Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on June 19, 2008 with permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the author directly at the Indiana State Museum, 650 West Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204 at either this phone number or Web address:


Leroy Trobaugh: The Paintings of a Railroad Worker

by Rachel Berenson Perry


Leroy (Roy) Trobaugh (1878 - 1955) spent his entire adult life as an employee of the Monon Railroad. A dedicated and dependable agent, he reported to his hometown station in Delphi, Indiana, through two World Wars and the Great Depression. In his free time, Trobaugh's passion for landscape painting took him to the Grand Canyon, the east coast and to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. He painted Brown County's hills and hollows as well as the towns and fields near his home. By the time of his death, more than 450 oil paintings and sketches had accumulated in his barn/studio.

Despite his life-long passion for drawing and painting, Trobaugh never considered himself a professional artist. By most accounts a diffident and modest man, he frequently gave away his paintings to individuals and institutions, including the Delphi Public Library and the area elementary and high schools. The Delphi Journal reported in Trobaugh's September 8, 1955 obituary that, "To him, pictures were for appreciation and creative art rather than for profit."

Born January 21, 1878 in Delphi, Leroy was the first of two sons born to William Trobaugh and his second wife, Elizabeth McCord Trobaugh. Although no details exist from his formative years, Roy undoubtedly displayed a serious interest in art. On October 1, 1901 he traveled to New York City and enrolled in the Art Students League.

When Trobaugh arrived to pursue his career, the art world was on the brink of exploring social realism and urban imagery. The Art Students League, in 1900, had just celebrated its twenty-five year anniversary as a student-established school. The original split in 1875 between the Art Students League and New York's traditional National Academy of Design had become an established aesthetical difference.

From the time of his enrollment until April 1, 1902, Trobaugh took classes in sketching, illustrating and painting from live models. His instructors included Kenyon Cox, Charles C. Curan, H. Siddons Mowbray, Benjamin West Clinedinst and Frederick Dielman. Although Indiana lore maintains that Trobaugh studied with famed impressionist John H. Twachtman, there is no evidence that he formally enrolled in Twachtman's class or studied with him in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Since Trobaugh left no written account of his thoughts or reflections, it is impossible to know what reasons led to his departure from the Art Students League in the spring of 1902. What is known is that Trobaugh returned to Delphi where, except for several holiday excursions, he remained for the rest of his life.

Trobaugh may have discovered that the north central Indiana town could not support a professional fine artist or he may have concluded, after instruction with many other dedicated art students, that he did not possess the talent or commitment necessary to pursue an artist's life. Whatever his reasons, upon his return to Delphi, Trobaugh eventually took a job as a telegrapher and station agent with Monon.

A hub of activity, the Delphi Monon Railroad station was located across the tracks from the Wabash Railroad station on Market Street, and it served passengers and freight going between Chicago and Indianapolis. As was the case with agents in most small stations, Trobaugh had many duties. Although facilitating the coordination of the trains was the principle function of the telegrapher, he also copied train orders and gave official messages to trains, worked the interlocking mechanisms to allow one train at a time on the track, sold tickets to passengers and processed paperwork for the transfer of freight.

Despite his job responsibilities, Trobaugh set aside time to paint. In fact, he painted with the same diligence with which he maintained his railroad position. After his return from New York in 1902, Trobaugh created small watercolor sketches that soon were followed by larger oils on canvas. He did not use photographs as guides, preferring to paint landscapes outdoors on site and still-life compositions arranged in the studio. According to a Delphi Art Club "Old Settlers Exhibit" brochure, Trobaugh also made all his own frames. A building on the corner of Washington and Water Streets served as his woodworking shop.

One fringe benefit of working for the railroad was the travel pass which allowed employees to ride company trains free of charge. Special "trip passes" could also be obtained for free transportation on any railroad not owned by the employer. The trip passes allowed Trobaugh to travel throughout the United States. He took three trips west, in 1926, 1941 and 1950; several excursions to the Smokey Mountains in the early 1930s and tried his hand at marine paintings on the East Coast in 1938, 1947 and 1952.

In 1921 Trobaugh and his artist/sculptor friend, Harry Milroy, established an art club in Milroy's studio. Trobaugh continued to paint with the club for more than a decade. "If asked for suggestions, he [Trobaugh] was always rather vague," according to the club's commemorative catalog. "He stressed using your own ideas and never to copy."

Trobaugh's confidence grew along with his painting experience and, when regional exhibit opportunities increased with the establishment of the Chicago Hoosier Salon in 1925, his art work was included. Two of his paintings, October Day, and Midwinter on Deer Creek were part of the first Hoosier Salon held in the galleries of Marshall Field and Company. In May of that same year Trobaugh's landscape, Valley Field, joined others from Brown County in the Exhibition of Paintings by the Brown County Group of Indiana Artists at the Art Department of Columbus Public High School.

Trobaugh continued to gain stature with the acceptance of his paintings in seventeen juried Hoosier Salon annual exhibitions between 1926 and 1954. His landscape, The Foot Bridge won an honorable mention in the 1937 Hoosier Salon. Indian Craft won the Still Life Merit Award at the 1944 Salon which took place at the William H. Block Company building in Indianapolis. Also in 1944, two of Trobaugh's paintings were exhibited in the Indiana Artists' Club exhibit at L.S. Ayers & Company. In 1949, Trobaugh won the Hoosier Salon's Still Life Merit Award a second time with Wedgewood Ware and Cluny Lace.

Roy Trobaugh rendered many landscapes close to home in Carroll and Brown Counties and spent summer vacations from 1931 through 1934 in Tennessee. He purchased a Dodge coup in 1948 and used its ample trunk to haul all of his painting equipment. In between his Indiana treks, he organized a solo exhibition in Indianapolis. An article in the March 21, 1948 Indianapolis Star reported, "In his group of seven large oils, he made a well-balanced selection that includes landscapes in far-distant parts of the United States -- mountains, coast scenes and woodland and creek scenes nearer home."

Trobaugh's public job at the Monon station made him a well known figure in the community. But all accounts describe him as a shy and retiring individual. He lived most of his adult life at 424 North Summit Street, where he had converted the second floor of the barn/garage behind the house into a studio. Neighborhood children often stopped by to satisfy their curiosity.

On his excursions west Trobaugh took an interest in Native American crafts and, in 1944 he began to arrange pottery and rug designs as still life subjects. Ten years later, his painting, Indian Craft Design, was the last of his works to be accepted in Hoosier Salon's annual exhibition. In the Indianapolis Star, Lucille Morehouse once noted, "In my early years as The Star's art critic, Roy Trobaugh of Delphi exhibited landscapes that resembled incendiary work with prairie fires. The early series has been succeeded by various subjects -- always with marked development -- and, for a few years, Mr. Trobaugh has contributed unusual still-life designs, with interest centered on rare pottery and other craft work."

An examination of Trobaugh's art work reveals a variety of styles and subjects. Using techniques ranging from the Brown County American Impressionist school to the Regionalist style of the 1930s, Trobaugh continued to experiment and to change throughout his life. His explosive brushwork, vibrant colors and occasionally skewed perspective reveal an approach uninhibited by extensive academic training or the desire to produce saleable work.

Unlike those who go through life regretting missed opportunities to fully develop a creative talent, Leroy Trobaugh managed to fulfill his duties as a train station agent while pursuing his passion in the free time that remained. Unfettered by the triumphs and resulting deference to success, Trobaugh painted where ever and whatever he chose to paint, adhering solely to his own ethics about painting from life and using his own ideas.

About the author

Rachel Berenson Perry is the fine arts curator for the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis. She has written numerous articles for the American Art Review, Traces of Indiana and Midwest History, Outdoor Indiana, and Southwest Art Magazine. She provided the introductory essay for Painting Indiana II: The Changing Face of Agriculture and "An American Art Colony" in The Artists of Brown County, published by Indiana University Press. Her books include Children of the Hills: The Life and Work of Ada Walter Shulz, published by Artist Colony Inn and Press, and T. C. Steele and the Society of Western Artists 1896 - 1914, to be released by Indiana University Press in spring 2009.


Resource Library editor's note:

The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on June 19, 2008, with permission of the author, which was granted to TFAO on March 24, 2008. Ms. Perry's essay pertains to an exhibition, Leroy Trobaugh: The Paintings of a Railroad Worker, which was on view at the Indiana State Museum February 10 - June 3, 2001. This essay was published in the March - April 2001 issue of American Art Review,.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Shana Herb Johannessen for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

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