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One Man's Decades-Long Quest to Draw Every Subway Station in New York

Philip Ashforth Coppola documents the transit system’s oft-overlooked mosaics in painstaking detail.
A sketch of the track level of the abandoned City Hall station.
A sketch of the track level of the abandoned City Hall station.Philip Ashforth Coppola

In the 59th Street station along the Lexington Avenue subway line in Manhattan, the 4 and 5 trains arrive every few minutes. Commuters rush in and out; there’s hardly a still moment on the platform. But right after the doors close and the train pulls away from the station, you might see a lone man still standing there, looking not down the tracks for the next train, but at the wall, sketching in a small notebook.  

In 1978, Philip Ashforth Coppola, a lifelong New Jersey resident, began a project: to document, through drawings and descriptions, the art on the walls of the New York subway system. He planned for a couple months; nearly 40 years later, he’s still not done. Coppola now thinks it’ll take him until 2030 to document all 469 stations, and though he’s slowing down a bit—he’s in his late sixties now—he has no plans to stop.