The average MBTA rider rarely looks beyond the transit system’s turbulence, delays, and crowds, the banality of a daily routine. But artist Laura Meilman notices its vivid colors, clean lines, and defining details.
In the MBTA, she sees a work of art.
It inspires Meilman’s series “Project T-scapes.” The 24-year-old artist plans to visit and draw each of the MBTA’s 121 subway and streetcar stations and their environs.
In brightly colored markers, Meilman captures snow-laden train tracks, concrete subway stations, and city nightscapes. Her drawing of Copley Station portrays the glow of Old South Church. Jamaica Plain’s brownstones serve as the backdrop for her Riverway Station drawing. The Mattapan High-Speed Line’s Milton Station is viewed from an overlooking bridge through the veil of a chain-link fence.
“One of the things I would love to do is travel and make artwork inspired by where I travel,” Meilman said. “I thought I would start locally.”
Her first stop was Heath Street Station, just blocks from her Jamaica Plain home. Her representation depicts a Green Line streetcar as if moves along its track against a background of deep blues and browns.
“Even though it was local and close to my neighborhood, it felt like new experience, a new way to explore the city,” she said.
Meilman, an Ithaca, N.Y., native, moved to Boston about a year and a half ago after studying painting at Earlham College in Indiana.
The idea of sketching MBTA stations arose from a conversation with a co-worker at the USS Constitution, where Meilman works as a museum educator.
She has completed drawings of the Red Line and has partially captured the Green Line. She plans to end the project with the Orange Line, on which she most regularly commutes.
She chooses her vantage point for each drawing upon reaching the station. Meilman said she tends to gravitate to pieces of art, like the murals at Prudential Station or Ashmont Station’s “Sleeping Moon” sculpture.
The artist spends about half an hour at each MBTA station, often sketching the lines of her drawings at the location and then moving to a nearby coffee shop to refine the ideas.
Connections she is making during her travels infuse her project.
As she added color to her drawing of Park Street Station in a coffee shop on a recent cold night, Meilman said, she was approached by a Northeastern University student. Their exchange was brief, she said, but afterward the student shared her work on social media. When Meilman drew the Northeastern stop, he once again promoted her work, prompting a flood of social media shares.
“It was location pride, school pride,” said Meilman. “All these people have a connection to this one place.”
On her way to Mattapan Station, Meilman struck up a conversation with a T conductor, who informed her that the high-speed line was once featured on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” because it is the country’s only trolley system to run through a graveyard.
“We’ve always known that the MBTA plays an integral role in this culturally rich area,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. “Laura’s project beautifully depicts the important relationship between a sprawling public transit system and the communities it serves.”
Once completed, the project may be exhibited or collected into a book, Meilman said.
Meilman hopes the final product will showcase both the landscape and the diversity of the city.
“I think everyone in Boston has experience with the T,” Meilman said. “It really connects us.”Catherine Cloutier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cmcloutier.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect estimate for the duration of the drawing project.