30 September 2016

South Side Schlumpy Funk by Laura Jean McLaughlin

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Cara and Adam Jette, members of The South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, saw photos of some step art projects around the world and realized that they had the makings of a step art gallery in their back yard. All of the staircases peppering the Southside Slopes were blank canvases with all sorts of fun possibilities. After months of research, planning, fundraising, and collaboration with local artist Laura Jean McLaughlin, phase one of this master plan became reality.

Oakley St was chosen to be the first stairway for the artistic transformation (with the hope of doing more in the future). Before anything else could be done, the steps needed some TLC. Cara and Adam did the legwork and arranged for the city to make repairs so there would be a good foundation for the artwork.

Laura Jean McLaughlin met with the committee, the community, and the volunteers to create a design that incorporated the ideas of everyone that wanted to help. The first creative session started with everyone doing some art exercises, stimulating the creativity of the group. Then everyone was asked to contribute words or short phrases about the neighborhood.

Once the list was done, each participant was tasked with selecting three or four items from the list to put together an idea for a design. Some of the resulting proposals were very imaginative and fun! They ranged from a poem comprised using only words on the list, to a wide range of images. Many of them included elements from the history of the neighborhood. Some included images of places and things prevalent in the community today. Others creatively blended the words and ideas into eclectic images. In the end Laura Jean McLaughlin took all of the suggestions, all of the words and ideas offered, and produced two designs for the group to chose from. When the designs were presented at the following meeting the group was thrilled. The winning design was selected and a few tweaks were proposed.

From that point, Ms McLaughlin needed to create the full scale design, divide it into 77 horizontal segments, and calculate the amount of each color of tile that would be needed. It would take months to get the tile because the only manufacturer of a frost-proof tile able to endure our climate is in Italy.

The sketch had to be modified somewhat because of the unusual perspective the steps would create. Standing at the bottom and looking up would require some adjustments. Laura Jean tried to compensate for the viewing angle and the fact that each step would most likely obstruct a slice of the step above it until the viewer moved far enough back. There would still be some issues because of the landings in the long staircase, but as the viewer climbs the steps they can easily see the image unfold. One of the modifications Ms McLaughlin made was the elongated neck on the woman. As you walk up the steps it's noticeable, but from the bottom the image looks proportional.

While Ms McLaughlin worked out all of the artistic details, the committee worked on raising sufficient funds. They applied for grants, held fundraising events, and used a crowd funding website to get the donations they needed.

Once the tiles arrived, it was time to gather the volunteers together and teach them how to create the mosaic. Laura Jean McLaughlin manufactured 77 boards, each covered with the design for one of the risers on it. That was overlaid with a strip of mesh for attaching the tiles.

The volunteers were shown how to break the tile using tile nippers and attach the pieces to the mesh with just enough adhesive to hold them in place.

As the installation began, interested started to grow. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorists all paused to admire the work. Many stopped to ask about it and take some pictures. Soon we noticed photos popping up on social media and the response was very positive.

We stopped by while Laura Jean worked with an assistant to install the panels. At this point, she hadn't titled the mural, but she told us the woman in it was Darla. That much she was sure of, but the title was still being elusive. A few days later, as the installation continued, it came to Laura Jean and South Side Schlumpy Funk was named.

To install the mural, each strip of mesh with the tile attached was carefully cut from the wood. Another board was placed on top of the panel and the entire piece flipped upside down. Thin set mortar was then applied to the back of the tile as well as the step riser, and then the tile panel was pressed into place.

This was a pretty big project and there were a few hurdles along the way. First were the administrative hoops to jump through - getting city approval for the project; getting the art commission to ok the design; getting the steps repaired. Then there was the fundraising. This project was only possible because Laura Jean McLaughlin cut her fee to the bone. She was that excited to take this on. Thanks to her and to all the people that contributed to the Go Fund Me campaign, plus all the volunteers that worked on it - we have a really cool set of stairs in the city now.

There were a lot of volunteers that stepped up and contributed. Too many to list here. More than 40 different people showed up for the meetings and helped break and glue tiles into place. Of course there were a few college students that almost ruined it all when they took one of the steps home to work on and never returned it. Ms McLaughlin had to re-create the design for that step and Cara and Adam came through in the crunch to fill it with tiles while the other steps were being installed.

There were high hopes of having it all installed in time for Step Trek 2016, but the weather didn't cooperate. Several days of rain put things on hold and the mural was only half finished by then. It was worth the wait though. The finished mural is fun, unique, colorful and an amazing accomplishment. The community really pulled together to make this happen. Laura Jean McLaughlin not only wowed us with the design, but did a great job of leading all the volunteers through the process of bringing it to life.

Because of the location of the staircase, there was no way for us to get a good photo without the street sign obstructing part of it. Here are some close ups as you walk up the steps:

28 September 2016

The Forks by Isaac Witkin

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The Forks is owned by the Carnegie Museum of Art. The Smithsonian includes this description of the piece in its Collections Search:

Silver–colored aluminum abstract piece meant to symbolize the area known as the fork of the Ohio where Pittsburgh had its beginnings. Pittsburgh was founded at the convergence of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers and later flourished as a vital industrial region. This sculpture is formed in welded, cast aluminum to produce a structure that reflects the force of the rivers and the metal industries it generated.

This 14 foot high sculpture was originally commissioned by the Alcoa Foundation for Allegheny Landing Sculpture Park. When the park was designed in 1983, the designated theme for the artwork was labor and industry. The Post Gazette art critic Donald Miller described the piece as suggesting molten metal, which represents the city’s industrial heritage well.

Jazz Players by Matthew Alexander

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We spotted this mural going up on the back walls of North Shore Place I and II and contacted the developer to find out more. They connected us directly with the artist, Matthew Alexander, who told us this about the installation:

...the graphic covers an area about 20 feet high and over 200 feet long on the backside of a set of retail buildings that overlook a large tailgating lot for the Steelers and Pirates as well as a freeway.

The North Shore Place I & II mural depicts the shadows of jazz musicians being cast up onto the rear of the buildings. The concept is to show the abstracted depictions of some of Pittsburgh’s most famous jazz musicians: Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Errol Garner, and Kenny Clarke, who are playing their instruments in a sort of back–alley, while what remains is their cast shadows.

The limitations I had to work within were set prior to my involvement: 1–2 colors, and silhouettes of jazz musicians. I worked with Rob Dower, an architect with Strada Architecture to complete and approve the design.

You can spot the mural from the Fort Duquesne bridge ramp. It makes the building stand out from the crowd and seems to be a perfect example of how art makes a difference. This very low key, subtle image totally changes the personality of the otherwise plain, brick building and parking lot.

Pittsburgh Variations by George Sugarman

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Allegheny Landing was one of the first outdoor sculpture parks in the country. It was also perhaps, the first step that Pittsburgh took in recognizing the potential of our riverfront property and reclaiming it for recreation rather than industrial use. Now the Three Rivers Heritage Trails system is a part of this park, with the Northshore Trail going around one of the sculptures as it follows the Allegheny River.

In 1984 several sculptures were dedicated in this green space. After 30 years three need some TLC, and Pittsburgh Variations is one of them. The bright colors on the painted aluminum shapes aren’t quite as bright on this sculpture now, but more importantly, this piece of artwork seems to be one of the few that we’ve seen around the city that have been targeted by vandals. Most of the murals and artwork are left alone (for the most part), but this sculpture has taken on quite a bit of graffiti. In 2010 plans were established to renovate the park. This is a joint venture between Friends of Allegheny Landing, the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), City of Pittsburgh, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and Riverlife. There are several phases to it. Phase One involved replacing the dock, which was done in 2013. We’re not sure exactly when they will remove this sculpture for work, but the CMOA (who owns the piece) will oversee it’s restoration.

Pittsburgh Variations is an interactive sculpture, designed to represent four foundations of this city. George Sugarman used paddlewheel shapes to symbolize our three rivers; a fire or crucible shape to represent industry; a golden triangle theme for business and finance; and tree shapes for Penn’s Woods – representing all of Pennsylvania’s forests and natural resources.

The sculpture has benches integrated into the design and it’s placed directly onto the ground without a pedestal, making it more accessible. Mr Sugarman was one of the first artists to forego a pedestal on his public art. In his New York Times obituary by Roberta Smith, Mr Sugarman was quoted as having said about that: Objects and living things crawled and spread out on the ground. You had to bend down to see them properly. Your body had a different relationship to them. In other interviews Mr Sugarman expressed a dislike for art being separated from it’s physical and social environment.

Point of View by James A. West

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Two leaders of this land – in different times and different ways, are depicted here. These were two men who had a great impact over events in our region. Guyasuta, a Seneca leader, and George Washington.

At one point in time, Guyasuta acted as a guide for George Washington. Later on he fought opposite Washington during the French and Indian war and again during the Revolutionary War.

The sculpture captures a time when the two met in October of 1770. It sits on Mt Washington, overlooking the strategic land at the confluence of the rivers that they each had interests in. Apparently there is no record of exactly what transpired in the meeting, but at the time, Washington had come to survey the area for tracts of land he was given for his service in the French and Indian War. Unfortunately, this action was in conflict with the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which restricted settlement west of the Eastern Continental Divide.

Tree Mural by Mark Panza

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Never intended to be more than temporary, this piece is already gone. The Dinette Place in Millvale was closed, the building empty and forlorn. We came across some people sprucing up the area one afternoon, and some of them were decorating the boarded over windows on this building. Instead of leaving the plain, drab boards with the sole function of protecting the glass from vandals – a bit of an eyesore – they chose to wrap this building in artwork.

It was a simple design of bare trees, with a pattern that made it easy to extend as needed. The colors and design did a very nice job of urban camouflage. They hid the unused building with the sad, blank facade, behind a spash of color. It was a very good example of how art can help maintain a feeling of vitality. The presence of the mural eliminated the impression of neglect, or abandonment. The art showed that the community was invested in this business district.

The good news is that the reason the artwork was removed was because renovations began on the old building, breathing new life into the structure as well as the business district.

27 September 2016

Homer Simpson Mural by Matt Gondek

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Although the address is on Butler St, this image of Homer Simpson coming apart is actually at the back of the building, along Dresden Way. Artist Matt Gondek has drawn quite a few cartoon characters in some form of explosion or deconstruction. If you look on his website you’ll find several images exploding, melting or dripping away. Sometimes the skeletal structure or the organs beneath are revealed, as if he’s peeling away the layers.

In 2016 Matt returned to Pittsburgh to do a mural in Uptown of Donald Duck.

Mural of Donald Duck and More by Matt Gondek, Ghostbeard, Patch Whiskey

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In 2016 three artists returned to Pittsburgh to do this mural in Uptown. Matt Gondek is known for his cartoon images in a state of explosion or destruction. He uses the term Deconstructive Pop Artist on his website to describe himself. Patch Whiskey does lots of multi-colored, huge-eyed, monster-type characters with, of course, a lot of character. He also makes toys. Cool. Ghostbeard (Matt Hutton), shares that love of bright colors and abstract characters with a focus on eyes. These artists have worked together several times.

Goat and Deer murals by Kaff-Eine

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While Australian street artist Kaff–Eine was visiting Pittsburgh, her friends located this boarded up storefront in Lawrenceville that needed fresh artwork. There had been previous layers of posters at this location, including an old Shepard Fairey mural that had deteriorated almost beyond recognition. Kaff–Eine told us that she wanted to use the beautiful layers of posters that were already there and that she basically used their colour and texture, painting highlights and shadows but leaving the original old posters to come through in the image. She painted a white-tailed deer for the Pennsylvanian State Fauna, and the goat was done in memory of a dear friend.

If you look closely you can see the old artwork bleeding through the new images.

UPDATE July 2015

The deer is gone. There’s new artwork on the right side where the deer used to be. We talked with artist Jeremy Raymer who did the new art and he told us that someone removed the plywood that the deer had been painted on. Apparently the building is scheduled for demolition at some point, so his new artwork along with the goat won’t be here long either. We kind of hope that the thief was trying to save the artwork rather than just vandalizing the building. Good intentions n’at. The hooves remain, making it a bit interesting:

2016 - GONE

Freewheel by Will Schlough

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We love biking. We love murals and public art. That’s really what this entire website is about – us riding our bikes around the city discovering public art and mapping it so you can find it too. When we saw this piece we thought it was as perfectly in synch with our mission as it could get: Public Art with a bike theme! Almost a bit of Nirvana.

Will Schlough created this sculpture and donated it to Bike–Pgh. It’s a great way to identify the offices of the organization that makes it so much better and safer for us to pedal around the ’Burgh. If you bike in Pittsburgh, you should seriously consider joining.

On Mr Schlough’s website we found his description of Freewheel: This creative piece of street art depicts a lonely bike wheel sprouting wings and attempting to escape from the three rivers bike rack to which it’s been locked.

If you aren’t a cyclist, then you may not be familiar with the bike racks. The familiar shape seen all over the city was designed, of course, to mirror our real three rivers. Designed by Wall–To–Wall Studios the racks were created under a 2003 Sprout Fund grant that Bike–Pgh received.

25 September 2016

St Benedict the Moor Sculpture by Frederick Shrady, Drago Kuharec

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This sculpture of Saint Benedict the Moor has a commanding view of the city of Pittsburgh. Climbing into the Hill District along Centre Ave you can’t help but be impressed by the image of this saint watching over our town.

The parish this sculpture belongs to was originally established in 1889 by Holy Ghost College (now Duquesne University) specifically to minister to the African American population here. It is now a product of mergers with four other parishes, which brought in a mix of other heritages.

The decade of the 1960’s was a turbulent one. The church is across the street from Freedom Square, where many protests and demonstrations for racial equality began over the years. The church and the sculpture overlook the Lower Hill, where construction of the Civic Arena displaced half the African American community in the early 60’s against their will. When the sculpture was dedicated in 1968, the bishop of Pittsburgh was quoted in The Bridgeport Post as saying that the sculpture proclaims the Gospel message of love and unity in an area threatened by divisions arising from color and ethnic backgrounds.

We read that artist Frederick Shrady was assisted by Drago Kuharec, a metal expert, in the creation of the piece. We heard from Mr Kuharec's son who wrote: Being the Son of the sculpturer named Drago Kuharec, the sole builder of the St. Benedict the Moor sculpture atop the church at 91 Crawford St., Pittsburgh, it is error to say my Father assisted F. Shrady. I was 13 when my Father worked solely to build the sculpture from scratch. I assisted him when it had to be welded together piece by piece on a double rectangular steel tubes which was the base that gave it it's ability to stand errect. Mister Frederick Shrady was only involved in assisting in outline drawings of the statue which my Father used only as a rough outline of the piece to be made. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the sculpture was designed by Mr Shrady and brought to life by Mr Kuharec?

The sculpture is 18 feet high, 14 feet wide, and 120 feet up. It was sculpted entirely by hand out of aluminum and weighs in around 3,000 pounds. They had to worry as much about the support for the sculpture as the sculpture itself. Mounted on the church steeple near the top of the hill, the framework had to support the size and weight of this statue and take into account the potential for high winds.

Benedetto da San Fratello was the son of slaves, born in Italy in the 16th century. He was granted his freedom at birth because of his parents’ loyalty. He became a Friar known for patience and tolerance in the face of racism, as well as for his charitable works. Saint Benedict the Moor is the patron saint of African American Catholics in North America. There are many churches named in his honor in the US as well as in South America.

Frederick Shrady did many religious and secular sculptures, but is perhaps most famous for being the first American sculptor commissioned by a pope. He created a marble statue of Our Lady of Fatima for the Vatican Garden.

August Wilson Tribute Mural by MLK Community Murals

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This mural is done in honor of Pulitzer Award winning, African–American playwright August Wilson. Born Frederick August Kittel in 1945, he took the pen name August Wilson when he was twenty and began his writing career. Initially he worked at being a poet, but in 1979 his career as a successful playwrite began.

August Wilson’s Plays

  • 1979 Jitney
  • 1982 Ma Rainey̵s Black Bottom
  • 1983 Fences, which earned his first Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award
  • 1984 Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
  • 1986 The Piano Lesson, earned the second Pulitzer Prize
  • 1990 Two Trains Running
  • 1995 Seven Guitars
  • 2001 King Hedley II
  • 2003 Gem of the Ocean
  • 2005 Radio Golf

Mr Wilson’s ten plays are a series, known as The Pittsburgh Cycle. Each of these plays is set in a different decade of the twentieth century, where he depicts life as an African–American here. Nine of his plays are set in the Hill District, where this mural now stands in his honor.

Along the bottom of the mural are ten scenes. Each created to represent one of the plays. These images are the portion of the mural done by young artists as a summer work program. They learn art and painting from established artists and spend their summer doing something that beautifies their neighborhood and educates us all.

We found so much symbolism crammed into every corner on this mural. Some of the people passing by did not know who August Wilson was, and as we discussed his accomplishments and pointed out some of the images in the mural, they seemed as fascinated as we were. That shows promise that the mural will do it’s job in educating more Pittsburghers about this talented writer.

Converted this close up to black and white to make it easier to read.