With assistance from students at the Tyler School of Art, he has suspended a surrealistic cache of objects in color-drenched translucent resin, creating 92 panels framed in stainless steel.
The panels, organized by the themes of past, present, and future, line the railings in the station and the staircases leading from the entrance to the platforms.
"The big idea behind it was to somehow involve the neighborhood and people into the pieces, to make people happier to jump into the subway, to open their eyes to something colorful and pretty."
A collector of junk - and take that literally - Woodward stocks a large studio and the ground floor of his townhouse, both in Fairmount, with almost anything and everything he finds.
"I always buy crap and figure out what to do with it later," he said.
Buckets of metal filings, rashers of trimmed aluminum, rubber hoses, spiral tubing, wires, lenses, plastic sacks bulging with pop-top tabs from soda cans, old watch bands, raucous and ratty feathers, toy cars, chipped Mardi Gras beads, broken mirrors, orphaned doorknobs, and stale, peanut-shaped candies - bits of all of it can be found suspended in the Girard panels.
For all the eclecticism, his choices are not random.
A series of sections contain historic photographs he copied from the archives in the Free Library showing nearby street scenes - looking south from Broad and Girard in 1900, looking west from 33d and Girard in 1937.
In the "future" section, he has given children from the neighborhood "mini-celebrity" status by taking their photographs and putting them into the panels. At some point, he says, he might organize contests to have children count the alphabet letters hidden in the art. He also plans to mount a bronze cast of his hand on a wall so commuters can high-five him in absentia.
Throughout the project, he invited residents to share stories, suggestions, and memorabilia. One woman took him into her attic, which yielded one of his most precious finds: three tiny stick figures bound in black cloth and covered with brass safety pins.
"They may be talismans rather than pincushions," he said, searching out the spot behind a column on the northbound platform where they are suspended in a woozy yellow panel.
He has also buried remnants from his own life in the panels. A silver buckle engraved with his father's initials. Swimming medals he won as a kid in Asbury Park.
A loose-limbed 6-foot-3, Woodward gets around the city on a gold Honda motorcycle, without a helmet, his hair - and personality - perpetually windblown.
The son of a doctor, Woodward went to Penn and was headed for med school in the early 1970s before veering off to France, the brief basketball stint, clowning, and then art. He has made Philadelphia his home for decades, surrounding himself with a whimsical collection of friends (among them, jeweler Henri David) and lovers (he had a long relationship with the artist/author/performer Flash Rosenberg.)
The studio where he constructed the subway panels connects to airy rooms where he entertains. There, he has suspended a massive furry spider from the ceiling, propped a (nonfunctioning) stainless-steel urinal against one wall, and planted a life-size cardboard portrait of himself from a memorable Halloween dressed in a yellow slingshot of a bathing suit decorated with black hearts.
When SEPTA invited artists from the region to submit proposals in 2009, Woodward immediately emerged as a leading contender, said Elizabeth Mintz, who manages the agency's Art in Transit program.
"He is a very electric person," Mintz said. "His personality was very, very engaging."
In conjunction with the Federal Transit Administration, SEPTA established the public art program in 1998, she said. So far, it has completed projects in 21 of the system's 280 stations.
"This is one way to build and maintain relationships with the people who use our services," she said. "There is something about engaging people through art that creates a whole different feeling and flavor for a station."
Woodward's project is one of the two most recent. The other, a series of abstract landscapes, Six Places in Motion by Margery Amdur, is in the Spring Garden station. Amdur, a professor at Rutgers University, embedded layered pieces of epoxy resin in the floor to create the tableaux.
"All of my artists are fabulous," Mintz said.
One of five members of the jury who selects the artists for these projects, Mintz said applicants were asked to speak to the community in developing their proposals.
"We want them to discover what it is that makes that location special. What are the landmark moments? The buildings? Events?" Before the field was narrowed down to the final five contenders, she said, Woodward had already reached out and was talking to neighbors and commuters.
"The concern is that you bring something into the station and that after awhile, people will fog out on it," she said. "But the panel felt that Robert's installation will always capture somebody's attention."
In the station last week, where federal stimulus money is paying for a major renovation, Woodward was greeted warmly by construction workers who have come to know him well.
"They think you're crazy for picking this station," said Joe Berardi, 31, a mechanic rebuilding the station's elevators. Berardi said he was particularly fond of the panel Woodward installed on Valentine's Day. It is filled with red hearts, silk roses, and silver nuggets.
"You've definitely got talent, buddy," Berardi said. "Definitely got talent."
Contact Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or email@example.com.