Charlie Hunter: Semaphore

June 19 - October 11, 2021

Take a tour of the exhibit here

The collaborative exchange between artist and curator is likely to reveal unusual connections. The discoveries made in organizing Charlie Hunter: Semaphore extend beyond the paintings to ties both rooted and personal. 

Charlie and I grew up with New England’s railroads in our blood. Charlie, raised in Milford, New Hampshire (three towns over from mine), recalls the local rail traffic on the Hillsboro branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad’s Fitchburg Division line, which ran past his father’s printing shop. More than a few times I tagged along with my father, a B&M railroad man, up front in the diesel engine on weekend runs along those very tracks. Though Charlie and I hadn’t yet met, the railroad brought the paths of our childhoods unwittingly close. Today, Charlie’s studio sits close to the rails in Bellows Falls, Vermont. We’re neighbors and colleagues, and the railroad continues to connect as it rattles through us.

A local artist and entrepreneur, Charlie is increasingly known for his time-stained pictures of America’s neglected industrial infrastructure, including its railroads—trains, tracks and bridges. The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, which makes its home in the former Union Station built in 1915 (Amtrak continues to use the lower level for passenger service), is especially well-suited for this long-awaited focused presentation of Charlie Hunter’s paintings. 

When asked to organize this exhibition, my focus went not to Charlie’s popular loosely handled sepia-toned subjects, but rather to elements he renders—indeed, engineers and conducts—with greater precision. His bridges and railway overpasses remind us of necessary infrastructure—as crucial to the dynamic composition of a painting as it is to a vibrant society. Charlie’s unmistakable crossing signals and semaphores stand at the intersection of life and art. They direct us, and him, toward some unknown destination further down the line. 

— Eric Aho, Curator

The “right object” is a device in fiction: an image or item, imbued with symbolism, that recurs throughout a work. Think of the wafting feather in Forrest Gump.

Railroad signals and gates are a “right object” for me.

I’ve been painting and drawing signals, semaphores, and crossing gates since I was a child. I like them as compositional art elements—they are a pleasing assortment of almost calligraphic marks against the enormous shapes of landscape and serve as an intriguing vertical stitch against the robust horizontals of most railroad infrastructure.

And I like them for what they are. As the years pass, these unremarked pieces of vernacular design become something more: a way to read the passing of time. Small changes in the size of a crossbuck, the shape of a signal target, the transition from solenoid to transistor, from oil lamp to LED, pin an image to a larger chronological framework.

I grew up in New Hampshire and Vermont as New England de-industrialized, as power and progress and the momentum of the American economy moved elsewhere. The symbols of a busier past remained for a few decades, then began to wither. Today, most of the artifacts that are the nominal subject matter of these paintings are gone, now simply memories that will lose their resonance as time ticks by and those who knew them fade away.

All right-thinking three-year-olds love trains for the same reason that they also love dinosaurs: they’re both enormously powerful beings that probably aren’t going to kill you. A tyrannosaurus is fun because it can eat you, but it also hasn’t existed in millions of years. A train is fun because it could squash you in a second, but it is safely bound to follow the steel rails that determine its path.

These gates and signals were built to keep the beasts moving and to keep us from getting trampled underfoot. The beasts have moved on, but those systems of order have lingered longer, saluting us, still saying STOP, LOOK, LISTEN.

And we do, we do.

— Charlie Hunter

This exhibit is generously sponsored by



August 7, Saturday, 2 p.m. Charlie Hunter Painting Demo & Studio Tour
August 26, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. — Representations of Railroading
September 2, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Artist & Curator Conversation: Charlie Hunter and Eric Aho


Artwork in the exhibit
Installation shots
Virtual Tour
Ask the Artist!