The Center of the Universe
Dozens of CTA L, bus stations are home to murals, mosaics and sculptures
Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)12 Jul 2020BY MADISON SAVEDRA, STAFF REPORTER firstname.lastname@example.org | @madisonsavedra
Thomas Skomski’s work was installed at the Rockwell Brown Line station in 2007.
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The L is proving to be a powerful vehicle for public art in Chicago and the suburbs. In recent years, the CTA has installed sprawling works of art at dozens of train and bus stations. There are now 72 murals, mosaics and sculptures at 61 locations, and another 13 stations have temporary artwork.
And many more murals can be found on CTA viaducts and retaining walls.
The CTA says the art is “not only intended to beautify the stations, it is also to promote a friendly, inviting atmosphere for riders, while also contributing to the neighborhoods they serve.”
Elizabeth Kelley, the CTA’s art program curator, says artists typically are chosen via an open call to apply, often in coordination with the local alderman.
Among the art:
At the 54th/Cermak Pink Line L station, painted ceramic tiles depicting the history of Cicero were designed by Chicago artist Nicole Gordon in 2004.
At the Rockwell L station on the Brown Line, there’s a piece artist Thomas Skomski created in 2007 that includes glass-enclosed images of water, meant to represent the Chicago River, framed by charred wood that’s a node to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
At the Red Line’s Cermak/Chinatown L stop, a Chinese greeting on the stairway walls was painted by Indira Johnson in 2015.
“The art you see in the station gives you a little moment of respite, a little moment to think of something else,” Johnson says.
At the Pulaski Road Orange Line L stop, Pilsen muralist Hector Duarte worked with students to paint a mural in 1998 through the CTA’s old Adopt-a-Station program.
At the center of the Duarte piece: a rose with flags as petals to represent the diverse backgrounds of Archer Heights. Surrounding the flower one white and one Black hand “represent unity and represent the future,” Duarte says.
Inside the Granville Red Line station, Los Angeles artist Kyungmi Shin used Edgewater as inspiration for a mosaic that features overlapping images of buildings on Granville Avenue.
“Instead of looking at the famous buildings, I wanted to focus on the buildings on that street,” Shin says.
At the Jefferson Park transit center’s bus terminal last year, Indianapolis artist Jamie Pawlus used glass to depict the sun centered in the universe in honor of Polish astronomer Copernicus and the neighborhood’s strong Polish heritage.
When airplanes fly empty, I find myself grounded. As an immigrant cut off from her family, I remember how tears sprung to my eyes when I first saw Jamie Pawlus’s Happiness, a mock airport sign in the ticketing hall of Indianapolis International Airport. Here I am, I realized, happy to be home. This is home. A similar quality of surprise mixed with relief as the first time the U.S. Customs officer didn’t take my fingerprints but said instead, “Welcome home.”
Homebound, the migrant in me rejects the happiness of the homebody who sits down to write, so satisfied in the same armchair every day, a cat on the chair’s arm. Divorced, yet married to my house—a true housewife—I ponder homemaking: the feminist in me cannot understand the one who cooks with such joy. Now, the Pole and the American, the traveler and the homebody, the feminist and the housewife nest peacefully in the two bedrooms of my Midwestern Sears kit bungalow.
Some time after I saw her playful sign, I heard Pawlus interviewed on local radio. When the exhibition period ended, she packed her art piece into her car’s trunk, “The vinyl I took off the display case was like a giant sticker all wadded up into a giant ball that got really dirty quick—I finally had to accept its demise and toss it in the trash.”
I mourned the temporary nature of that public-art installation in my deep attachment to what it achieved, as it jolted me out of my routine trajectory and sent me towards epiphany instead of baggage claim. But if the artist herself accepted her artwork’s transience, I too can welcome impermanence, fluid definitions of self and home: though Happiness ends, so will these strange times.
Ania Spyra is an immigrant wordsmith living in Indianapolis with her deaf cat Kicia. She teaches literature at Butler University.