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Telling Stories: Public Art in Train Stations

By June 4, 2018 No Comments
Colorful tilework at Wilmington, Del., station.

A 1984 installation at the Wilmington, Del., station was inspired by station architect Frank Furness. Artist Joyce Kozloff created hand-painted tiles arranged in geometric patterns – some replicate Furness’ drawings.

Train stations, by function and design, are often considered an extension of a community’s “public realm”: common spaces such as parks, streets and civic buildings where people interact with one another as they go about their daily activities.

Due to this public nature, these spaces act as local landmarks that help people navigate their community. A train station’s public identity is further enhanced by its role as a gateway for visitors, which makes it an appropriate place to tell stories about the community’s past and present – and future aspirations.

Public art is one way of conveying these stories, and pieces ranging from sculptures to murals can be found in stations across Amtrak’s national system. Public input often helps define scopes of work, themes and artist selection. Funding sources include donations and set-aside programs. Below we take a look at a handful of recent station public art projects.


Carlinville, Illinois

Mural showing Abraham Lincoln waving from a train.

Abraham Lincoln waves to travelers at Carlinville in a mural by David Bellm. Image credit: David Bellm.

In addition to a bright and airy waiting room and covered porches, the new depot that opened in Dec. 2017 features an 8’ x 17’ exterior mural by Carlinville native David Bellm. The artwork depicts Abraham Lincoln – who occasionally came to town while a lawyer and later campaigned there for the U.S. Senate – tipping his hat to modern-day visitors from the back of a train.

Mayor Deanna Demuzio had the idea of placing a mural at the station, and the city council commissioned Bellm to complete the artwork. Once the mayor and council had approved the draft concept, Bellm painted the five panels at his studio. “I am both proud and humbled to know that my mural will welcome travelers,” said Bellm. “I have seen first-hand how [public art] not only encourages interest in art, it promotes community involvement and pride…”

Funding: The mural cost approximately $10,000, plus the cost of installation, and was paid for by the city.


Dearborn, Michigan

Mosaic - primarily blue - located at the Dearborn, Mich., train station.

“Transitions,” a mosaic completed by Dearborn high school students who participated in a youth art group. Image credit: MDOT.

Ten high school students worked together to design and craft a colorful mosaic – “Transitions” – installed at the city’s John D. Dingell Transit Center. They were participants in Pockets of Perception — We Are One Community (known as POP), a youth art group. POP is sponsored by the Dearborn Community Fund (DCF), a nonprofit organization that supports arts activities across the city. “It’s a diverse group of young people creating art for public enjoyment while also learning to work as a team,” said DCF Executive Director EmmaJean Woodyard.

POP is an apprentice-style program where the students learn from professional artists and business leaders as they develop and execute their works of art. One of the station project architects worked closely with the group to develop the mosaic design, and he also provided insight into the architecture/engineering industry.

Funding: Individual donations and two gifts from local foundations covered the approximately $38,000 cost (materials, installation, student stipends and instructor salaries).


St. Paul, Minnesota

Train sculpture with wings located at St. Paul Union Depot.

Artist Kyle Fokken combined folk-art and toy imagery to create a sequence of three train sculptures for Union Depot’s Waiting Room. Image credit: Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority.

At Union Depot in St. Paul, which reopened as an intermodal center in 2012 following an extensive rehabilitation, public art was key to creating a place where neighborhood residents and others are invited to gather and explore. At the time, federal transit funding guidelines allowed a portion of grants to be used for stand-alone public art.

Federal set-asides funded 10 works of art throughout Union Depot, including a photographic mural tracing the history of the site and sculptures suspended from the ceiling. A local selection committee, comprised of members of St. Paul’s artistic and business community, selected the artists, half of whom were from Minnesota.

Funding: $1.25 million via the Federal Transit Administration.

Does your station feature public art? Let us know about the work and artist, and we’ll update your station profile page.