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Hear the Lone Whistle Moan; copacetic

Harlem-125th Street

Hear the Lone Whistle Moan; copacetic

Alison Saar
Photo of Alison Saar’s bronze artwork in center depicting train conductor tipping his hat.
"Hear the Lone Whistle Moan" (1991) by Alison Saar at MNR Harlem-125th Street Station. Photo: Rob Wilson

About the project

In 1991, Alison Saar created "Hear the Lone Whistle Moan," a series of bronze relief sculptures on the north and south platforms of the station. The title refers to a spiritual that uses the train as a metaphor for the passage to heaven. Trains have often been associated by African Americans with escape, and the Underground Railroad in particular.  

In Saar’s words, “these pieces … create a simple narrative of two people. One, the young woman coming to the city in hopes of advancing her career; the other, a successful businessman leaving the city to return to his hometown. I believe these two scenarios to be examples of how many Americans have used the railroads to and from New York throughout history. Yet I was also addressing the specific and rich tradition of the role of the railroad in general in the lives of African Americans.” A third figurative sculpture of a train conductor is located at the top of the platform stairs. 

In 2018, as part of station improvement, Saar expanded her original project and created "copacetic," a panoramic scene of imagined dancers, singers, musicians, and patrons enjoying Harlem’s heyday of the 1930s and ’40s. "copacetic" comprises 24 laminated glass panels installed throughout the four glass shelters along the platforms. The upper windows are inspired by the Harlem-125 Street station’s wrought iron work and designs from the African diaspora.  

The glass artwork was created from the artist’s original woodcut prints, which as she explains, “gives a nod to the work of the many great African American artists of the Harlem Renaissance that have used the same medium [woodcut prints] in their practice, such as Elizabeth CatlettHale Woodruff, and Aaron Douglas.” Saar’s palette of deep reds, blues, and yellows introduces a vibrant graphic quality to the platform’s shelters, illuminated by the rising and setting sun over Harlem.

Saar’s projects at Harlem-125 Street encourage preservation of Harlem’s great legacy and celebrate its rich history. 

About the artist

Alison Saar is a Los Angeles-based sculptor, mixed-media, and installation artist. Her artwork focuses on the African diaspora and black female identity, and is influenced by African, Caribbean, and Latin American folk art and spirituality. Saar studied studio art and art history at Scripps College in Claremont, California, receiving a B.A. in art history in 1978. In 1981, she earned her MFA from the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1983, Saar became an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, incorporating found objects from the city environment. She completed another residency in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1985, which augmented her urban style with Southwest Native American and Mexican influences.