Robert Kenneth West was born in Great Falls, Montana. Although he was raised in Utah, Mr. West considers himself a “Rocky Mountain Native.” He participated in the Boy Scout’s Program while growing up as a teenager in the West, it was through those experiences that Mr. West fell in love with nature. He attended camping trips, nature hikes, and survival training courses in an Air Force sponsored Boy Scout troop. Mr. West has lived in various areas of the country, and parts of the world due to his father’s service in the Air Force. Growing up in England, he became fascinated with trains at a very young age. Upon return to the United States, Mr. West realized that he had two grandfathers that worked on the railroad. What began as a love affair with trains in England, blossomed into a life-long obsession with trains, specifically North American railroading.
He returned to Montana for two years, then moved to Wisconsin, Florida, and then Utah. His parents were born and raised in South Georgia. His family traveled to the South each summer, regardless of where they lived. Mr. West’s parents valued the importance of “family.” They wanted their children to develop strong bonds with their grandparents. Through his travel across the United States, he learned even more about trains. Every Christmas, Mr. West received trains from his parents. As a child, he learned about trains through his grandfather, Allen Parrish, who was a Pullman porter of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. There were over 10,000 Pullman porters in the United States. His grandfather traveled between Miami and New York. Each summer Mr. West was given gifts from his grandfather from his travels.
He was nominated to the Governor’s Honor’s program and graduated as the most advanced architectural student in the state of GA in 1972. Mr. West was offered a scholarship to attend Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology (MIT). He declined the scholarship but attended Georgia State University for 3 years. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mr. West joined the Air Force and became a combat, air traffic controller. After his service, he returned to college at Georgia State University but soon began marketing his own talents in the field of art.
Mr. West obtained licensing agreements with Delta Airlines. He illustrated their fleet of aircraft, and several of his paintings became part of the Delta Corporate collection. Following this assignment, Mr. West started painting trains. He received no formal training in art but knew he had a God-given gift. His first painting was his grandfather’s train, “The Champion.” He advertised his work in a leading international railroad periodical and sold out the complete edition of prints within two years. Mr. West gained the attention of a major railroad magazine, “Trains Magazine.” This magazine placed one of his paintings in the center spread of their January 1987 issue. Following this success, Mr. West gained world-wide recognition for his artistic ability. In 1989, he was approached by GE Transportation Systems Inc., they gave him the opportunity to become their world-wide, company illustrator. This was the largest division of GE at that time. His job was to “lift” locomotives off the blueprints and make them look “real” before they were built. He worked in this capacity, as a contractor for GE Transportation Systems Inc. for 25 years. His work with GE, gained the attention of companies on the supply side of the railroad industry. Mr. West was the first and only black person in the history of GE to hold this position. He is also the only black vendor at trade shows and railroad conventions, as the World’s only professionally recognized, black train artist. There are 21 professionally recognized, full time railroad artists in the World. His work has been featured on CNN, PBS, and Fox 5 documentaries.