Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
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Published on March 25, 2024
Bay Area's BART Honors Artist Janet Bennett with Plaques at Iconic Mission StationsSource: BART

After over half a century, the Bay Area has finally given proper due to a homegrown talent behind some of its most iconic subway art. BART riders at the 16th and 24th St. Mission stations have been unknowingly gracing the works of Janet Bennett, a 95-year-old artist responsible for the distinctive tile murals that give these stations their vibrant character. In recognition, BART is set to install plaques commemorating Bennett's long-overlooked contributions to the aesthetic heart of the stations.

Amid the bustle of daily commutes, few may realize they're flanked by silent sentinels of yesteryear. Now, thanks to the detective work of Bennett's daughter, Maria McDonald, and a little help from historical clippings, BART is rectifying an age-old oversight. The murals' mosaic of colors and patterns are testament to the area's and Bennett's shared history—a history until now, untold and unaccredited. "It's gratifying that these works are still a part of people's lives," Bennett told BART, reflecting on the resiliency and enduring nature of her artwork.

Speaking from her New York City home, Bennett shares memories of her time breaking through the male-dominated field in the 60s and 70s, as a staff and consultant for architectural firms. "I was just doing my thing," she remarked on her trailblazing career, having paved the way for future women artists and designers. These plaques are more than mere markers; they are belated heralds of Bennett's pioneering spirit and artistic prowess.

Bennett's creations are not only part of the Bay Area's commuting landscape; her influence spans to the famous mosaic passages at LAX. In a similar historical mix-up, her boss Charles Kratka was originally credited for the LAX designs until Bennett set the record straight in 2007. The vivid, enduring designs both in San Francisco and Los Angeles stand as vibrant reminders of her legacy—a fusion of function and artistry that has stood the test of time.

Art lovers might find themselves inspired by the knowledge that those colorful, large ten-inch tiles were meticulously planned and lovingly placed, fighting against conventions of the time and the demanding nature of the medium. "I didn’t think of my work as merely decorative," Bennett stated, asserting the artistic value of her designs. Surely, as travelers rush by or pause to admire the mosaic canopies, Bennett's work continues to articulate the intangible tales of the Bay Area—the struggles, the successes, and the beauty woven into its urban fabric.

While many of Bennett's contemporaneous works have faded with the buildings that hosted them, the BART station murals remain a vivid chapter in San Francisco's visual anthology. Even as she dedicates time to painting in her current practice, Bennett leaves the door open for future mural commissions. "I certainly have the strength to design some murals," she affirmed.