One of my favorite subway stations, in terms of art, is the 125th Street Station in Harlem. Artist Faith Ringgold’s mosaic murals, titled Flying Home: Harlem Heroes and Heroines, draws from the neighborhoods rich history and culture of her birthplace. The art is colorful and distinctive – there’s no chance that you will think you are anywhere other than Harlem.
Each section of the murals has an image of an iconic example of Harlem architecture (some no longer in existence), as well as historical figures associated with Harlem’s African-American history. For example, here’s the famous Apollo Theater, with images of Dinah Washington, Florence Mills, Ralph Cooper, Billie Holliday, and the Ink Spots.
Upon closer inspection, the murals details are spectacular.
This next one includes the Cotton Club, a nightclub from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as performers Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith, who performed at the Cotton Club regularly. (I learned in my research that the establishment unfortunately illustrated the highly segregated society of that era – although African-Americans performed at the venue, only whites were allowed in as customers.)
Here’s the Harlem Opera House, with soprano Mariam Anderson and singer and actor Paul Robeson.
And Yankee Stadium, with boxers Joe Lewis and Sugar Ray Robinson overhead.
Here’s Madame Walker’s Beauty Parlor, with Madame C.J. Walker hovering over it herself, next to Olympian Jesse Owens. Notably, Owens appears to be jumping out of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.
Marcus Garvey and Adam Clay Powell, Jr. float over the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
And Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X rise above the Theresa Hotel, at one time known as the “Waldorf of Harlem.”
Here’s W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod Bethune, associated with organizations they founded – the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), and the National Council of Negro Women (N.C.N.W.).
Above the Schomburg Library, a New York Public Library Center devoted to the study of African-American history, literature, and culture, you’ll find writers Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston.
And Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and Aaron Douglas keep the Studio Museum of Harlem company.
Finally, you’ll find tile work related to the station itself, including the historic 125th Street terra cotta station signs and trim, as well as a rather out-of-place modern mosaic and tile sign.
If you’d like to see Flying Home in person, take the 2 or 3 train to the 125th Street Station in Manhattan.
18 thoughts on “Subway Station Art: 125th Street Station”
You’ve done the mosaics proud, especially with the detail shots. The concept of the figures flying is a powerful one, and your commentary is a mini-history of Harlem. I’d love to see them, but you’ve saved me a long and expensive trip!
Love the Cotton Club! I didn’t know its history. It is sad.
I didn’t either until I was researching the post. I really learn a lot when I try to learn more about what I find in my explorations.
That is absolutely wonderful. One of the best posts so far!
Happy tears running down my face as I do believe Bessie Smith’s greatest fan ever was my Dad and so few people anymore even know who she was – when I saw this it just made me happy – thanks! You totally made my day!!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I’m happy that seeing her image brought back happy memories.
Another beautiful mosaic display. I love how they’re all flying above their associated buildings other than Jesse Owens. It really ties the display all together.
Thanks for putting together your photos and research into a wonderful post!I
I love all the art in the subways, but the mosaics have always held a special place – there’s something amazing about the way the little pieces make the whole, and you were smart to show those close-ups. Thanks for introducing me to one I’ve never seen – next time I’m in NY!
I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Have you seen any of my earlier subway art posts? Many of them have fabulous mosaics, especially the new stations on the Second Ave. line. The easiest way to access them is by clicking the “transportation” link on the right hand side of the page.
I love all your Subway Art posts, and I think these may be my favourite of all the murals you’ve posted yet! I love how happy all the people look to be flying around, especially Zora Neale Hurston!
I’m glad you enjoy them! I’ve got many more stations to post about, as we have a lot of subway art. This station is definitely one of my favorites as well.
Love this, very impressed by the technical skill, & especially by the decisions:who to include, in what groupings, and in what context of other items & symbolism. Very rich!
I love all the mosaics in the NYC subway — they are really spectacular.
I live n of NYC and CJ Walker’s enormous white mansion is about a 6-minute drive south of me, in Irvington, NY.
Looks like a must-visit for someone like me. Thanks for sharing!