THE HOBO KINGS AND QUEENS OF LEANNE CASTILLO
PRIVATE VIEW: Friday 22nd November, 7:30pm
EXHIBITION: Sat 23rd Nov – Sat 21st Dec, Mon – Sat, 12 – 6pm
TUES 26th NOV 7:30pm: Harry Crews tribute night
TUES 3rd DEC 7pm: Screening of ‘Riding the Rails’ documentary
FRI 13th DEC 7pm: William Fowler presents ‘Street Music From the Dusty Roads of London: Tramps and Buskers on 16mm film. (Click Here)
Every August for over 100 years Hobos from all over America have gathered in Britt, Iowa for the National Hobo Convention and the annual crowning of a new Hobo King and Queen. And every year since 1987, Leanne Castillo has been there to paint their portraits.
A self-taught painter who has been painting portraits since she was 12 years old, in the 1980s she was asked to revive a tradition, the Britt Hobo Days Art Show. She began to see these free-spirited people with an artist's eye, and quickly became fascinated with the rail-riders and their stories. Since then she has immortalised these transient and fanciful characters in all their tender pride and regalia, celebrating a marginalised and misunderstood subculture which is an integral and romantic thread firmly woven into the great American narrative. "So much of their life is in their faces. They are really interesting faces."
81 year old folk artist Castillo, is the official portrait artist to the American Hobo. Working from photographs that she collected from newspapers dating back to 1910, Castillo has completed the history of Hobo royalty in portraiture, and so far has produced more than 60 large portraits - a mission she admits has become "kind of an obsession." We are very honoured that 30 of her most enigmatic portraits will be on display at the horse hospital for the whole of December.
The Hobo community is tight knit, with their own culture, language of symbols, code of ethics and loyalties. When a Hobo passes away, it is said that they have "caught the Westbound." The names of the royal Hobos are as evocative and vivid as their stories - Hobo Lump, Pennsylvania Kid, Minneapolis Jewel, Mountain Dew, Cinderbox Cindy and Iowa Blackie, each wears a crown fashioned from a can of Folgers Coffee that celebrates them as King or Queen of the Hobos.
A Hobo is essentially a professional traveller, favouring freight train boxcars, who works for their survival. With the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s, many discharged veterans returning home began hopping freight trains. Others looking for work on the American frontier followed the railways west aboard freight trains in the late 19th century. The number of Hobos increased greatly during the Great Depression era of the 1930s. With no work and no prospects at home, many decided to travel for free by freight train and try their luck elsewhere.