20 March 2016

A Tribute to Children by Robert Berks

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Pittsburghers adored Fred Rogers. Mrs. Cordelia May (a local philanthropist and member of the Mellon and Scaife families) wanted a lasting memorial to this incredible man and so she commissioned and funded this sculpture. Mr Rogers, however, was quite humble and according to what his wife said in an interview, he wouldn’t have wanted something all about himself. As far as he was concerned it was all about the children. In deference to this modest, local hero, this artwork is titled A Tribute to Children, but of course in our hearts it’s a tribute to our favorite neighbor. Mr Rogers sits watching over our city, and the children that visit him there often try to crawl up on his lap. We think he’d have liked that.

Adults gravitate to him too.

According to a Post Gazette article by Anya Sostek, it was architect Lou Astorino (the man that brought us The Pittsburgh Crèche) that suggested the location. Mr Astorino thought next to the river would be perfect because Fred Rogers swam every day. He also believed it would be a good way to repurpose an old pier and that it was appropriate that the location had a great view of the city – Mr Rogers’ city – Mr Rogers’ neighborhood.

That old pier had always been intended to be used as a lookout platform. When the Manchester Bridge was demolished in 1970 they left the pier to be incorporated into the design of Roberto Clemente Park. With the creation of A Tribute to Children the original plan of having an observation platform by the river was fulfilled.

The structure is built out of the old Manchester Bridge pier.

Long before Knit the Bridge, we saw a yarn bombing on this sculpture. As we rode across the Ft Duquesne Bridge our first impression was that someone had left a red sweater on the statue. Up close we discovered something less than a sweater. At that point it was coming off the statue and we couldn’t tell if it had been installed like that or not. On line we later found the explanation and photos of the original project, showing a hand crocheted red sweater fitted to the statue. We were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t there very long. It seemed like a heartfelt tribute and not any sort of vandalism. Who thinks of Fred Rogers and doesn’t remember his iconic sweaters? Groundbreaking for this statue was even done on Mr Rogers Sweater Day, 20 March 2008. (Of course 20 March is also his birthday.) One of his sweaters (all were knitted by his mother BTW) is on display at the Smithsonian.

Sculptor Robert Berks had never seen Mr Roger’s Neighborhood until he was commissioned to create this statue. After watching several episodes he decided that the only pose to use would be the one of Fred Rogers changing his shoes as he did on each and every show. What a perfect choice.

From the news release on the groundbreaking ceremony:

"Fred would be so pleased that people remember the most important thing we can do is to remind children of all ages what it is like to be a caring person and neighbor," said Joanne Rogers, Chair of Family Communications. "He was very fond of Pittsburgh's rivers as they represented a place to enjoy peaceful contemplation. Our family is grateful to Mrs. May, Colcom Foundation, the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County for this special site that will truly be a 'Tribute to Children' for decades to come," added Mrs. Rogers.

"In designing Tribute to Children, we wanted to be sure we remained true to the original vision of its composition and location," said Louis D. Astorino, chairman of Astorino, the architectural firm responsible for its design and construction. "The result is something that will not only become a regional treasure, but also a destination for national and international visitors for years to come," stated Astorino, who displayed water color renderings of the site design to those in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Elements: Bridge Pier, Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Bronze Statue & Great View

The site plan at Pittsburgh's North Shore Riverfront Park was previously approved by the city's planning authorities and the SEA, and was reviewed by other interest groups as well. It was also Mrs. May's hope to honor a lifetime of Fred's work with children by having as many people as possible enjoy this public tribute.

Pre-construction will commence during the next few weeks with site preparation followed by removal of a middle section of the bridge pier that will be re-constructed to accommodate the unique design. The project is expected to be completed and unveiled in fall 2008 in conjunction with Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary celebration.

The development will feature a walk around platform -- measuring approximately 96 feet by 59 feet -- and will encompass the old Manchester Bridge pier that has been abandoned since 1970. It will feature a floor design patterned from the studio floor in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood known as the famed 'Neighborhood of Make-Believe.'

From the landside, plans call for visitors to enter 'Tribute to Children' from the street sidewalk and be able to walk around and through a 'keyhole' design in the bridge pier that will feature riverside views of the statue, the river and the city skyline.

On the site's riverside, a bronze statue of Mister Rogers in a seated position and tying his shoe will measure 10 feet 10 inches high. The statue will face the city skyline from where his "beautiful day in the neighborhood" message resonated internationally for more than four decades at the Pittsburgh studio of public television station WQED. Internationally renowned sculptor Robert Berks, famous for his memorable statues of Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, and a beloved former mayor of Pittsburgh, Richard Caligiuri, is in the process of completing the Rogers statue.

May 2014

Floor design patterned after studio floor of Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood.

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