Cobbled together over more than a century, dressed up with art and traveled by nearly everyone from nearly everywhere, it’s a unique and dynamic beast, this train system of ours.
Those willing to look up a minute from their smartphones at their platform of choice might notice there’s a lot to see to at the T’s point A’s and point B’s: an eye-catching puddle reflection or canoodling couple here, a shadow-cast sidewalk there.
Such is the vision of Laura Meilman a local artist who in 2013 set out to share her eye for art in ordinary places by traveling to each of the T’s 121 subway stops and capturing their feel, one colorful swipe at a time.
“I wanted an art project that would sort of have a clear goal and that would get me out and exploring Boston,” said Meilman, 27. “I decided to just pick up some markers and go for it.”
A collection of her popular sketches, which she calls Project T-Scapes, is now compiled on a website. They are available to buy in calendar form and on postcards, and next month they’ll be featured as the inspiration for a performance art show in East Boston.
Pictured in each are tiny scenes, scribbled on benches, inside trains and from vantage points far away. In one, she captured a T worker pushing a broom across the floor at Assembly station. In her entry for Oak Grove, an Orange Line car idles in the dark.
She said she picked which spots to focus on not by following a plan but just by looking around. Maybe the lighting was just so, or the exactly right subject happened to be at the stop the same time she was.
“It’s pretty intuitive,” Meilman said. “Sometimes it would jump right out at me. … Other days I’d find nothing at all.”
She met some curious observers along the way, and had some quick chats with commuters – abbreviated as all T platform conversations are by the coming and going of trains.
One of them, a man named Ken Gagne she met for a few minutes while sketching near South Station, went on to post about it on Craigslist’s “missed connections” section. They’re now friends.
It was a chance encounter among hundreds of commuters, and the story of their meeting left such an impression on Gagne that he hopes to one day share it on The Moth, the spoken-word production.
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“She could have kept them to herself,” Gagne said of the sketches. “But she has a willingness to take those chances and hope for the best.”
Soon, the sketches will be taking center stage in a music, theater and poetry production called Pla(T)forms, for which about 50 writers in Boston and beyond were invited to use the works as inspiration. Readings are scheduled for Dec. 10 and 12 at the Atlantic Works Gallery.
“It’s been a nice mix of distinct voices,” said Jamie Carillo, the co-artistic director at the Fort Point Theatre Channel who is curating and acting out the show’s contributions. “Much like the T itself.”
Meilman said it’s possible she’ll turn her attention next to MBTA bus stops, or take on the challenge of hitting every stop on the commuter rail. Her dream, though, would be to take the project nationwide, Amtrak station to Amtrak station.
She said she doesn’t plan to update the collection when things change – when the renovation at Government Center station wraps up, or if the proposed extension of the Green Line ever happens.
“The way I’m feeling about it is I captured this one moment in MBTA history,” she said. “But you never know.”