The twenty-five images in this viewbook are reproductions of paintings by Charles Harmon, a popular commercial landscape artist in the early 20th-century. Based in Denver, Harmon worked for several major railroad companies on commission, painting scenes along their routes to be used in promotional material. As noted on the title page, Heart of the Rockies was, “For sale only en route over the Denver & Rio Grande R.R., the scenic route of the world.” The views are from two perspectives – Harmon’s, as he observes a train’s progress through the dramatic landscape of the Rockies; or the passengers’, as they take in the scenic route from the train’s window. The fact that the viewbook was for sale only along the Denver & Rio Grande railroad route underscores its intended use as a souvenir of train travel.
Like Heart of the Rockies, California is another clear example of the close ties between rapidly-developing Western cities and the railroads that served them. Issued by the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, California is viewbook-as-sales-pitch, framing the West as an ideal destination both for travel and for settlement. In a wonderful jab at unenlightened East Coasters, the unidentified writer explains that, “While residents of less favored sections are cooped up in homes throughout long months because of weather inclemencies, Californians are in the open, the freedom and fullness of all the joys of outdoor life being possible practically every day in the year.”
Making stunning use of photographs produced for the Northern Pacific Railway Company by the photographer Asahel Curtis – reproduced here and hand-colored – this viewbook is focused not on a specific built environment but on an intentionally undisturbed one, Yellowstone National Park. Viewbooks focusing on one national park or scenic attraction were not uncommon, with many concentrating on destinations accessible by rail and published or underwritten in some way by the corresponding railroad company. The title, typical of the viewbook genre as a whole, reflects the national mood of American exceptionalism that helps to explain one of the main motives for producing viewbooks. Was Yellowstone National Park the most noted national park in the world? It says it right there in print.
While the content of this viewbook is familiar – views of civic buildings, a city park, industrial works and, of course, Main Street – the carrier is a particularly creative example of a novelty format. Twenty-four views of Pueblo fold out, accordion-style, from the bottom of this Native American baby carrier which, the label informs the reader, also doubles as a pin cushion. The format, with its blunt reference to the native population of Pueblo, was probably meant to add an exotic element to the familiar town views depicted in the fold-out. In hindsight, the juxtaposition of these Anytown, U.S.A. images of progress with the “papoose in its carrier” that was no doubt displaced by said progress, is unsettling.