For more than thirty years Tom Nussbaum’s Workers and Travelers have adorned the Harlem Line stations of Hartsdale and Scarsdale. Born of the long American tradition of placing sculpted weathervanes atop barns and churches, Nussbaum’s figures break out of the expected rooster and horse motifs, and instead tell the story of the people that lived and worked around the Harlem Line.
Each of the steel silhouettes, suspended in mid-activity, stand as sentinels of the ever-changing landscape that surrounds them. From day to night, and season to season, their steadfast visage never fails to pique my curiosity. Who are these people, with their elongated heads and old-timey hats? What are they doing, and where would they be going with their packs, wagons, and walking sticks, if they were not frozen to time?
As the weather grows colder and the leaves transform into flecks of gold, the figures take on a larger-than-life, almost magical quality. Perhaps if you listen closely when the wind blows, you’ll hear them tell their story, a legend of a long-forgotten past amidst the rustle of the trees.
For the past 33 years, MTA Arts & Design (formerly Arts for Transit) has brought art installations to more than thirteen stations along the the Harlem Line. Although Workers and Travelers are two of the earlier works in the series, they clearly have stood the test of time, still bringing a little whimsy to the commute all these decades later.
Like public art in transit? Watch my presentation about public art in Stockholm’s Tunnelbana as part of Virtual Conversations 2022 by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.