If you appreciate Kevin Husta’s Ocean City Arts Center exhibit of black and white photographs of former railroad and trolley connections, you can thank his grandfather for igniting his interest in railroads.
“I remember the first time I ever walked down railroad tracks was with my grandfather when I was a child,” said Husta, a Hammonton resident. “I had always been fascinated by what they were and what was in between points A and B,” Husta said.
Husta’s exhibition of former Cape May County railroad and trolley connections, titled “Seashore Lines,” will be on display through Feb. 27. A “Meet the Artist” reception, free and open to the public, will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the arts center. Husta’s work will be for sale.
“Seashore Lines” covers the former railroad routes that served Tuckahoe, Woodbine, Ocean City, Strathmere, Sea Isle City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Wildwood and Cape May.
Over the years, many different owners and operators completed the routes, including the West Jersey and Seashore lines operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railroad.
The show also features associated maps of the rail lines, showing the years they operated.
These things are easy to look up today, but when Husta was growing up in Mullica Township or attended Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing, he often had all his county maps unfolded on the carpet of his home. He’d highlight the old railroad in blue. He would folded the map of the place he intended to visit that day, and followed the route on foot.
One day in 2001, while he was in college, Husta spent a day making the 10-mile walk from Mizpah to Mays Landing and back. “It was like 15 degrees that day, but I remember all the old ruins you would see on the side in bits and pieces,” he said. “I remember it being cold enough that I could walk over all the puddles because they were frozen.”
Husta graduated from Stockton University in 2006 with a degree in visual arts, and the exhibit combines his interest in railroads and in photography.
“I have always been drawn to a wild mix of pattern, and specifically where structure meets nature. After things are disused, this once-sharp dividing line where the pattern of designed structure meets the randomness of nature starts to infringe on one another,” he said.
For a time, this short-lived mix of pattern and randomness exists, and that’s what Husta tries to capture in his photographs.
Husta framed the photographs in the show using recycled lumber, including former railroad telephone pole cross-arms, parts of old doors and 19th century planks from a friend’s home.
“Framing itself is expensive, especially if it is done by a professional service. It’s a lot of work, so sometime in 2005, I started noticing scraps of wood in some places I had been visiting, especially with the railroad stuff,” Husta said.
Husta started making picture frames in college.
“My dad was a union carpenter, and my dad said, ‘Ok, I want to show you how you could make what you made easier and more efficient.’ Between my dad’s helpful advice from everything he learned over the years and everything I’ve learned and built up along the way, it took me down this whole other road,” Husta said.
Husta’s previous show at the arts center was a 2014 exhibit of pictures of the SS United States passenger ship.
The SS United States took a long, roundabout route to get to Ocean City.
Jack Devine, the chairman of exhibitions and president of the Board of Trustees for the arts center, said Husta has outdone himself with his current show.
“This was really the connective grid that linked all of these communities to the larger metropolis of Philadelphia, and it also linked Philadelphia to us. It was a great boon to all of these towns in Atlantic and Cape May counties to have that train,” Devine said.
Devine said he is expecting people who remember the train service into Cape My County to come and see Husta’s exhibit.
“This tells a story. It’s not just pretty pictures,” Devine said. “There is a story for the people of southern New Jersey right here in this gallery.”