Dorothea Tanning '32 Honored on NYC Subway System

May 15, 2012

by Rana Tahir '13

Dorothea TanningThe New York City subway system is getting an artistic revamp, starting with the poetry of Knox College alumna Dorothea Tanning '32.

Originally established through a partnership between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Poetry Society of America in 1992, Poetry in Motion displayed more than 200 poems on subway trains. But after more than 16 years, the program ended.

In April 2012, the MTA Arts for Transit program relaunched Poetry in Motion and selected Tanning's poem, "Graduation," as the first featured poem.

"People really loved the program, and they told us that they missed it," said Amy Wanggaard Hausmann, a 1990 Knox College graduate and assistant director of MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design. Arts for Transit encourages the use of public transit in New York by presenting visual and performing art programs to more than 8.5 million riders each day.

The relaunched program will showcase two new poems each quarter on posters in the subway cars themselves as well as on the back of MetroCards, which are the tickets used to ride public transportation.

"It's a little piece of poetry for people to keep in their pocket," Hausmann explained.Dorothea Tanning (Photo at right: Dorothea Tanning's poem, "Graduation," as presented for the New York program. Artwork by Joan Linder.)

The Poetry Society of America compiled a group of poems for Arts for Transit to consider. The group included Tanning's poem.

"I thought it was spectacular and set just the right tone for the new program, and we all agreed," Hausmann said.

The choice of "Graduation" was special to Hausmann, who, like Tanning, is a Knox alumna.

"I'm absolutely tickled to present her work, to be able to celebrate a remarkable artist who transformed herself throughout her life and career," she said.

Tanning, a Galesburg native, spent her life moving between New York and France, producing critically acclaimed works in surrealist painting. While she dabbled in poetry as a Knox student, she did not emerge as a remarkable poet until she was in her 80s. She died in January 2012 at the age of 101.

Through Poetry in Motion, Tanning's work will be circulated to 8.5 million people who use the New York subway and commuter rail systems each day.Dedication of marker at Dorothea Tanning home

Tanning's work also was recently featured in the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Last spring, Knox College with the city of Galesburg and the Illinois Humanities Council celebrated the Dorothea Tanning Festival and Symposium: "From Galesburg Roots to Worldwide Fame."

(Photo at right: Robin Metz, Philip Sidney Post Professor of English at Knox College speaks at the 2011 marker dedication ceremony at Dorothea Tanning's childhood home in Galesburg, Illinois.)