MARTA's new rail station in Sandy Springs soothes riders starting a trip into the city --- or calling it a day.
By Martha Ezzard - Staff Writer
February 25, 2001
I closed my umbrella with a shiver on a recent gloomy workday. Time to enter the cavern. That's the way I think of the Five Points MARTA station, which can make a gray day grayer. No color. Little light. Lots of litter.
Twenty-eight minutes later, I arrived on a different planet.
Glistening white tile and shiny chrome make the Sandy Springs MARTA station, bathed in artificial light, feel like the top of the world, though it's as underground as any of MARTA's 37 stations. Once I stepped off the train onto the platform, my eyes automatically followed the geometric modules of Katherine Mitchell's 12-foot-high "ziggurats" upward --- the colorful pyramidlike art that adorns the station's mammoth architectural space. The stepped forms, characteristic of the Georgia artist's paintings, are the modern-day gates of Babylon, said Mitchell, who met me at the train.
The Sandy Springs station invites lingering. I imagined live music --- jazz maybe --- as rhythmic as the moving train, the moving people and the moving stripes of Mitchell's art. The zigzag lines, made of 4-inch-square ceramic tile patterns, are done in shades of maroon and gray on the northbound side, green and blue on the southbound. But the feeling that the murals are in motion is due to Mitchell's skillful use of black and white bands of tile that push the shapes inward or outward to complement the architectural spaces.
I walked the long platform, bounded the stairs, viewed the art from all angles. "Please don't let this look like the tile walls of a fast food restaurant, I used to pray," said Mitchell, with a soft laugh. She need not have worried. Even where interrupted by fire extinguishers and water fountains, the art softens and wraps the everyday messiness of public transit.
Mitchell's favorite spot is at the station's north end. There, her tile works hang tapestrylike on a dramatic two-story wall alongside shiny escalators. The woven effect is the result of alternating shiny and matte finishes on the tile bands that compose each piece.
The Sandy Springs MARTA station, completed two months ago, is Mitchell's first public art project. A lifelong proponent of saving the urban environment, the 56-year-old artist was selected from 10 finalists in 1995. She had only four weeks to come up with her concept --- a little scary, she admits, since working with architectural drawings was a new experience. After her concept was complete, she had to figure a system for numbering and labeling each tile in her work, which spans the entire station, entrances to exits.
An Atlanta College of Art graduate and Emory University art instructor for 20 years, Mitchell developed a love for ancient Minoan art when she was a graduate student in Italy. That experience is reflected in the Babylonian gate design and the terra cottas, blues and whites that characterize many of her paintings. Later, while working in New York, she became fascinated with the hard surfaces of cityscape. That fascination shows, too, in her MARTA art, which complements the tile, glass and chrome materials used by Lord Aeck & Sargent and Duckett Vandevere & Associates, the architects on the project.
Over a cup of coffee later, Mitchell talked about what she hopes MARTA riders will take away from her art, a rich experience of connectedness to the environment around them. I thought about that when I returned from my MARTA "high" in Sandy Springs. MARTA wants to spend $700,000 on a marketing study and many commuters are protesting. Spend it on improving basic services, they say. But services are only part of what makes us decide to ride the train rather than drive our cars. It's all about the feeling of the total experience. Sure, all MARTA stations have some art, but the only other station dominated by art is Decatur, where Larry Connatser's murals of fantasy vacations provide a mental getaway.
Trains that are safe and clean --- sure. But how about more art, light and color --- aesthetics no drive time, with or without traffic, can match.
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