Ralph Gilbert is a figurative muralist, experienced in painting narratives dealing with diverse cultures and history, including the Helene S. Mills Senior Center of Fulton in Atlanta's historic Martin Luther King, Jr. district. Gilbert is a professor of drawing, painting and printmaking at Georgia State University. In 2005 he was awarded an Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Fund Fellowship in mural painting at the National Academy of Design in New York.
Asked about his interest in the project, Gilbert said, "I fell in love with the idea of creating these murals. The prospect of making works of art about the history of a significant and beautiful structure in a great American city was irresistible, and I feel greatly honored to have been chosen."
Gilbert was selected from a pool of 69 local and national artists. The majority of the funding for Union Depot's $1.25 million public art program—80 percent—comes from the Federal Transit Administration, and could not be restricted to Minnesota artists only. Gilbert joins four other artist teams whose work is already underway. Artist selections were recommended by a review panel comprised of artists, art professionals, historic preservationists and community representatives.
As an effort to support emerging public artists, RCRRA also announced the selection of four artists and one artist team who will share a $50,000 commission for the newly restored transportation hub. Artists were invited to propose human-scale artwork—furniture, small objects or "Other Surprising Amenities"—to engage the public in unique and unexpected ways. The winning artists, selected from a pool of more than 50 local and national candidates, are all Twin Cities artists.
• Michael Bahl is an artist with a studio in Lowertown, just blocks away from Union Depot. Bahl is a self-described "Paleo-osteological Interpreter"—perhaps the only person working in this field—who uses the actual bones of contemporary mammals to create skeletons of ancient, imaginary creatures. His sculptural creation for Union Depot, which will hang in the concourse, will involve an elaborate and whimsical back story that will entertain and excite those young and old. ($8,000 commission)
• Kyle Fokken is a sculpture artist who combines elements of folk and visionary art with toy imagery that is playful, yet references historical transportation vehicles, like trains, ships and planes. His work has been described as "retro-futurist," for its tendency to "mash-up" distinct forms from far-apart eras or geographic regions. Fokken will create a sequence of three train sculptures for Union Depot's grand waiting room that portray an evolution of his stylized vision, a sequence that will echo a nearby existing terracotta frieze that shows the real-life evolution of transportation in Minnesota. ($14,000 commission)
• Josie Lewis creates vivid wall art and furniture with collage work embedded in layers of epoxy resin. Her work for galleries, corporations and private collectors has gained wide attention from various media. At Union Depot, Lewis will create a large handmade artisan table with a top surface of resin and collage referencing travel, rail, maps, time and Minnesota history. The table will serve as public meeting space, a brief stop for lunch on the go, or for simply lingering with a laptop, book or a conversation. ($7,000 commission)
• Andrew MacGuffie, Noah Keesecker and Peter Haakon Thompson are a team of artists whose work involves, respectively: sculpture; composition and multimedia art; and interactive/participatory activities in unexpected places. The artist team—two of whom work in Lowertown—has embraced the concept of Union Depot as the "Living Room of St. Paul" by combining sculpture and community game play. They will create a sculptural steel, musical, participatory ping pong table that will engage people as a source of entertainment, a tool for creating conversations and an interactive musical instrument for exploration and expression. ($13,000 commission)
• Aldo Moroni is a noted sculptor, curator, public artist and educator. For the past 40 years, Moroni has explored history, architecture and urban issues through his sculptural work. At Union Depot, Moroni will create four ceramic depictions of St. Paul at four different points in the city's history: 1850, 1900, 1950 and 2013. His sculptures will be in the head house, greeting the public as they pass through the building. ($8,000 commission)
The Union Depot is owned by Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA), Union Depot was originally built in the 1920s and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. RCRRA secured federal, state and county funding to finance the $243 million restoration, and major renovation began in 2011. The multimodal transportation hub opened to the public for the first time in more than 40 years in December 2012 with more than 300 daily Metro Transit buses. Jefferson Lines began intercity bus service in January, and Amtrak service will relocate to Union Depot by the end of 2013. In 2014, Metro Transit's Green Line will also serve the station and its growing mix of commercial and retail offerings, public programming and private events. For more information visit regionalrail.org and follow Union Depot on Facebook at facebook.com/uniondepot.