Mary Beams painted these iconic Boston works, commissioned in 1977. She said she hasn|Skinner, Inc. www.skinnerinc.com1/17 Mary Beams painted these iconic Boston works, commissioned in 1977. She said she hasn|Skinner, Inc. www.skinnerinc.com
Mary Beams painted these iconic Boston works, commissioned in 1977. She said she hasn|Skinner, Inc. www.skinnerinc.com2/17
For years, they greeted commuters on the wall at the highly-trafficked Government Center. Soon, you can take them home.
More than a dozen pieces of MBTA history are set to go up for auction starting next week, all of them paintings by artist Mary Beams, formerly of Boston.
The 19 paintings will besold by Skinner Auctioneers in 17 lots via online auction beginning Oct. 20.
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The murals, which depicted images of passengers and other snapshots of city life in train windows, were removed from the station when a renovation project began in 2014. They couldn’t be re-installed at the new station because they are made of plywood and don’t meet current fire code, an MBTA spokesman said.
When the T contacted Beams about the paintings, the agency offered her the chance to take them back to her home in Minnesota. But that didn’t feel right, Beams told Metro.
“They feel like children to me. They have a life of their own and they’ve grown up in Boston and they should stay there,” Beams said. “Especially since I haven’t encountered them in so long.”
The T commissioned the paintings in the 1970s, and Beams said she left Boston shortly after finishing the project.
“I haven’t seen them since,” she said.
But many Bostonians and visitors did, as untold thousands passed through the station in the heart of downtown.
In that time they made an impression on Bryan Beaucher, co-owner of Ward Maps, which operates the MBTAgifts shop, a retailer for retired T memorabilia that has helped the agency sell signs and other goods since 2011.
“I spent a lot of time in the city growing up and I just loved seeing all the historical elements that are in those paintings,” Beaucher told Metro.
He said he expected a lot of interest in the art, which is handmade on plywood—most of the modern art pieces on today's T platform, if they aren’t sculptures, are printed on porcelain, he said. By the auction’s end, he said he would be surprised if many of Beams’ pieces didn’t sell for $3,000 or more.
“They’re all one-of-a-kind and they’re actually done by an artist,” he said. “That’s pretty special.”
They’re also “quintessentially Boston,” said Skinner specialist Michael Moser, emblematic of a style of realism that took off in the city in that era.
Want to see the colorful panels one last time? They will be on display at the city’s transportation building at 10 Park Plaza from Oct 20-29 in its second-floor atrium. That’s an unusual move for an auctioneer that typically shows its collections in-house, Moser said, but he said it’s a fitting tribute for the public works.
A T spokesman said proceeds from the sales would go toward a porcelain enamel panel in the new Government Center station featuring copies of Beams’ images, with the remainder supporting more public art in T stations.
The artist, Beams, planned to visit Boston for a preview event on Oct. 21.