“Highball on the Redball Manifest” is an old American railroading term for the signal “All clear for a fast express,” which is probably how I rather immodestly thought of my own progress in the pop-roaring year of 1963. However, with the assassination of President Kennedy the “big train” and many little locals got seriously derailed. I painted HIGHBALL because my paternal grandfather was a locomotive driver for the Big 4, which occupation he called, as I remember, “engineer” – accurate but, nevertheless, confusing. He was a gruff, moustachioed proper Victorian from the plains of Kansas and passed on his interest in railroading to his son who worked briefly for the Pennsylvania Railroad some time before I entered the scene. That the canvas should hang in the Allentown Museum for many years seemed very appropriate.
In fact, the grays of this predominantly grisaille work were taken from the same paint jars that provided the palette for my diptych portrait MOTHER AND FATHER which was begun in 1963, too, but not finished until 1967. Since HIGHBALL ON THE REDBALL MANIFEST is a head-on view of an old steam locomotive – with the address, “25,” of my second Coenties Slip studio imposed upon its boiler as its number, it stands with the Model-T Fords of MOTHER AND FATHER as my only excursions into the mechanical genius of America, a theme I could have explored much further – but, alas! I was side-tracked by LOVE.
Note in the Michener Collection Archives from Robert Indiana, The Bowery, New York, 25 January 1974