For a general appreciation of where you are, it helps to know who came before you and what was done. Especially if it helps you now.
—Philip Copp in “One Track Mind”
In 1978, Philip Copp intended to spend a month working on an article about the art in New York City subway stations that he hoped to sell to a magazine. Today, thirty-four years later, Copp, also known as Philip Ashforth Coppola, a nom de plume of sorts, has probably not spent a day during which he did not work on this “article,” now a multi-volume collection of books, some self-published in limited edition and some in manuscript form.
As he discovered the artistic riches displayed in each station, Copp was overcome by the need to record what all the engineers, architects, artisans, and artists had done, before their work faded and they were forgotten forever. The environment underground, vandalism, and, most of all, time is eating away at the intricate mosaic designs that adorn the walls of each and every station, and many are being replaced by plain white tiles that forever erase any trace of what was once there.
Phil is a subway historian extraordinaire. He is a regular guy from New York and New Jersey who works at a printing press. A kind sweet man. A bit on the quiet side. An avid church-goer. But he’s had this lifelong obsession with the decor and design of the New York City subway stations. He’s spent most of his adult life creating a study called “Silver Connections,” a massive homemade, self-published, illustrated encyclopedia of the decor in the stations. He’s studied it historically, artistically, and sociologically. It’s like a billion pages and it has literally thousands of amazingly detailed hand-drawn sketches and diagrams.
In the same interview, Copp describes his own work:
My study has two purposes. First, to record the art & architecture of the NYC subway stations in word and picture. Second, to reveal the persons who designed or crafted the decor. Both subjects of my study were neglected and unheralded (especially in the late 1970’s, when I began this undertaking).
It seems Copp is adding to Silver Connections every waking moment that he is not at work or church. All day on weekends and most evenings, sometimes into the night. He is a man obsessed, possessed even, single-mindedly cataloging the disappearing artwork of the 496 stations, according to his count, of the New York City subway system.
In addition to “One Track Mind,” Copp has been featured in The New York Times, on New York 1, the BBC, and even on Japanese television. He says he enjoys getting media attention and is willing to take a day off to do interviews, but you can tell what he really wants to do is to get back to work on his magnum opus, his epic love letter to New York City. “The city cannot be what it is without rapid transit,” he says. “Buses are great, subways are better.”
We are very pleased to be the distributor of the newly revised 2013 edition of Silver Connections Volume I (Books 1 & 2), as well as Silver Connections Volumes III & IV. For more information and to purchase copies, please visit our Silver Connections page.
Watch “NYC Subway Buff Chronicles Past In Full Detail,” Jose Martiez’s piece on Phil Copp in NY1 here
To watch the film One Track Mind directed by Jeremy Workman on Amazon Instant Video, click here.