For works of public art, transit centers can be intense gathering spaces where, unlike some other public spaces, the art has both a captive audience and a dynamic venue.
The vibrant art installations at SEPTA’s Spring Garden and Girard subway stations exemplify that, and to kick off Design Philadelphia 2012, the local artists behind these works and SEPTA’s public art consultant Marsha Moss led a tour of the creations.
As part of the SEPTA Art in Transit program, Margery Amdur and Robert Woodward designed works of public art at Spring Garden and Girard stations, respectively. The work coincided with station overhaul, and both now take “a desolate space that’s very large and very deserted and make it look like a place that people care about,” said Andrea Kirsh, a colleague of Amdur and a tour attendee.
Before Amdur submitted her proposal, she interviewed some of the 6,000 passengers who pass through the Spring Garden station daily. She asked riders for the first artist who came to mind and said Van Gogh was the clear winner.
Then she let a paint by number of Van Gogh’s sunflowers be her inspiration and worked from there to incorporate the feelings, emotion and energy of the Spring Garden neighborhood, which she says is in a period transition and reinvention.
The result is a colorful, 4,000 square-foot resin piece on the floors of both the north and southbound platforms.
“Several people have said it feels like they’re walking on carpet, and I love that,” she said.
Two stops north, artists Woodward worked to install 92 resin panels on the sides of the platform staircases and in the upper level of the station to “fill the void under the stairs,” he said.
Along the staircases, Woodward’s work is divided into four color groups which each represent a different theme – past, present, future and “current,” which symbolizes the electrical current that runs the subway as well as the current of people.
Each section incorporates photos and objects that Woodward found in the neighborhood including items like a hair straightener, a chandelier, pin cushions that look eerily similar to voodoo dolls, a door, picture frames and more.
The resins also contain photos of Girard Avenue, Broad Street and children who live in the area.
“They’re all about Girard,” Woodward said. “And you can see the transition of Girard over the last 50 years.”
To incorporate “present” elements into the work, Woodward included mirrors in some of his resin panels.
“I thought this is a great opportunity for people, if they’ve got nothing better to do, to sit and look at themselves and reflect,” he said.
Both Woodward and Amdur are hyper-local artists.
Woodward lives about 10 blocks from the Girard Station – close enough that when a SEPTA employee he has become friends with texts him that part of his art needs cleaning or attention, he can be at the station in six minutes.
Amdur moved to Philadelphia from Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2004 and settled on 13th Street between Spring Garden and Callowhill. She said while she used the Spring Garden subway station, it was alienating and not a place she looked forward to going.
“When there was a call for artists, I thought this would be my way to contribute to the area,” she said.