Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh is a consortium of local museums, galleries and archives working together to share information and expertise, and foster collaboration in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Here, at the HAA Constellations blog, you can read about some of the outcomes of these partnerships. Learn more about Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh at https://haa.pitt.edu/ckp.

 

Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

  • Life Magazine, 1950

     

    Between Figuration and Abstraction: Rediscovering Stephen Greene

    Author: Alan London

    PHD Student, HAA

    I spent time this past summer researching some mostly forgotten twentieth century American painters who negotiated, in assorted individual ways, the treacherous mid-century intersections of figuration and abstraction. One of the most interesting of them is Stephen Greene (1917-1999) who, after an extended crisis of artistic confidence, was inspired by a 1958 series of six lectures by Clement Greenberg to change, abruptly, his painting style from Renaissance-inspired realism to a kind of refashioned color-field approach.  

    What luck for me to discover that the best before-and-after illustration of Greene’s turnabout is right here at the Carnegie Museum of Art, which owns an excellent example of each of Greene’s two major periods, Mourning (Five Figures with Candles) (oil on canvas, 1947) and Violet Light (oil on canvas, 1969). And what a boon to have the cooperation of Elizabeth Tufts Brown, CMOA Associate Registrar, and Hannah Turpin, Curatorial Assistant for Photography and Modern and Contemporary Art, in arranging for me to see these two paintings.

    Stephen Greene’s work is virtually unknown today, and most museums that own his paintings, including the CMOA, do not have them on display. But it was not always so. In the March 20, 1950, issue of Life, Greene was featured as one of the magazine’s nineteen best artists in the United States under the age of 36. And seven months later, in its October 23, 1950, issue, Life gave Greene his own two-page spread, citing him as a highly successful painter whose work was bought up quickly by important museums and collectors. The CMOA picture, Mourning, while not reproduced in the article, is clearly in the same formal and emotional mode as his works about Holocaust themes that Life did reproduce, with the same dry, chalky tonality and the same bald, manikin-like figures, sharing space and sorrow but not communicating. Indeed, several of the figures in Mourning are variations on the candle-holding mourner in The Burial.

    It’s rare to find examples of Greene’s figural work on the market, but there are plenty of opportunities to see his abstract paintings. In 2016, the Jason McCoy Gallery in New York had an exhibition of Greene’s large abstract paintings from the 1960s, curated by the artist’s daughter, Alison de Lima Greene, the Chief Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Although the color worlds of the paintings in the 2016 exhibition are different from that of the CMOA’s example of Greene’s abstract work, Violet Light, the general formal impression the viewer gets is similar. As Ms. de Lima Greene explained in an exhibition presentation accessible at the above website: “As gesture and hue gained in importance, [Greene] brought a new quality of light to his paintings, working through subtle layers of oil washes, and bringing a quiet drama to his nuanced orchestrations of primary and secondary colors. At the same time, he allowed certain shapes to resonate, and fragments of ladders, props, and the human anatomy persist like latent memories.”  In my encounter with the later Greene picture in the CMOA collection, I see a boomerang (or a wishbone), a disposable razor, and maybe a kidney, all disbursed among the soft mauves and greys and brighter orange flashes of Violet Light.

    If I consider Stephen Greene as a case study in my dissertation, one theme through which his work could be explored could be that proposed by Michael Fried (who in the 1950s was Greene’s student at Princeton, as was Frank Stella) in a May, 1963, Arts Magazine article titled The Goals of Stephen Greene. “The crucial problem raised by Stephen Greene’s work is this: can a painter today make paintings which are meant to express a particular mood or attitude toward reality and which yet manage to satisfy the imperious and rather restricting demands of a sensibility trained on the abstract painting of the past twenty-five years?”

    This remains an important question for the history of midcentury American art. The museum records that Elizabeth and Hannah were kind enough to share with me suggest that Mourning was a museum purchase in 1982 using the A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund and that Violet Light was donated to the museum in 1983 by the art dealer from whom Mourning had been purchased.  There appears to be no record of either painting ever being exhibited in the Museum’s galleries, a fascinating reflection of Greene’s own position within the shifting sensibilities of American painting during and since the 1950s.

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Summer Internship at the Kluge-Rhue

    Author: Imani Williford

    Summer Curatorial Research Project in Indigenous Arts at the University of Virginia

    As a part of The Leadership Alliance’s Undergraduate Summer Research program, I had the opportunity to participate in the Mellon Indigenous Arts Initiative Internship Program for eight weeks in order to study Indigenous art and increase my curatorial experience. Under the tutelage of Dr. Henry Skerritt, curator of the Kluge-Rhue Aboriginal Art Collection and Dr. Adriana Greci Green, Curator of the Indigenous Arts of the Americas at the Fralin Museum of Art at University of Virginia, me and four other students curated a full scale exhibition of Aboriginal Art at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia.

    I worked with four out of the 26 pieces that the Kluge-Ruhe had recently acquired as a gift from Stephen and Agatha Luczo. Despite having no experience with Aboriginal Art, my prior knowledge from HAA courses and undergraduate research, made me well aware of the history of how museums and the disciple of History of Art treat’s Art by marginalized groups. The three main questions guiding my curatorial process were: What is Aboriginal Art? How do I approach it? And what did I want my audience to learn? The answers to my questions came after six weeks of research.

    I determined that Aboriginal Art is a presence of each artist’s respective homeland and their active engagement with memories of sites they left behind. While my approach was to rooted in the idea that despite displacement, colonization and the western hierarchy of art, Aboriginal Art should be approached as being active in time, by understanding and paying attention to the artistic technique and subject matter of the artists and Art. After grasping my understanding and approach to Aboriginal Art, I wanted my audience to learn that Aboriginal art is not a record of the past but a living expression that constantly participates with time by upholding and utilizing the power of experience from of time.

    Over the course of the program I was able to answer these questions through: conducting independent research, collaborating with my fellow undergraduate colleagues to create panels, labels, and titles and mock exhibitions, conducting field work by taking field trips to Virginia area museums, giving tours and talks to visitors and contributing an essay based on the artists and works that I studied over the course of the program which was included in a published exhibition catalog. Additionally, before the opening of the exhibit, some of my colleagues and I were interviewed by Australian Broadcasting Company’s Brooke Wylie, to talk about the works in the exhibit and our experience as curators. After six and a half weeks of preparation the exhibition, Song’s Of A Secret Country, opened at the Kluge-Ruhe.

    The program fully concluded about a week after our exhibition with The Leadership Alliance’s annual summer undergraduate research conference in Harford, Connecticut, at the Connecticut Convention Center. At the conference my colleagues and I individually presented our findings and curatorial process to fellow undergraduate researchers, professors, mentors, Leadership Alliance alumni, and faculty of participating Leadership Alliance schools. Overall the experience of curating an exhibition and presenting at a conference provided a deeply rewarding experience that has broadened and bolstered my future plans for continuing my studies in the History of Art.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    An ancient camel’s nametag and a small knife, both forged from meteorites. (National Museum of Natural History)

     

    Summer at the Smithsonian: Adventure Behind (Almost) Every Door

    Author: Natalie Gomez

    Intern and Docent Programs Intern at the National Portrait Gallery

    They told me I was the Intern and Docent Programs intern, so I cracked my knuckles with a sigh on my first day as I sat at the computer, ready to answer emails nonstop for the next eight weeks.  It would soon dawn on me that it was those very emails that would allow me to taste any and every part of life at the Smithsonian I desired.

    I published my own blog post and helped kick start an interview series on the National Portrait Gallery website, met with world-renowned geologists and rare book librarians to learn about (and even touch!) their work, received personal tours from nationally revered curators at the National Portrait Gallery, crept through the secret and dusty back hallways of the National Museum of Natural History, and all because I asked. The Smithsonian is a place of wonder, of curiosity, and of great (if not infinite) knowledge, all shrouded by a visitor-imposed sense of mystery and foreboding. My time with the Smithsonian led me to realize that the promise and mission upon which we were founded, “the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” makes our vast collections and almost inconceivable collective knowledge accessible to those who have the courage to seek it.

    Though I was given permission to create projects with any of our staff at the National Portrait Gallery (an extremely historic building that itself merits a blog post), I was assigned two main tasks for the summer. My first task was to edit and reinvent the Docent Manual. It acts as a guide for each incoming volunteer tour giver (a surprisingly prestigious and competitive position, filled with everyone from art teachers to engineers to former covert government agents). My second and perhaps most important task was to create a sense of community between interns and plan programs for us to attend. This ranged from deciding on (or organizing) lectures by professionals across the Smithsonian to planning sightseeing tours in the Capitol or lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian’s award-winning cafeteria. Almost every day of each week held plans for exciting, Smithsonian-unique experiences, all no more than a metro stop or a fifteen-minute walk away.

    Though the “fieldtrips” were frequent and extensive, the Smithsonian encouraged staff to remember who we were: young adults itching to be invited into any and every locked laboratory and Staff Only entrance to see that which we once thought unseeable. And the invitations were there, some hidden a bit more obscurely than others. Whether it took researching museum calendars or twenty minutes of deep breathing before writing an email to a complete stranger for permission to shadow them, the Smithsonian left no question unanswered and no query within reason unfulfilled. Though some of the world’s brightest, wisest, and most published have offices behind our locked doors, those doors will open with enthusiasm and graciousness for inquisitive minds who have a bit of courage, a bunch of persistence, and a big interest in increasing (and diffusing) knowledge of their own.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Scientists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History offer their interpretations on the relationships and dynamics between people and museum collections. The scientists shown in the images are not the same people referenced in the text.

     

    Natural History, the Anthropocene, and Crisis

    Author: Mitchell Kiefer - Consuming Nature Workshop

    During our Consuming Nature workshop, we discussed at various times the shift that the Anthropocene represents in our thinking. My own project is an analysis of the changing narratives within natural history museums, understanding the focus on ideas such as the Anthropocene as not only scientific statements about the world, but political and cultural arrangements. The emergent popularity of the Anthropocene – epitomized, perhaps, by its inclusion in a major institution such as Carnegie – suggests a particular understanding of the relationship between nature and culture. Just as ‘modernity’ may best be understood as a collective mindset of advancement rather than a realist description of social processes, the Anthropocene may be best understood as a collective understanding of nature-culture, reflective of unique and contingent social forces. What, though, are the social conditions that are reflected in this idea? This is too large a question to answer in a blog post. Instead of trying, I’ll suggest a few insights from specific examples of the Anthropocene in natural history museums.

    A crisis consciousness? If people only act in times of crisis, and the impacts of climate change are slow onset, the Anthropocene may represent a way of matching scale. By situating the pace of climate change in geologic eras, the changes look quite rapid, indeed, and may become more easily perceived as a looming crisis.

    Natural history museums such as Carnegie are institutions that wield cultural authority, and shape the ways people understand the natural world. Along with a new narrative of the Anthropocene, museums are also adopting new roles. One scientist with an administrative role at Carnegie told me the museum is now outward looking, drawing inspiration from the public and current social issues in shaping displays, exhibits, and programs. This represents a more general trend that speaks to the development of Anthropocene narratives. People in charge of these institutions recognize a relationship between people and science that may be new to major natural history museums. Another scientist with a similar administrative role suggested that Carnegie is acknowledging its role in delivering scientific information to the public in the context of people losing faith in and questioning science.

    To reconnect science and people, Carnegie is becoming more reflexive in how it displays and communicates information. The work of human scientists is proudly displayed, as is the work in constructing dioramas. More information is given on the processes of producing exhibits, and displays are incorporating more interaction between nature out there and people.

    What does this mean for communicating the Anthropocene and the possibility of a crisis consciousness? The new ways of displaying and the new content in displays does something different than suggest a new geologic era imposed by humans (though this, too, is suggested). What the Carnegie museum is doing is more reflective of the Anthropocene as a new way of understanding the relationship between nature and culture. Carnegie shows that yes, in fact, people have relationships with nature in ways that influence each other. Whether this change in narrative was born by some internal realization within scientific disciplines, a need for struggling museums to find funding, some other reason, or a combination of dynamics is a bigger question to be asked.

     I do want to suggest, though, that a narrative that re-connects people and nature, as well as people and science, seems to reflect the scientific community’s perceived need for people to 1) acknowledge the possibility and extent of human-induced ecological, geological, and biological changes, and 2) interpret that as crisis.  This is carried out in museums like Carnegie given the realization that museums can be more than holders of artifacts and drivers of scientific inquiry. They can direct public understandings, both scientific and cultural.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Smog meringues at the GASP Air Fair

    Author: Shelby Brewster - Consuming Nature Workshop

    Fortunately, the weather on Tuesday, August 8, was sunny and clear, if a bit breezy. With egg whites and whisk in tow, Ana Rodriguez Castillo and I headed to the McConway & Torley Steel Foundry on 48th Street in Lawrenceville. Railroad tracks cross the entrance to the facility, marking the border between their property and the city street. I stood just outside the facility, wary of the security guard in his small hut monitoring those entering and exiting the property. Whipping up the egg whites here took approximately half an hour; Ana graciously documented the process with her camera. While we caught some curious looks from the workmen around the facility, we continued largely unbothered.

    At around 11:45, a group of five or six men congregated outside the security hut. As they were wearing khakis and polo shirts, rather than the jeans and work boots I’d seen on other workers, I assumed they were management. They headed out of the compound toward Butler Street (I believe they were going to lunch). As they passed by me, still whisking, most of them simply stared. One man, however, walked right up to me and stuck his face near the bowl of stiffening egg whites. He asked me what I was doing. I replied that I was making meringues as a performance project, and that because they are very light, I would capture whatever was in the air where I was standing. He looked at me, then around at the plant matter covering the ground near the railroad tracks, back at me, and replied, “Like pollen!” Not wanting to jeopardize the completion of the meringue, I answered, “Sure! And whatever else is here!” and carried on whisking. He and his associates laughed and continued on.

    After the McConway & Torley egg whites reached desired stiffness, Ana and I headed to the bus stop on Centre Avenue and Negley Avenue, a high traffic area. Luckily for us, a road construction crew was busy working on Centre; they had cut out a large portion of the asphalt and were using a backhoe and other construction vehicles to complete some work. I was excited for the potential of even more pollutants to make their way into these meringues.

    Being so near a bus stop, there were many more witnesses to these meringues. Many people getting on and off the bus gave me strange looks, though few asked me what I was doing. A pair of workmen in a moving truck hollered at me and asked about the whisk (I told them they could taste the meringues at the Air Fair). One woman getting off the 71 loudly encouraged me to keep whisking. A man with a video camera who was sharing the corner with me cautioned that if I kept beating the egg whites they would turn stiff (I replied that, as I was making meringues, that was precisely the point). We returned to my kitchen, polluted egg whites in tow, and I piped the meringues onto baking sheets. I also whipped up an “unpolluted” batch inside, to serve as a sort of control group. Visibly, I couldn’t tell a difference between the meringues, but I was eager to hear responses from visitors to the Air Fair.

    GASP hosted the Air Fair on Thursday, August 10, at Assemble community art space in East Liberty. In addition to the art exhibit GASP had built, a number of environmental organizations had tables to talk to visitors about their work on air pollution issues. I set up my own table among the other, displaying three silver trays with the three varieties of meringue I had made. Responses were quite varied, but most people who attended the event tried at least one of the meringues. Several people decided to conduct their own blind taste test, to see if they could identify which meringues were the “polluted” ones. The overall consensus seemed to be that the McConway & Torley confections tasted grittier or dirtier than either the bus stop or kitchen meringues. Some people were concerned about tasting the polluted versions, and I replied by asking if they were concerned about walking down Penn Avenue and breathing in that car exhaust. Some people didn’t know there was a steel foundry in Lawrenceville, like me before I started this project. Many visitors were also unaware of GASP’s history of baking, which I was more than happy to relate to them. Overall, attending the Air Fair with the meringues demonstrated the potential for taste experiences to reveal or unsettle expectations about invisible environmental pollutants. I plan to continue exploring how culinary experiences might be commandeered for an activist purpose.

    Find out more about the inspiration behind this event here

     

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    The Andy Warhol Museum: The Legacy of an Icon

    Author: Leslie Rose

    Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowship, Summer 2017

    Recently, I have heard one of the truest statements that I will probably ever come to understand: “Once you’ve got The Warhol bug, you’ve got it for life.” This “bug” is much more than just an admiration for the iconic artist. It’s appreciation for all that he and his legacy, The Andy Warhol Museum, represents.

    Until my fellowship with The Warhol, I didn’t fully comprehend the importance of such an institution. I respected and enjoyed Warhol’s work as much as any other artist, but this museum is far more than a single artist museum. As the University of Pittsburgh’s Fine Foundation Fellow for the summer, I had the opportunity to work with the Warhol’s chief curator, Jose Diaz, and Milton Fine curator, Jessica Beck. My experiences in this internship opened my eyes to the necessity of The Andy Warhol Museum and institutions like it. In almost every possible way, from its programs and publications to its exhibitions and staff, The Warhol provides an inclusive environment and enriching content that generates a dialogue amongst the people of the Pittsburgh community and thousands of visitors from around the world. The museum brings together people from all walks of life, something that I believe people need in today’s divisive social and political atmosphere. It is not just me taking notice.

    One way The Andy Warhol Museum promotes inclusivity is through their staff. The Warhol received recognition by Ithaka S+R as one of eight institutions in the country striving to make the museum world more open to marginalized groups. I participated in Ithaka S+R’s research interviews and when learning of the other museum in that list, Brooklyn Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Detroit Institute of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Spelman College Museum (Atlanta), and the Studio Museum in Harlem, I was elated that the Warhol ranked among them. It thrilled me that I was a part of an institution that made diversity a priority. As faces and voices of the institution, a diverse staff means numerous perspectives are being explored and welcomed.

    Through my fellowship, I was able to assist the curatorial team on their upcoming exhibitions. With each project, I learned more of what it truly means to carry on Warhol’s legacy. This legacy means more than finding artists who similarly practiced art, but it is Warhol’s mindset—critiquing and questioning today’s culture head on. The 2017 Spring show, Firelei Baez: Bloodlines featured the works of contemporary Dominican artist Firelei Baez, who’s work tackled past and present understandings of race, power and beauty. In the fall of this year, The Warhol will open Farhad Moshiri: Go West, which will showcase the works of Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri. Throughout my internship, my primary focus was Go West and I helped to create an exhibition catalogue and didactic wall labels. Moshiri’s work explores Iranian traditions, the appeal and influence of Western culture, and how people have come to define their own cultural identities. In the wake of recent, caustic, political rhetoric, aimed to make people’s differences seem like dangers, the museum finds that Moshiri’s work highlights the commonalities between the East and West. Addressing complex current issues of identity, race, power, The Warhol aims to bridge gaps, acknowledge, and celebrate people’s differences through exhibitions and events such as these.

    My time at The Andy Warhol Museum has taught me more than I can imagine— Andy Warhol’s life and work, working with contemporary artists, planning an exhibition, and how a museum of this size operates on a day to day basis. It was the museum’s mission, continuing Warhol’s legacy and making it accessible to all people, that has made the greatest impact on me and is something that I will carry with me.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Visitor experience map of floor 1

     

    Interpreting Visitor Experiences at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Author: Caroline Fazzini

    Interpretation Intern - Museum Studies Internship Program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    While working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as an interpretation intern, I was challenged to think holistically about museum experiences while experience-mapping their permanent collection galleries. Working closely with staff from across the institution, I mapped the entire museum in terms of the visitor experience preferences met within each space. The product, two massive 7’ x 5’ color-coded floor plans, exposed the current unbalanced distribution of interpretive content. These maps will be used over the course of the next several years as the Museum reinstalls these spaces. Through my involvement with this project I gained a practical understanding of how to think about and plan balanced museum experiences. This shift in mindset caused me to think of interpretation in a far more comprehensive way. Specifically in terms of designing experiences that speak to diverse audiences as well as satisfy individual preferences.

    At the PMA, I also took part in conducting audience research for a digital interactive designed to make a Chinese temple ceiling from the 1400s more visible through the use of virtual reality. During testing, I assumed multiple roles including observational note taker and interviewer. From this, I gained experience not only developing research methodology and protocols, analyzing data, and communicating findings, but also dealing with real people as they actively engaged with an interpretive device in a museum context. Our results from testing will be used to improve the prototype’s functionality.

    Learn more about Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    A memorandum of agreement between MGM and the Pittsburgh Pirates, found in the Branch Rickey Papers at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. The letter discusses the use of Pirates gear and facilities in the film Angels in the Outfield.

     

    Celebrating Pittsburgh as the Hollywood of the East: A Fellowship at the Heinz History Center

    Author: Monica Marchese

    Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowship, Summer 2017

    What word comes to mind when you think of Pittsburgh? Is it steel? Sports? Pierogies? Yinzers? This summer I had the unique opportunity to explore one of Pittsburgh’s lesser known exports – movies. In recent years, the city has become one of the biggest movie hubs in the east without even realizing it. Thanks to the government-sponsored Film Production Tax Credit Program in Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh’s unique personality, production companies have been flocking to the city in the past couple of years to film their next big hit. Our varied landscapes – from scenic rivers and bustling downtown streets to cozy neighborhoods with local flavor – make our city ideal for all types of projects. Not to mention the five-star casting companies, film crews, and more-than-willing extras available at directors’ disposal.

    As the University of Pittsburgh’s Milton Fine Fellow this summer at the Heinz History Center, I had the opportunity to work with curators Leslie Przybylek and Lauren Uhl on a project documenting the history of Pittsburgh’s film industry from the 1900s to the present. I jumped into this project in its very early stages. As a collecting initiative and eventual exhibition, this project required a two-pronged approach. My goals for the summer were to conduct preliminary research on which movies and individuals would best tell this story, and to locate artifacts and materials for the museum to either acquire or borrow in the future. I chose to focus my research film by film, creating thematic connections and logical arguments between each. In some cases, the intense study of a film proved very fruitful. In others, I found only dead-ends.

    My research led me to interviews and objects from films like Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), filmed all around Pittsburgh, and the animated feature film Big Hero 6 (2014), which used soft robotics technology from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute as the inspiration for the character Baymax. In fact, I had the opportunity to meet with Chris Atkeson, creator of the inflatable soft robotic arm and renowned professor at the Robotics Institute, in his laboratory. He showed us the original arm technology (pictured above) and encouraged us to “get into character” to understand the advantages and challenges of using inflatable robots. As I quickly found out, walking, gesturing, and holding objects proved exponentially more difficult when wearing an inflated Baymax suit (see above).

    Two of the most rewarding discoveries were related to the films Angels in the Outfield (1951) and Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). These two films could not be any more different. Angels, a film about a fictitious general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates who encounters angels (you guessed it) in the outfield, allowed me to explore the more secluded, archival side of research. I found original letters, scripts, and legal agreements from film production. This film was also important to my research because it immortalizes Forbes Field in a very unique way. In an official letter (pictured above) between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and the then Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Bill Meyer, it was agreed upon that MGM would have full use of the Forbes Field facilities, Pirates uniforms and equipment, and park staff while filming. So while the characters – and the World Series win at the end of the film – are imaginary, a large majority of the film is authentic and serves as an accurate portrayal of baseball life at Forbes Field.

    Perks, a coming-of-age film about a high school boy and his group of friends, allowed me to explore a different aspect of curation. I was able to get in contact with the novelist/screenplay writer/director/producer of the book and film, Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky, a native Pittsburgher who now lives in California, wrote Perks based on his own high school experiences growing up in Upper St. Clair. He was more than willing to speak with me on the phone about all things Perks and Pittsburgh, and even offered to help the museum acquire costumes, props, and scripts from the film.

    Working on this project has allowed me to meld my love of film, history, and Pittsburgh. I’ve had the chance to dig through archives and special collections, make important contacts within the film community, locate key artifacts, and develop thematic connections between films, people, and objects. I am honored to have had this unique opportunity at the Heinz History Center.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Fighting air pollution with a whisk

    Author: Shelby Brewster - Consuming Nature Workshop

    On our visit to the University Archives Services Center, I came across a collection of materials from the Group Against Smog & Pollution, a Pittsburgh-based activist group founded in 1969. I was particularly interested in the Jeannette Widom Papers. She was one of the charter members of GASP, and she also happened to be a stellar baker, repeatedly winning baking awards at the Allegheny County Fair. Widom, passionate about combating air pollution in Pittsburgh, put her baking skills to work for the organization.

    The centerpiece of Widom’s baking for GASP was a Dirty Gertie cookie, resembling GASP’s cartoon mascot, a bird whose wings are choked by air pollution. One of the members of GASP enlisted her husband to craft a metal cookie cutter in the shape of Gertie. The cookie’s wings were covered in chocolate sprinkles to replicate the gloomy air of Pittsburgh. This idea became a massive fundraising event for GASP: The Dirty Gertie Cookie Project. GASP reached out to other community groups to help bake, providing them with complete kits of ingredients and cookie cutters. The first round of baking resulted in 1200 Dirty Gertie cookies, all of which were sold to raise money for GASP. Widom would continue “fighting pollution with a rolling pin,” publishing three cookbooks (“Party Cookies Only,” “Fun Buns for Kids to Make, Bake, Decorate, and Eat,” and “Just Coffee Cake”) and donating the proceeds to GASP. Her fame as a celebrated baker also helped draw attention to GASP’s work.

    GASP’s use of cookies to fight air pollution resonated with a contemporary artist group that I have written about in my research, the Center for Genomic Gastronomy. Like GASP, they harnessed the potential of taste as a political tool in an effort to draw attention to air pollution. In 2011, on location in Bangalore, India, artists with the Center began “harvesting air” from the most polluted areas in the city. Because meringues are up to 90% air, by whipping up egg whites in the polluted areas the meringues capture the air pollutants present in the air.

    The Center encourages other artists, community groups, and students to make their own meringues in their own cities. They envision the cookies as powerful political statements, as they can be tested for particular pollutants or mailed to politicians as a commentary on city conditions. So, continuing the GASP tradition of mobilizing baked goods for environmental justice, I’ll be making smog meringues to serve at GASP’s Air Fair event. I chose two locations near my home, the McConway and Torley Steel Foundry on 48th Street and the bus stop at Negley and Centre Avenue, to make my meringues.

    Stayed tuned for a second post covering the making of the meringues and the Air Fair itself!

    Read about the event here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    John Yodanis Papers, 1919 – 1987, MSS 293, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center

     

    Revisiting Pittsburgh’s Pigeondom

    Author: Melissa Yang - Consuming Nature Workshop

    The American Racing Pigeon Union (ARPU)’s Souvenir Book of the 1937 Greater Pittsburgh Convention opens on a charming exchange of two epistolary poems between Edgar A. Guest and Peter P. Barry. Guest’s four stanzas of aa/bb rhymes, addressed “To the Owner of a Homing Pigeon,” detail the antics of a pigeon who “stopped to spend the day with us.” Barry responds to thank Guest, and requests he “Do again that sportsman’s deed,/Give him water and a bit of feed,” if the pigeon again chooses to rest upon his roof on his route home.

    There is abundant poetry—intentional and unintentional, whimsical and solemn—in the five boxes of materials compiled over sixty years by Pittsburgh pigeon racer John Yodanis (1910 – 1988). Housed in the Heinz History Center’s archives, these boxes are packed full of documents, from pigeon breeding guides to lineage charts, racing diplomas to gift-like bundles tied up in paper and string, which unwrap to reveal piles of pigeon-centric newspapers, catalogues, convention yearbooks, and more.

    Pigeons have long been featured in and have fostered an enormous range of human communications. Pigeon post, after all, was the fastest method of message-transmission from ancient times until Samuel Morse developed his code in the 1830s and 40s. Perusing more recent papers, it is nevertheless striking how valuable these birds were to their caretakers, and how stark the contrast is between the dedicated treatment of these pedigreed pigeons and the feral “rats with wings” marginalized in city streets today. Still, racing birds were bred to serve a purpose and, unlike most pets, had to earn their keep.

    This common attitude is reflected across Yodanis’s materials, including the four-volume Four Seasons Real Course About Pigeons. Penned by M. Joseph Heuskin for novices in the 1920s, this relic meticulously describes the proper composure, composition, and disposition of an ideal bird. He notes, “A pigeon of value has often a bigger eye than a common pigeon,” and “watches you wherever you go, for it is very inquisitive.” Breeders are advised to kill birds not up to snuff because “Marvelous pigeons are scarce,” and only achieved by “cultivating your colony” carefully. The anthropomorphism of the watchful, bright birds juxtaposed with casual culling directives render this guide darkly memorable, and the sport susceptible to criticism from animal welfare activists. (Pigeon racing ethics are controversial enough to warrant their own entry.)

    The modern sport of pigeon racing first emerged in Belgium in the 1850s, as carrier pigeons were being phased out by newer messaging technologies. Aficionados were motivated by a passion for pigeons, as well as prize money. The sport spread across Europe, and when Europeans migrated to the United States, they brought their birds with them. This is how Pittsburgh, PA—whose abundant job openings in factories and steel mills attracted European immigrants—became an epicenter for American pigeon racing in the following century.

    “Pittsburgh Promotes Pigeondom’s Progress” appears as a bold announcement in the opening pages of Yodanis’s 1948 commemorative book for the 38th annual ARPU convention (and the 4th annual “Ladies Auxiliary” meeting). Several pages of a welcome essay boast, of all the sports in Pittsburgh, “One of the finest sports of all, the realm of Pigeondom, is enthusiastically proclaimed by a great number here.” The Pittsburgh Center of the ARPU was the largest in America at the time, with thousands of members within a 50-mile radius of the city.

    John Yodanis was inducted into Pittsburgh’s pigeondom by his father and brother at age 14 in 1924. One of the collection’s final news clippings, from 1984, features the 74-year-old retired steamfitter reflecting on growing up when “every other yard had a pigeon loft and the association of racing pigeon clubs known as the Pittsburgh Center had more than 2,400 members.” Near the end of Yodanis’s life, he estimated only “175 racing pigeon owners remain in the Pittsburgh area.” Today, numbers continue to dwindle.

    The Tarentum Homing Club is one of the few active pigeon racing groups remaining around Pittsburgh, where a few devotees—mostly male retirees—continue to race their birds on weekends. When I interviewed member David Corry, he attributed the decline of pigeon racing in part to a lack of interest in the time commitment required of animal husbandry among young people today. Curiously, a concern for adolescent apathy can already be discerned in Yodanis’s earlier documents, some of which even cite “prevention of juvenile delinquency” as rationale to encourage children to pursue pigeon racing. Corry, who laughingly recalled how he was almost arrested for climbing grain elevators to catch pigeons in his youth, followed up to say, “You do not have to be nuts to get involved in pigeon racing but to some degree it helps.”Pittsburgh’s pigeondom may be endangered, but there is a liveliness, passion, humor, and resonant lyricism in even the most matter-of-fact of the extant discourses and documents. John Yodanis’s collection offers a fascinating glimpse into this niche area of local history well worth remembering and revisiting.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Pages