The Transit Museum is at the corner of Boerum Place & Schermerhorn Street. The archives are across the street at 130 Livingston. Image via

On Friday, I visited the archives of the New York Transit museum in downtown Brooklyn to officially enter the home stretch of my project. As I mentioned in my previous process blog, looking objectively at my initial “blind spot” concept and the massive trove of content I had gathered gave me a fresh perspective on having a more tangible, historically rooted, and media-centric thrust. So it was with a new confidence that I entered the basement of 130 Livingston with archivist Carey Stumm.

As I gave more thought to the symbols that subway stations use to communicate location, I really wanted to hone in on two things — 1) the plaques and mosaics that adorn some stations and 2) the colors of tile along station walls. Stations use both of these features to communicate location, whether by reflecting area landmarks or denoting which stops are local or express. I was hoping to find as much visual information as I could that would possibly lay out rationale or present information about them comprehensively.

I learned very early into this visit that just because the information may exist doesn’t mean that it will be organized in the way that you’re thinking. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you can (or should) hope to get through it all in a single visit. Faced with those constraints, I realized that I had to improvise. I was very lucky to find the original architectural drawing of plaques that hung in the Chambers Street station and several mock-ups of tile colorings, but they were set among many types of architectural files and I didn’t have the time that day to dive in too deeply.

The next great find was a series of photos purchased by the museum in the 1990’s taken by photographer David Lubarsky. Lubarsky’s photos documented many subway plaques and mosaics, but the museum hadn’t yet sorted through them to provide descriptions or other identifying information. I took photos of Lubarsky’s work and cross-referenced them against the original manuscript of what seems to be the magnum opus of subway station history, Philip Ashforth Coppola’s Silver Connections. Coppolla’s book has (at least) four volumes at a few hundred pages each that go to great lengths to describe the stories behind each subway station and the art and decoration they feature. Again, I wasn’t able to dive deeply into these books, as I discovered them toward the end of my visit, but I was able to make good use of them and they’re certainly great resources for any future work I do on this project.

With this visit and last week’s reminder in-class that it’s okay for our work to be continually ‘in progress’ and not ‘the definitive ___________,’ I feel very prepared (and relieved 🙂 ahead of presenting on Wednesday. At the end of my visit, Carey mentioned that she’s looking forward to seeing my final product. With such great information at my disposal now, I’m happy to say that I am, too!