Railway Modeler Pulls into Bergamot Station

Wizelman - A Moment In Time

When something captures a child’s attention, he or she locks onto the subject and doesn’t let go. Visiting the Lois Lambert Gallery at Bergamot Station several weeks ago to see an exhibition titled “Sonny Wizelman – A Moment in Time,” I watched a young girl circle the room, mobile phone in hand, taking video of finely detailed railway models from every conceivable angle. She couldn’t seem to get enough of the intricate scenes and creative use of mechanization, color, sound and light.

Two years ago I published an interview with Sonny, a friend and Los Angeles based live steam train enthusiast, that explored his love of garden railroading, our shared hobby. When I asked what drew him to trains, he responded “I think the real attraction all these years has been building.” That passion for the creative process continues to this day and is evidenced by the creations comprising the art exhibition, each of which is a manifestation of Sonny’s dedication, vision and skill.

Sonny Wizelman

Sonny Wizelman in his home workshop

As I walked into the gallery to check out the show, I was curious how I would feel seeing elements of my hobby presented on pedestals in a formal, white walled, space. For one thing, the pieces are removed from the context in which I’m used to seeing them (i.e. a garden or an elevated live steam track). In the gallery, it’s all about the individual creations and a body of work, rather than the way in which the miniature structure, scene, locomotive or train car fits into a larger railway environment. The context is just different.

Inspection Locomotive

Inspection Locomotive – Electric lights and steam engine

Then there’s the matter of nomenclature. Whereas my fellow hobbyists call Sonny’s creations “models,” the curators who run the gallery cast his work in a theoretical light by calling them “narrative sculptures.” If you’re wondering what’s the difference between the two terms, the answer is simple – $4,000! But seriously, the latter term is more descriptive and attempts to imbue the creations with a deeper meaning. While I don’t have any problem with the art world’s terminology, you won’t find me using it day-to-day when talking about my own creations or those of my fellow hobbyists. It’s too academic and just doesn’t feel right.

The collection of works on display is truly captivating. Each piece is a story unto itself and offers up little surprises the longer you look at (and sometimes listen to) them. The delight in the eyes of the other visitors, including the girl with the video camera, would have made Sonny proud if he had been in the gallery with me.

Speaking of pride, that is exactly what I felt as I examined each piece. This was my hobby on display in a well-known art gallery. And it was a friend whose work I admire getting well deserved recognition. That’s not to say garden railroading as a hobby needs formal validation from any outside entity, but it was gratifying nonetheless to see something so important in my life treated in a similar fashion as other, more traditional, creative endeavors.


Blue Saloon

Blue Saloon – Electric lights

Whatever words you use to describe Sonny’s work and wherever you see it, the bottom line is he’s a gifted modeler whose passion for his craft is self-evident. If you’re in Los Angeles between now and Labor Day weekend, I highly recommend you catch this show. You won’t be disappointed.


When: July 15 to September 3, 2017

Where: Lois Lambert Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Unit E3, Santa Monica, CA 90404.

More Information: Check the gallery hours online before visiting.