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Artist's 'Express Line' stretches far through space and time

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Keith Stromp and a portion of his map, “The T.E.W.E.L.' Shaw Galleries
A detail of Keith Stromp's map, “The T.E.W.E.L.' Shaw Galleries
Keith Stromp and a portion of his map, “The T.E.W.E.L.' Shaw Galleries

A local man is putting himself on the map by displaying his art project, which he has been creating since the 1980s, at a public gallery for the first time.

Keith Stromp of Troy Hill will showcase his 20-foot depiction of a train track and surrounding scenery on Friday and Saturday at Shaw Galleries, Downtown. T.E.W.E.L. — which stands for “The East West Express Line” — is a fictional map that mixes real places, like Pittsburgh and Chicago, with made-up ones. The drawn and painted scenery includes rivers, streams, oceans and junctions.

“It's railroad tracks gone berserk,”says Stromp, 54, who has an attic full of toy trains.

He began work on the project back in 1982, when he was working as a night security guard and had a lot of down time on his shift. Stromp taped together individual pieces of graph paper, and the length grew to 2,000 feet by the time he took a break from the project a decade later. After restarting the project, T.E.W.E.L. has grown to about 4,500 feet, divided into rolls that are about 250 feet long.

Shaw Galleries will display a 20-foot segment of Stromp's work. Eventually, he hopes to complete T.E.W.E.L. when it reaches 5,500 feet, which is more than a mile long.

“I'm not trying to make a world record or anything like that,” Stromp says. “It's an unusual type of art project — it goes on and on.

“I'm not trying to be rich or famous,” says Stromp, who is “just showing it off for the heck of it and for fun.”

Originally, Stromp drew the map with magic markers, but now uses only paint on the two-dimensional project. He says that creating T.E.W.E.L. has been therapeutic, especially after losing his job four years ago. He loves art.

“I've been like that since high school,” Stromp says. “Thats the only class I excelled in was art.”

Naomi Bean, director of the gallery, calls T.E.W.E.L. “really interesting.”

The gallery, owned by the Trib's art critic Kurt Shaw, sells antique prints and maps, so the project fits.

“I think it's great for the gallery,” Bean says. “He's creating his own map that kind of reflects that creative process that goes into cartography. It's a great opportunity for him, because he's never shown that publicly before.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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