We often think of viewing art as something that can only happen inside the confines of a large institution like a museum, or if we’re feeling adventurous, perhaps a gallery. It is difficult to explain that some of the most meaningful and thought-provoking art experiences can be discovered in unexpected places.

Perhaps you’ve come across works in storefronts or on the sides of buildings. Or wonderful installation sculpture in random outdoor locations — not sanctioned, not funded by any group, just put out there by a creative person seeking to investigate an area or a method.

Artists and artwork can come from surprising places, ones that may seem mundane at first glance but represent part of our everyday life and are deeply ingrained in how our society functions.

Moniker: Identity Lost and Found at the Massillon Museum is a thoughtfully researched historical and current look at mark-making and monikers in rail yards throughout the United States. The curators traveled the country, focusing on regions where mark-makers have been especially prolific. For three years they gathered images, information, artifacts, sounds, oral histories and contemporary artwork.

The team — Andy Dreamingwolf, guest curator; Kurt Tors, artist liaison; and Massillon Museum Operations Officer Scot Phillips, project director — created the exhibition to preserve the folklore of mark-making, while protecting its mystery.

The show takes you through the cultural history of hobo and tramp life as well as the visual legacy of mark-making and monikers in rail yards and on train cars. It’s an interesting intersection of humanity to look at and feels wrought with meaning. Like all important art, the meaning behind this aspect of “life on the rails” can mean different things to different people.

Laid out in the main gallery, the show features sounds of the rail yard as you walk in and then directs you through historical displays about the marks and the personalities around them. It’s interesting to note the mythology of the tramp and hobo lifestyle and how rooted in our culture it is. This exhibit is greatly enhanced by the memorabilia and information about the sources of mark-making and monikers.

A wall section of small images by Colleen Claybourn gives you the impression of just how many marks exist on trains. Claybourn, who photographed the art while her husband, Guy, shot the trains from a more mechanical and even sculptural point of view, is herself a great example of the subtle qualities that make this show interesting. Her photographs are of what caught her eye as she spent quality time with her spouse. Her discoveries surprised and excited her, and her images help to retain the legacy of the mark-makers.

Next to Claybourn’s images are some larger photographs by the artist Swampy. Vinnie Well, an image from 2010, shows a young man sleeping in a section of a moving train.

He is using his arm and a fur-lined jacket as a pillow. The image is powerful and shows the real-life, often grimy aspect of what it’s like to ride trains not meant for human excursions.

It also shows the way in which the human form interfaces with the steel of the machine-made train car. Just like the drawn monikers left on the trains, images like this highlight how humans are also only temporary and can “move on down the tracks” at any time.

The visual highlight of the exhibit is a wall of monikers done by living artists, collected from all over the United States. There is also a wall of monikers in honor of some the more famous mark-makers from history. Artists with names like Nova, Fat Owl, North Bank Fred, I’m Ugly, NY Tomato and Mr. Bass (to name a few) cover the wall in a grid of equal-sized steel plates.

The plates were selected to mimic the side of a rail car and artists were asked to use Markals, industrial paint markers that are the medium of choice for artists doing this type of work. So the panels would not be truly archival and would change and rust, just like they would if they were done on an actual train, artists were asked not to cover them in any type of fixative.

This exhibition, the history about monikers and the collection on display provide a snapshot into parts of life in our society that we may overlook. Through the connection to the ambiance and mythology that surrounds rail yards, it offers an opportunity to make an artistic discovery.

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.