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Subway Art by Serafin

Text by James Bow, Art by Serafin

In this day and age, when transit agencies plan new construction, they have at their fingertips AutoCAD programs operating on high speed computers. People interested in what a new subway station could look like can be virtually walked through the property. But this technology has only been readiliy available for just over a decade. What did agencies like the Toronto Transit Commission do before pixel and microchip? They turned to graphic artists.

Steve Munro uncovered these eight watercolour illustrations used to depict what the stations on the Bloor-Danforth and University subway stations could look like. They were commissioned by the TTC in the mid 1950s as planning continued on the crosstown subway.

The artist involved was one Sigmund Serafin. Not much was known about him, although Steve Munro did find a small file on the man in the Art Gallery of Ontario, which has one small photo of a painting bearing his signature (common to the signatures found here).

Steve Munro writes: “There was also a clipping from the Star in August 1947 showing him at work painting a mural for Gray Coach on the history of North America for the (then) past 200 years. This was captioned as taking place at the Adelaide Street bus terminal, but I think this may have been the old GCL facility over at Sherbourne, more a shops facility than a terminal… Clearly that work in 47 for GCL led to his being retained for the Bloor subway paintings 10 years later.

The status of the mural (which was ten by fifteen feet) is unknown. Serafin moved back to Chicago and the last info the AGO had for him was from around 1960.

The renditions shown below were stored in plastic. Steve Munro rescued these prints twenty-five years ago when the TTC was about to throw them out. The prints remained in mint condition in their plastic wraps. In honour of the Bloor-Danforth subway’s fortieth anniversary, Steve kindly donated these images (too large for a scanner, these renditions had to be photographed) to the Transit Toronto website.

Serafin Subway Art Image Archive

Many thanks to Steve Munro for uncovering this piece of history.

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