It’s been about a month since the site has gone on hiatus (hope you didn’t miss me too much!), I figured it might be nice to slowly bring things back with a post about some of my most recent travels. If you happened to read the piece that Atlas Obscura wrote about me not too long ago, you may remember me mentioning that one of the transit systems I’d really love to visit was Stockholm, Sweden’s Tunnelbana (Metro). In between ending my old job and starting my new one at Amtrak, I actually took a journey to Sweden so I could finally visit the system, known for its transit art, for myself.
Though the Tunnelbana has a wealth of stations filled with interesting art, it is some of the stations located deeper underground that have captured the interest of many riders and photographers. As a unique design choice, during the excavation of these stations the bedrock was left exposed, creating the feeling that you are deep inside a cave. Each cavern is painted wildly by an array of artists – some in pink camouflage, and others in bright primary colors. While some are clearly unnatural, others evoke a real sense of a hidden cave – painted in subdued colors with primitive illustrations of a mammoth and of the sun. And even others create an interesting interplay between the rough exposed rock, and walls of colorful polished tiles. Suffice it to say, the Stockholm Metro is quite an interesting, and exceptionally unique system.
Words, of course, can’t adequately describe the varied – and in some cases, downright wild – decor of these stations, so let’s take a little visual journey together!
It has never been a secret that I am a lover of transit-based art. One of the reasons I enjoy the light rail in Minneapolis so much is due to the abundance of art. The system’s newest line, the Green Line, has two very cool stations that were designed by artist Nancy Blum (she actually did three, but the two I’ll feature today are arguably the nicest on the line). You may be familiar with Blum, as she’s been mentioned on this blog before. One of her previous public art installations can be found through the Arts for Transit program on our very own Hudson Line. The mosaics at Dobbs Ferry station are her creation.
For her work in Minnesota, Blum designed work for the East Bank and West Bank stations, located on either side of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. At West Bank you’ll find the work Immigration/Migration, which features birds fabricated out of stainless-steel, and wire mesh etched with patterns. The etched mesh is certainly my favorite, as it is extremely subtle. The patterns are just barely visible under normal light, but when direct sun rays hit the mesh, the pattern is extremely bright and really shines.
For more than a hundred years trains and railroads have provided an interesting subject matter for photographers. In the earliest years cameras were clunky and few, often in the hands of a professional. As the years went by, especially after the introduction of photographic film, cameras found their way into a railfan’s arsenal in increasing number. We’ve come a long way since then. The modern world has technology abound, and a camera is now found in just about everyone’s pocket, thanks to cell phones. For those serious about photography, technology has opened so many doors, and has made the art of railroad photography even more interesting. While many of the underlying principles have always remained the same, images that could never be captured before are now possible. Railfanning via a camera mounted on a flying drone would likely have been beyond the wildest dreams of early photographers, yet it is one way that people are capturing images of trains today.
I consider my upbringing to be on the very bridge of old-school photography and the “modern” technology world. I grew up shooting film, and in art school was expected to develop my own negatives and prints (admittedly, I hated it). Likewise, I remember getting my hands on my very first digital camera as a freshman in high school – it was a clunky beast, taking a 3.5″ floppy disk to save just a few photos. It wasn’t until I was in college that I got my very own digital camera (a simple point-and-shoot), and I didn’t get a digital DSLR until after I had graduated. I never fully enjoyed photography much until I had gone full digital, and since then I’ve attempted to embrace all the newest tech that I can get my hands on.
Image from a glass plate negative of Grand Central Terminal’s construction. From the Library of Congress.
Because of my love of photographic technology, and a suggestion by a reader, I’m going to be starting a new feature project on this blog – namely a column entitled “Trains and Modern Photography.” The column will feature both modern photographic technology, like the aforementioned drones, to GoPros, as well as modern techniques, like panoramic, high dynamic range, and timelapses – all from the perspective of a railfan. Though it will be of most interest to the photographer, I hope that everyone will be able to enjoy it, essentially seeing the “behind the scenes” of how great photos are made.
Modern tech in a classic setting at Grand Central Terminal
So that is about it for this introduction… look for the first “Trains and Modern Photography” post tomorrow, represented by a light green dot, which you’ll see now added to the category list on the right bar of the site. If you happen to have any suggestions or ideas of technology or topics we should cover, shoot me a message or just comment below!
Found in the mezzanine area of the station, the glassword at 183rd Street depicts scenes from the area, both from the past and present. The title of the piece derives from the symbol depicted on the first panel of the piece – it is the Mohican “Many Trails” symbol. The meaning behind the symbol is described as thus:
The design symbolizes the endurance, strength, and hope of a long-suffering, proud, and determined people. The curved shape represents the arms of a man raised in prayer. the circles represent many campfires. The lines represent the many trails taken from the time the Indians left their ancestral homes.
Some of the scenes depicted in the piece are the lands once inhabited by the Siwanoy Nation (a branch of the Mohicans) in the 1600s, the Croton Aqueduct, St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, and the Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College.
Since 1925 The New Yorker magazine has been putting out issues with the most wonderfully designed covers (and a few controversial ones). Often times the covers don’t necessarily reflect any specific article found within magazine, but sometimes they do reflect current events. Other times they show typical New York area scenes. In a city as reliant on mass transit as New York, it was inevitable that buses, trains, and subways would frequently wind up on the cover of the magazine. Even Grand Central Terminal and the original Pennsylvania Station have also been featured several times.
Because several of the illustrators contributing to the magazine lived in Connecticut, the New Haven Line and commuters from the state were depicted on The New Yorker’s cover several times. Westport’s Historical Society had an exhibit featuring some of the Connecticut artwork from the magazine. From what I’ve seen on the internet, the exhibit (which ended last month) looked quite interesting, including some preliminary sketches of the covers by some of the artists.
I figured that I’d create my own little exhibit of covers here, of course, railroad related. Below you’ll find a collection of some of my favorite covers from The New Yorker, all featuring transit in some way. Enjoy!
Across the globe, most countries have a set of standardized street signs. Many use similar concepts and are mutually intelligible by outsiders based on pictographs. Though the meaning may be easily gleaned, it is interesting to note the wide variety of pictographs used by each country. Despite the fact that modern trains are hardly reminiscent of the steamers of yesteryear, the steam train is the pictograph of choice to convey the idea of “train.”
In some late-night weekend boredom, I worked on a few posters showing the trains of Europe through the lens of street signs and their pictographs. The first one features the pictographs used by each European country to represent trains, in the colors of their flags. The top 20 countries are shown in descending order based on how many miles of rail they have.
Technically speaking, the train pictograph above represents a grade crossing without barriers. An alternate sign is in use for crossings with barriers, and it uses a pictograph the resembles a cross between railroad tracks and a fence. I used that pictograph to show the differing track gauges used in Europe.
Crossbucks are are a ubiquitous part of rail systems, in the many places where trains converge with streets. Though most countries use a similar concept, the colors and proportions vary widely.
And just for fun, I made one more poster which shows the logos of the primary railroads in each country…
Anyway, the blog will likely be on temporary hiatus later next month as I’ll actually be riding some of these European rails.
Today’s Friday afternoon photo tour takes a quick visit back to Denver to catch the new West Rail Line, or W Line. Construction began on this line in 2007, and it was finally opened at the end of April, 2013. The 12.1 mile route runs from the Jefferson County Government Center to Denver’s Union Station, and added eleven new stations to the light rail system.
All of today’s photos are from the new W Line, including some photos of two Art-n-Transit pieces. Over 900 application were received from artists looking to create something for the new rail line. Artworks were commissioned for each of the new stations, though a few have yet to be installed. Found at the Lakewood-Wadsworth Station is a glass sculpture titled “Rain and Sun” by artist John Rogers. Colored pieces of glass are suspended on wires, which reflect sunlight onto the platform in an array of colors.
Concept art for the art at Lakewood-Wadsworth Station
Installed kinetic glass sculpture by John Rogers found at Lakewood-Wadsworth Station.
A mosaic titled The Winds of Change can be seen in the photos of the new Garrison station, created by Mike Squared Mosaics. Mike Squared Mosaics are the works of two Colorado artists – Mike Cody and Mike Juarez. The duo fire their own custom made mosaic tiles, all of which are hand-cut. The 220 foot “mosaic mural” combines tile, glass, and even pottery in a colorful and somewhat abstract portrayal of the area’s natural history.
Concept art for the mosaic at Garrison station
Installed mosaic by Mike Squared Mosaics at Garrison station.
Besides the full commissioned artworks, you’ll notice that there are various pleasingly aesthetic elements found at the stations. Benches at several stations feature imagery of tall grasses on panels of layered glass. Other benches have cutouts that carry a similar theme. Concrete panels with stylized grass in relief can also be found in places along the line. All in all the new line turns out to be a nice ride, complete with nice views of downtown Denver’s skyline.
Though I haven’t quite finished up posting everything from Alaska and the NRHS Convention, I figured it might be nice for a little change of pace… which is why we’re going to go and take a little ride on Denver’s light rail system today. Thanks to major flight delays and a missed connection to Fairbanks, Denver became the first part of my Alaska trip. With decent weather and a new rail line to ride, the detour wasn’t really all that bad.
Operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), Denver’s light rail consists of 47 miles of track on 6 different lines, and a total of 46 different stations. Several stations along the various routes feature art installations, as part of the Art-n-Transit program. I always love to check out the artwork when I visit other transit systems, and fairly new light rail systems usually do not disappoint.
Our first set of photos from Denver features the work of two artists – Darrel Anderson and Donna Billick. Billick’s work at Colfax at Auraria station takes the shape of two large books that double as benches. The seating and back of these benches are decorated with typical Denver and Colorado vistas. Billick identifies herself as a rock artist, and has designed over 300 large scale works of public art in that medium.
Darrel Anderson’s mosaic work can be found at five different light rail stations along Welton Street. The colorful mosaics are each approximately ten feet long and cover a portion of the handicap access ramps. Commissioned in 1994 and dedicated in 1996, these mosaics date back to the beginning of the Art-n-transit program, and the Denver Light Rail itself.
In the next few weeks we’ll take a look at some more Art-n-Transit works in Denver, as well as one of the light rail’s newest lines.
I think it is fairly well established that I love the Arts for Transit program, and pretty much any transit-related art in general. My three-year-long jaunt to every single Metro-North station was not only a great way to become familiar with our rail system, but to also become familiar with the art found within many of the stations. The Hudson Line has some of the newest and most attractive pieces out of the Arts for Transit program, including two stations that never made it into my Tuesday Tours. Both Croton-Harmon and Peekskill got some art in the latter half of 2012, after both stations had been featured on the site. Both are rather attractive designs, and I figured it would be worth visiting the Hudson yet again to check them out.
Some of Arts for Transit’s most successful installations are those that almost transcend the barrier between art and function, and those that interact with the space in which they are placed. While bronze sculptures hanging on the wall are certainly a lovely (though easily missed) addition to any station, the bronze chairs you’ll find at Pleasantville station become even more than that. They are attractive, but also functional, they interact with the people that use the station, and they begin a dialogue. People that spy them from the train might say, “what are those nice looking chairs, and why are they there?” And as the artists intended, they evoke the comforts and feelings of home, and the thought that to many regular commuters this station is their second home. When comparing Arts for Transit pieces, Pleasantville always seems to be the bar to which I compare, and is (at least in my opinion) one of the best embodiments of the program’s concept of enhancing the experience of travel.
In a similar vein to the Pleasantville piece, both of the newest Arts for Transit works on the Hudson Line seem to interact with the stations in which they’ve been placed, and thus the people that frequent them. Croton-Harmon’s artwork, a series of laminated glass panels by Brooklyn-based artist Corinne Ulmann, not only depict the changing of seasons, but seem to change on their own based upon the light that filters into the overpass. Several Hudson Line stations feature both faceted and laminated glass works in the overpasses, and I’ve always felt they’ve been successful as they’re never the same at all times. As sunlight passes through, colors are reflected onto the platforms and walkways and move as the sun crosses the sky. Thus the art is hardly static, it subtly changes due to season, time, and weather.
Metro North President Howard Permut speaks at Peekskill, with the station’s newest Arts for Transit piece in the background. [image credit]
Peekskill’s art, an installation of various painted steel pieces by Joy Taylor, also interacts with the station, and the sunlight. The large pieces cast shadows on the platform, but also highlight a play between new and old at the station. During Peekskill’s recent renovations, the station’s historical canopy was restored. This canopy runs parallel to the more modern one found on the station’s other platform, but both evoke a different feeling. The historical canopy is rounded, where the new is more angular, with squared edges. But with the artistic flourishes added to the modern canopy (the historical canopy was appropriately left without embellishments), the new canopy visually parallels the old. Not only does it create an interesting play between new and old, but it emphasizes the historical nature of the one canopy. That side of the platform is not bare, however. The fencing behind the old canopy carries the same flowery motif, but without compromising the part that is historical.
If you happen to get over to the Hudson Line, both pieces are certainly worth checking out, and make commuting on the Hudson Line a little bit more attractive than before.
And before I forget, Metro-North’s newest Arts for Transit will be at Fordham station on the Harlem Line. If you happen to be an artist, you still have a few days to reply to the Call for Artists. Submissions need to be postmarked by the 28th.
Another Leslie Ragan painting that gets you in the mood for Spring.
Last week I shared with you a collection of advertisements for the Budd Company, all featuring paintings by artist Leslie Ragan. When I said he created a significant number of paintings for the ads, I wasn’t kidding. In fact there are so many different ads featuring lovely paintings, I think I’ll have to split this into yet another post! Enjoy another round of lovely art!
Budd didn’t only make railcars – here are a few ads by Budd for things other than trains.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.