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Tyrone Hospital Art Gallery featuring the late William H. Keagle’s work

Now on display
The artwork of the late William H. Keagle of Altoona is now on display at the Tyrone Hospital art gallery and may be viewed until July 20. Keagle was known locally for his paintings of the railroad and several of his railroad pieces are included in the hospital exhibit along with a variety of still life and landscapes. Pictured is Keagle’s son, William C. Keagle, displaying one of the railroad paintings included in the exhibit. (Courtesy photo)

The Tyrone Hospital Art Gallery is now featuring the work of the late William H. Keagle of Altoona.
The exhibit was arranged by Mr. Keagle’s son, William C. Keagle, who is the current owner of Mr. Keagle’s paintings.
Years ago, when Walt Disney asked William H. Keagle to join his staff of cartoonists, Mr. Keagle was forced to turn down the offer. His mother was very ill, and it was impossible for him to relocate.
He remained in the Altoona area, where he continued to create works of art that became as well known and loved locally by railroaders as much as Disney’s Mickey Mouse became loved worldwide. Mr. Keagle’s huge oil paintings of locomotives – accurate to the smallest detail – and other railroad scenes had adorned several offices and reception areas at Conrail’s Altoona Works. For many years, Mr. Keagle donated railroad paintings to the Juniata Foreman’s Association for their annual banquets.
A former sheet metal worker who retired from Conrail’s Juniata Shops, Keagle drew his first cartoon when he was six years old.
“I always wanted to be an artist,” Keagle said. “My dad worked for the railroad as a cabinet maker and wood carver and I think that I inherited that calling from him. Soon after I did my first drawing I got a cheap set of watercolors and began painting.”
From that point forward, Keagle created hundreds of artworks in pencil, watercolor, and in oil.
After Mr. Keagle graduated from Altoona High School, he went to work as a fashion illustrator for Gables’s Department Store in Altoona. His work caught the eye of Walt Disney.
“It would have been a learning experience to work for Disney,” said Mr. Keagle. “He was a true disciplinarian. I would have had to do background work-oil painting, water color, and pen and ink.”
After he turned down the opportunity with Disney, Keagle followed his father into the railroad business. But, he never stopped wanting to be an artist. Keagle would carry pencils and a drawing pad with him all the time, even when he went to church. He would capture some characters in church including those who would fall asleep and snore.
At the railroad, Mr. Keagle began illustrating safety books and drawing caricatures of foremen and co-workers for Christmas parties, retirements and others special events. Outside of work, he kept painting – mostly pastoral scenes and flowers.
In 1971, Juniata’s Foremen’s Association commissioned Keagle to create a railroad painting for their banquet. The commissioned piece launched a decade during which Keagle would produce his best known works. Some of the works Keagle created during this period have been donated by his family to the Railroaders Museum in Altoona.
Mr. Keagle created 20 paintings of locomotives, mostly steam locomotives brought into the shop yard for him to scale. It generally required a year of work and more than $100 of supplies to create a four by eight foot painting. Mr. Keagle was painstaking with details – using as many as 20 shades of gray for one painting and he spent a considerable amount of time perfecting the ballast in his railroad scenes.
Mr. Keagle’s works have been displayed at local art exhibits including the State College Arts Festival, Juniata College, Logan Valley Mall, and the Village at Morrisons Cove in Martinsburg, Pa. He was a member of the Alto Artists Guild of Altoona, and a past president of the Standing Stone Art League of Huntingdon, Pa. He had taken courses in watercolors and oils at the Community Hall in Huntingdon and also attended classes for over twenty-five years taught by art professors from Penn State University and Juniata College.
Over the years, Mr. Keagle corresponded with artists Vaughn Shoemaker and Jimmy Hatlo. Mr. Shoemaker was an editorial cartoonist for Chicago’s American, and Mr. Hatlo drew the comic strip, “They’ll do It Every Time.” Mr. Keagle was the recipient of several original drawings by Ham Fisher, creator of “Joe Palooka.” These drawings are now in the collection of Mr. Keagle’s son. All three of the artistic men mentioned gave Keagle valuable criticism and encouragement.
Mr. Keagle was very unselfish with his artwork. Over the years he gave away many paintings. Many of the paintings he kept adorned the walls of his Altoona home where he lived with his wife, the late Pauline Keagle. Most of Keagle’s paintings now adorn the home of his son William C. Keagle who resides in Williamsburg.
For a man who one time thought seriously about being a professional cartoonist, Mr. Keagle always made a point of telling interested persons that in 1936 the Disney Studios wanted him to become an animator, but by that time he had already gone to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
“I decided that my career was here, and I passed up Walt Disney.”
The public is welcome to visit Tyrone Hospital and view the works of William H. Keagle now through July 20. The exhibit is located on the hospital’s first floor.
For more information about the Tyrone Hospital Art Gallery contact Annette Lynn at 684-6315 or Theresa Yanchetz at 684-6348.