order; inquire as to availability, delivery and prices.
A website to explain and honor the model railroad contributions of John Armstrong is under construction. It will include a section on Nighthawks. Submission of photographs of models built from this kit is solicited and may be displayed on the website. Other parts of the site will serve as both a tribute to John and a description of how his approach can still help and inspire today’s modelers. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this kit will be used to defray costs of the website.
John developed his models with the precision of his engineering background, the practicality required by his space, time and money constraints and the inspiration based on his artistic interests. It is our hope to bring to life through kits more of John’s distinctive creations.
Wit and Wisdom Models offers this iconic scene in two kits: the Full Scene Kit as John designed it, and the Cafe Only Kit portion of the scene. The kits are made of resin-impregnated wood. The Cafe Only Kit comes with the Cafe building and 3D-Printed detail parts and signage. The Full Scene kit comes with the Cafe building, the 3D-Printed detail parts, the road, the shops across the street, the mirror, and the background warehouse façade. The kits are designed for street level installation. The original was designed to fit above ground level. The kits W&W produces do not come with railings, stairs, bridge and lower level retaining walls like the original.
Wit and Wisdom Models is pleased to bring this model to you. For more information on the kit, including ordering it, please visit the W&W Shop Page. Use the kit as a springboard to learn more about John’s ideas and work and more about Edward Hopper.
Wit and Wisdom Models