EMD artist Tom Fawell has passed

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In a 2007 photo, Tom Fawell poses in his Chicagoland studio with his painting of Southern Railway GP38-2’s —running long hood forward, of course
Gregory Palumbo
CHICAGO — Tom Fawell, the Chicago artist who dazzled a generation with his rakish artwork depicting Electro-Motive Division diesel locomotives on the move, has died at age 90 in Houston, Texas, his family says.

In a 2008 story in Classic Trains, author Gregory Palumbo detailed Fawell’s rise to fame as EMD’s illustrator of choice from the early 1960s to 1980: In 1961, at age 32, Tom was already an established freelance illustrator, busy raising a family of six children in a far western suburb of Chicago. He was working under contract for the Chicago-based ad agency Marsteller. John Calahan, the firm’s art director, asked Tom to produce an illustration for the La Grange (Ill.)-based Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, the leading locomotive builder. At this time, the railroads’ first-generation diesels were nearing the end of their expected lifespan, and EMD was gearing up for what it anticipated would be a brisk business in second-generation diesels.

This was a prestigious assignment, and landing any account associated with General Motors was not to be taken lightly. Using techniques learned at the Pratt Art Institute in New York, from which he graduated in 1953, Tom wanted to portray the feeling of dynamic power created by a locomotive.

Tom knew this feeling well, having spent his high-school summers working for the Chicago & North Western as a track inspector. He can still recall the bone-rattling trackside experience of standing just a few feet from the rail in the 1940’s as a consist of F units roared by his side.

When Marsteller’s Calahan presented Tom’s first work to Electro-Motive, it was literally laughed at. Had it not been for Calahan’s established relationship with GM and his integrity as the art director for Marsteller, Tom’s artwork would certainly never have been used.

Marsteller persuaded Electro-Motive to run a test ad and quickly follow it up with a readership poll. The results were so favorable that they were ranked “off the charts,” much to the surprise of EMD’s Public Relations Department. Not willing to argue with success, the locomotive builder launched an ad campaign based around the artwork of Tom Fawell. The first ad, promoting the new GP30, appeared in the Oct. 30, 1961, issue of Railway Age, the industry’s leading trade magazine. The GP30 ad’s debut in Trains magazine (in black-and-white, the format of most EMD ads in Trains in the 1960’s) was in the December 1961 issue. Electro-Motive turned out to be one of the longest running accounts in Tom’s career, spanning nearly two decades — from the GP30 to the 50 Series, introduced in 1980 — and including more than 100 illustrations.

While some of Tom’s paintings depicted locomotives in EMD livery, most were keyed to actual buyers of a given model. Starting with the paint scheme for a particular railroad, and maintaining the general carbody layout, Tom picked strong contrasting background colors to highlight the customer’s paint scheme. Add to that a radical perspective, and you had the makings of an ad campaign that was sure to spark conversation and raise the eyebrows in both the GM boardroom and the conservative railroad industry.

Upon graduating from high school in 1947, Tom attended the Art Institute of Chicago. He found his stay unsatisfactory and, at the urging of an uncle, moved to New York City to attend the Pratt Institute. There he learned that art was a science.

After spending many successful years producing work for some of the most prestigious art studios in Chicago, Tom eventually started his own studio. At one point, he employed 25 full-time people.

He closed his studio in 1990 and, while most would be content to call that a career, Tom went on to become the director of public transportation for the State of Illinois, a position he held for 8 years. Art was in Tom’s blood, though, and he would spend his lunch hours sketching Chicago street scenes.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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