Who Bought the MBTA’s Government Center Murals?

We caught up with a few of the auction winners, who'll take the 1970s-era works by Mary Beams as close as Cambridge and as far as Singapore.

mbta government center murals auction

‘Dog in Doorway,’ a mural from Government Center Station by Mary Beams, was purchased by a couple in Singapore. / Photo provided

A few of the 1970s-era Government Center Station murals that the MBTA auctioned off last week aren’t going too far from their original home in downtown Boston.

One is headed for the South Shore, to a house in Hull. Another is headed north to New Hampshire, near Dartmouth College. One will go just across the river, to a house in Cambridge.

But one piece of Green Line history has a lengthy journey ahead, to an expat’s apartment on the other side of the world.

Kate McFarlane, who grew up in Hingham, but has been living Singapore for five years, was fascinated by the story of the MBTA’s search for Mary Beams, the mystery artist behind the murals, and her eventual decision to auction them off to the public. She was also drawn to the colorful style of the artworks.

“It’s so vivid, and somehow both whimsical and very straightforward,” she wrote in an email.

McFarlane’s husband set his alarm for 2:30 a.m. in Singapore—13 hours ahead of Boston—to wake up for the end of bidding. The couple ended up winning “Dog in Doorway,” a piece whose whimsy they think will appeal to their 17-month-old daughter.

“I’m so excited to tell her about seeing the mural when I was a little girl going to visit my dad at work in Boston,” said McFarlane, whose father retired as the chairman of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission. “I also still recall the specific smell of Government Center—my favorite station because there was a Dunkin on the platform!—and am really curious to see if the murals have absorbed that at all.”

McFarlane is not the only buyer who’s curious about the smell of the murals, many of which were noted as stained with surface grime and small abrasions in the auction catalog.

“It’s not only quite large, but I need to see how much residual ‘T’ smell it emits before I commit it to a location,” said Sylvia Richards, the buyer from New Hampshire, in an email.

Richards, who purchased a mural depicting a Green Line train, recalled her own experience of traveling through Government Center Station, as a teenager and young adult in the 1980s.

“For me, the murals are not only iconic Boston, but I also love their large scale, late 70s bold graphic style, and unpretentious nature,” she said.

The aesthetics also appealed to Anne Tallon, who won two pieces, including “Man in Hat Reading,” which she plans to hang at her house in Cambridge.

“I loved that they perfectly capture the look of the 70s, and that they had been a constant in the background of so many people’s lives, while so much change was happening in the city,” she said.

Tallon’s second piece, “Wires 1,” will hang at her husband’s office at Congress Wealth Management in the Seaport.

Three of the 19 panels in the auction that were sold together as a triptych will head to another local office location, in Newton.

Amy Kruglak, the vice president of human resources at Curaspan, a healthcare IT company in Riverside Center, found the murals to be a perfect fit for an upcoming office expansion.

“Our workplace is a really unique environment where culture is very important,” she said in a phone interview. “We want it to be fun and create a great sense of pride about the community and inspire people to do great work because they’re in a great space.”


Curaspan employees with one of their three new murals. / Photo provided

Conference rooms within the new expansion will be named after MBTA stations—including Government Center—and a large meeting area will play up other Boston themes as well, forming an appropriate backdrop for the murals.

Like Kruglak and her colleagues, Jason McCann has also already pinpointed an exact location for his new acquisition.

McCann, an associate director at Harvard Law School’s career services, purchased a piece titled “Window Leaners” with his husband Chad Wolfe, a lawyer at State Street Corporation. The couple plans on hanging the mural, depicting a group of commuters, above the staircase in their house in Hull.

“I think it’s kind of nice and relaxed. I think the fact that it’s a little bit rough is something we like about it, too,” said McCann in a phone interview. “We wouldn’t really have anything in our house that’s overly pristine.”

McCann also expressed his support for where the auction’s proceeds will go.

The auction generated just over $65,000 in sales, according to MBTA deputy press secretary Jason Johnson, and the proceeds will pay for an enamel panel with copies of the murals that will be installed at the renovated Government Center Station, scheduled for a spring 2016 opening, as well as new art.

“I think it’s great. As difficult as it is to get things like the Green Line extension and other capital projects moving, I’m glad they found ways to get revenue for things people wouldn’t prioritize,” said McCann. “I think it’s important, especially with something like the T that has so much history, to have art.”