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On January 2008, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Arts and Design posted a Call for Images for a new permanent art installation in the Pelham Bay line’s elevated Parkchester Station in the Bronx, NY. This project is part of a capital improvement fund for several stations on this line; Parkchester Station will be fully revitalized and the community will see an upgrade to the entire station facility, which will feature two 11-foot high faceted glass installations.

Parkchester project (dragged)
East 177th Street/Parkchester Station before the capital improvements

William Low was awarded this prestigious commission for his submission, Sunrise/Moonrise, with Erskin Mitchell Stained Glass contracted to interpret the final designs into faceted glass. Faceted glass is similar to the stained glass used in churches, except this glass is about one inch thick and instead of lead, an epoxy resin is used to separate the facets of colored glass.

This station also happens to be two stops away from the Morrison Avenue Station, where William’s father had a Chinese Hand Laundry. This project was very much a homecoming for the Bronx native!

Beginning with sketches, paint and inspiration

As William planned out the artwork for this proposal, he considered the station layout. The station is split into two sections; each section has a staircase for access to different platforms. The trains on the uptown platform are heading towards Pelham Bay Park while the downtown platform is used for trains going to Manhattan.

stairwell
Stairwell on downtown side of Parkchester Station

William was intrigued by the idea that most commuters will be using this station twice a day, but will only pass each window once: in the morning or at night. So he decided that the main subject of the art will be the effect of light and its changes from morning to night. The Bronx cityscape will be portrayed as an icon, without referencing a specific block or neighborhood. The scene will include rolling hills, beautiful old apartments and parks, but this is simply the backdrop– the main character will be the sun and the moon.

 

Faceted Glass Interpretations

To create the final design, William needed to collaborate with Erskin Mitchell of Erskin Mitchell Stained Glass and this became an exercise of “give and take.” William needed to make adjustments to his design for he was not familiar with this new medium and he needed to give Erskin the freedom to translate his design and rely on his expertise to select, cut and assemble the one-inch thick colored glass pieces needed for the twenty individual panels in each installation. The final design for both windows (with indications for the breakdown of glass) were presented and approved by MTA Arts and Design’s Creative Director, Sandra Bloodworth and Deputy Director Amy Hausmann, with Lydia Bradshaw overseeing the process.

Shopping and Fabrication

After the final designs were approved, William and Erskin visited the Blenko Glass Company, in Milton, West Virginia with a shopping list and a color printout of the final design. During their stay, both explored the vast warehouse, searching through open crates of colored glass. To determine the subtle shifts in the color of the glass, individual blocks were held up to the sky for comparison.

converting design to Stained glass
Shopping list for glass, with a color printout of the final design

 

candy red glass
Open crates of thick, red glass

 

color-glass
Erskin Mitchell comparing color shifts between two samples of blue glass.

Visiting the Master Glassworks Studio

On October 2010, William visited Erskin Mitchell’s studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to see some completed panels and check on the progress of the rest of the murals. Completed panels were propped on one side of the studio, while a workbench held pieces of panels in progress.

The entire process is painstaking and complex: individual glass pieces are chosen for their subtlety of color, cut by hand and pieced together. The workbench looks like it is covered with pieces of a massive jigsaw puzzle.

Workbench with assembled pieces in place
Workbench with assembled pieces in place
Detail of border design

 

Installation

On January 6, 2011, a truck loaded with crates from Baton Rouge, Louisiana arrive in the construction site of Parkchester Station. The completed faceted glass sections have finally arrived! Wearing hard hats, William Low, Erskin Mitchell and Lydia Bradshaw visit the site to examine the individual panels and to oversee the installation.

With the scaffolding set up, the installers move quickly.

 

To see the glass come to life, as it shimmers from the street activity below is a sight to behold! You can see buses, cars and people change colors as they move from colored glass to glass. The overall effect was something that William never would have expected.

sunrise window finished composite

What an honor to partner with the MTA Arts and Design; to bring art to the people– to last for generations!

Moonrise and family