“Outbound” by Alison Rector, a painting of the railroad station in Springfield, Massachusetts. Photo by Jay York, courtesy of Alison Rector

Alison Rector spent much of the past decade painting the interiors of architecturally delightful Maine libraries. For her latest series, the artist from Monroe looks at the remnants of the industrial Northeast from the perspective of a seat on a passenger train headed west.

“Train Journey,” a collection of 15 new oil paintings, opens Thursday at Greenhut Galleries in Portland and will remain on view through Aug. 31. On Wednesday, Aug. 14, the folk duo Edith & Bennett will perform train songs at the gallery, choosing music inspired by Rector’s paintings.

“Quiet Car,” by Alison Rector. Photo by Jay York, courtesy of Alison Rector

The series came about with serendipity. Rector was to attend a conference in Rochester, New York, and didn’t want to drive or pay for a plane ticket. Amtrak offered a $46 fare from South Station in Boston, so Rector booked a 12-hour ride on the rails, and brought her sketchbook and camera. Most of the paintings in “Train Journey,” all completed since her trip in June 2018, are a window on what she saw from the passenger seat. There are also a few paintings from an excursion train in rural Maine.

“I knew the train would show me old warehouses, crossroads and the backsides of cities. I knew I would be looking into people’s backyards,” she said. “What I saw was what I hoped to see, which was the gritty underbelly of old industrial New England. But I saw other things that were surprising. As manufacturing is going out, I saw a fair number of solar farms on old manufacturing sites, for instance.”

The railroad journey out of Boston, and across Massachusetts and parts of New York, took her over rivers, through forests and farmland, and into cities and towns. Her paintings are full of color and character, and show lonely houses, yards consumed by overgrowth, and rail sheds and outbuildings. There are images of forgotten industrial places and refurbished towns. She paints appealing rural vistas and elegant train stations. At once, the exhibition is both a celebration of American promise and reality.

It’s also a logical continuation of the library series, she said. After painting 19th-century architectural gems, she turned her attention to the ways and means of industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, who made his fortune in steel and railroads, and later paid for libraries to be built across America.

“Downtown,” by Alison Rector. Photo by Jay York, courtesy of Alison Rector

These paintings demonstrate Rector’s ability to distill light. These are paintings from what she calls “the golden hours” of dawn and dusk, when the sun hits the old brick buildings of Springfield and other New England towns, and casts long shadows across yards and fields. She evokes the mystery of a dimly lit rural siding, the low-speed off-shoot of the main track, at night.

“Train Journey” is not about nostalgia for Rector. This is not a wistful look back, but a hopeful look forward. Since her train ride, Rector has paid more attention to the international conversation about the harmful nature of air travel on the environment and become more aware of people who are giving up air travel as a way of becoming more personally accountable for climate change. She also understands the inconvenience of rail travel.

“It’s pretty clear we haven’t put a lot of money to the infrastructure of train travel. It was really slow. Anytime a freight train came, our passenger train had to wait for it to go by. I think we were three hours late in both directions,” she said.

Coming into Boston, they got behind a commuter train in Framingham, Massachusetts. “We were behind that train so we had to make all the local stops. It’s crazy that the passenger train had to wait for the commuter train,” she said. “But I didn’t care. I was mesmerized by the view.”

“Head of the Tide,” by Alison Rector. Photo by Jay York, courtesy of Alison Rector

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