By Olivia Gehrke
BU News Service
A huge snowstorm had just hit the city in 1978 when Cambridge artist Mags Harries first had the idea for the iconic Porter Square T station sculpture, “The Glove Cycle.”
“The snow was really high, and it took a long time to melt,” said Harries in an interview. “Someone had dropped a glove and put it on the pole, and I went ‘Aha! That’s it; that’s what I’m going to base [the sculpture] on.’”
Harries had been commissioned by the MBTA prior to the ’78 storm to create a piece of art in Porter station as part of an initiative “Arts on the Line.” The idea would fill T stations with public art, and consequently, make people more likely to care about the upkeep and state of the stations.
To this day, “The Glove Cycle” is a multi-piece bronze sculpture composed of a series of gloves gliding down the length of the escalator into the depths of the Porter Square Station. Each glove has the form similar to that of gloves “squashed by cars and snow,” causing them to have their own sort of “language,” according to Harries.
Nearly 45 years after its installation in 1984—and another staggering snowstorm on March 14 that brought Boston nearly a foot of snow and near hurricane-level winds, according to The Weather Channel—“The Glove Cycle” speaks not only to the coming spring of melted snow and lost gloves, but also to the constant life and relevance the piece has in Cambridge.
“Sometimes [people] find gloves and they purposely stick a glove to emulate the other gloves. It does have its own little life,” said Harries. “Two days ago, on top of the lower escalator is one kind of disheveled bronze glove. Someone had put money in it. When I came back an hour later, the money was gone.”
The interactions people have with “The Glove Cycle” because it is public art contributes to the piece’s uniqueness. There was also an instance where someone had put a Hershey’s Kiss in the palm of each of the 54 gloves present in the piece.
“There are no barriers between you and [public art],” said Miranda Viska, a local painter and drawer. She also volunteers with Feminist Fiber Art, an organization promoting feminism through fiber art created by women around the world.
“People have touched [the gloves] so much that they’ve just become worn, and some parts are shiny and other parts are definitely not the same way they looked like when it was first placed there,” said Viska.
A worry with pieces of public art, said Harries, is that people will begin not to think about them if they pass going to the same place at the same time every day, especially if the sculpture is a single piece. This is partially what drove her to create a piece like “The Glove Cycle” that was spread out and made to be engaged and interacted with, while being a reflection of the movement of the people interacting with it. And it has certainly not gone unnoticed.
“The gloves do a good job of capturing the staggering depth as they topple down the length of the stairs,” said Aaron Dow, a Cambridge resident and Harvard graduate student who said he is continuously struck by “The Glove Cycle.”
The depth is part of what makes the piece particularly striking, given Porter Square is the deepest T station at 105 feet down. Lawyers and architects were initially worried that the art would serve as a distraction for people going down the steep, lengthy escalator, according to Harries.
But like the gloves in the snow emerging in spring, public art like “The Glove Cycle” persisted, and continues to persist and be a piece for public engagement in Cambridge.
“One of the reasons the architects were a little afraid of the piece was that it would be known as ‘the glove station,’” said Harries. “And in fact, it is sort of known as the glove station.”