Subway Murals Roll at Auction

BOSTON -- Subway murals created by the artist Mary Beams for the Government Center station in Boston will be auctioned online.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network are eager to examine this fine example of modern Americana.

In the 1970s, Mary Beams was known in the Boston area as a maker of animated films and a Harvard art teacher. She is now known as a pie maker at the Pie Place Café in northern Minnesota and a contributor to cookbooks. In a few weeks, a blast from her fine-art past will go up for auction in Boston.

Last year the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority alerted her that one of her most ambitious artworks, a series of painted plywood murals for the Government Center station, had been removed as part of a sweeping renovation. It offered to have the pieces shipped to Minnesota, but Ms. Beams declined. “These murals are so Bostonian,” she said in a recent interview.

They will be offered by the Skinner auction house in an online sale from Oct. 20 through 29, with an accompanying exhibition at 10 Park Plaza in Boston.

The panels consist of about 130 linear feet of images of subway trains and riders that Ms. Beams created in 1977 as a temporary installation for the train-platform walls at Government Center. Instead, the murals remained there for three decades.

Despite some surface grime and scraping, the palette of Benjamin Moore house paint has remained vibrant.

Auction estimates for the 17 panels, most of which measure eight feet wide, range from $600 to $1,500 each. The proceeds will go toward commissioning more transit art.

Ms. Beams depicted trains empty and full, with glimpses of conductors, overhead wires and signs warning “No Stops.” Riders of varied ethnicities and ages, some of them real people in Ms. Beams’s circle, are shown staring impassively or reading blurry newspapers with barely legible words like “energy squeeze.” A few pets roam the aisles, and empty bubbles in midair represent passengers’ thoughts and conversations.

Ms. Beams had originally planned to paint snippets of dialogue that she had overheard on Boston trains within the bubbles. But in the end, she said, “it seemed better and more mysterious to let people fill in the blanks.”

She left Boston in 1978 without seeing the murals installed. Returning to that city for the first time since then, she will see her work at an evening event at Skinner on Oct. 21.

In the 1990s she largely abandoned the art world and destroyed her archive without regret. “It was incredibly freeing,” Ms. Beams said.

If the murals do not sell, she added half jokingly, she will propose to have them hung at a nearby Subway chain restaurant. The next cookbook from the Pie Place Café is due in 2016.

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