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

    Shopping for furniture at Construction Junction for the Human Diorama in the new exhibition: We are Nature

     

    A Whale of a Tale: Archiving and Exhibition Design at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    Author: Eliza Wick

    Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowship, Summer 2017

    I came into my fellowship at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History with certain preconceptions. Namely, I had a preference and more experience with museums that may be more traditional, such as the Carnegie Museum of Art. But I was eager to see how a natural history museum differed from what I was used to. I also expected that I would be making decisions each day that would be effecting changes in the museum in a more direct way as well as contributing to the formation of future exhibits, however I quickly learned that that was a bit of a naïve and idealistic view of how a museum works. My work as an intern, while important, was more of an archival project in backtracking, documentation and organization of historical material and how that information related to current halls and future exhibitions.

    One thing that I quickly became aware of is how almost every museum has to operate from a perspective that is often overlooked: the museum as a financial entity. Despite being a non-profit, a museum still has to make enough money to do things like upkeep of permanent halls, creation of temporary exhibits, borrowing of traveling exhibits, paying employees, graphic design projects, and much more. Due to the fact that revenue is only generated really from grants, admission, and generous donations, creation and innovation must be brought down to reality and altered to fit the limited funds that most non-profits must face.

    With this in mind, many ideas have to be struck down to fit the reality of budget and time more so than I had naively expected. I thought that ideas could be implemented quickly and without limits; however I learned that museums by nature take time to implement new projects, ideas, halls, etc. Work must be reviewed by many people and departments because museum work stresses the collaborative and group effort.

    I remember someone describing the design and implementation of exhibitions as being for the long haul. Essentially you are hoping your ideas and efforts will come later in five years or so, resonating with a museum-goer deeply concerned for our natural world. Through particular implementation and design that you curated hopefully helps visitors become more interested in science or better understand a concept.

    Additionally, something I had not considered all the way through is how much a natural history museum differs from a more traditional art museum. A natural history museum requires much more preparation and planning of exhibitions in most cases than an art museum. There are factors like specimen acquisition, preservation, and preparation as well as thought mapping of how you want to educate the scientific topic in space.

    Natural history museums also make the majority of their own props, stands, cases, and anything else that will be going into the physical space. All of these considerations as well as protection of specimens and of the visitors means that much more time and energy must be put into the final product than an art museum where the pieces stand alone. In a way, the exhibition department in a natural history museum is like an artist and educator because they get to design and create the majority of the pieces in the exhibit. 

    There is also the fact that many exhibitions require that permanent changes are made to the physical building and like new walls made, old walls taken down, blocked exits, new walking patterns, etc. that become more costly and laborious.

    Understanding the museum budget, raising money, and how finances and time affect production allowed me to better understand the history of the institution and made my archiving process much more informed and tailored to a museum as opposed to another entity.

    I treasured my fellowship, most of all, because it satisfied my personal fascination and admiration for archival research. I also cherished the fact that I personally got to make choices that affected the organization and logic of their exhibition department archival system.

    While archival research and organization may not seem like a pressing issue, this information is actually essential for knowledge about past exhibitions and renovations, current halls, and for the production and planning of future exhibitions. For example, there was a traveling exhibition in the mid-2000s about a whale. The exhibition required that a life-size whale be installed from the ceiling. This required some significant changes to the rooms walls, ceilings, and general layout.

    It may not seem like a major issue in the moment, but it means that any blueprint of the area that was dated prior to this alteration would be significantly off in its measurements. And, because it is a traveling show, the whale was only temporary, but the alterations were permanent. Therefore, an updated blueprint needed to be made to avoid confusion in the future. This became especially significant after the dissolution of the exhibitions department and the later revival of it because there were many old blueprints that had dimensions that did not match the current features of the space. Being off by even an inch in one’s measurement of a room can be tragic for the installation of a future show because items might not fit. Hopefully this serves as a very tangible reason as to why archival upkeep, intelligence, and research is so important.

    What can be done to help archival get more attention and communicate its importance?

    I believe that keeping the relationship open between our History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh and the exhibitions department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History would be the best way to help further develop and explore these archives as well as be mutually beneficial to both institutions. It would be valuable work if a future intern would use my archives and/or guides to conduct research on the institution or exhibits, further develop the archives, or document the current halls and exhibits on display now as a proactive project for the future of the archives. I would love to stay in touch with any future students that might encounter these archives or the wonderful group of staff that make up the exhibitions department.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Cyd and Kendall standing outside of the original storefront of the 'The Store', which is now occupied by 'Otto’s Shoe Store'

     

    The Untold Stories of 'The Store,' Verona, PA

    Author: Kendall Dunn

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Fall 2017

    Through my fall internship at Contemporary Craft, I have been conducting research on the life of Betty Raphael, the woman who brought modern art and craft to Pittsburgh. Before Betty Raphael’s work led to the creation of what is now Contemporary Craft, located in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, she opened the city’s first modern art gallery called 'Outlines Gallery.' She collected and displayed artworks by renowned modern artists Alexander Calder and Paul Klee, among others. After this stage in her life, she found a crafts store in Verona, PA, titled 'The Store for Arts, Crafts, and People-Made Things,' and reopened it under her management.

    To learn more about the physical landmark of the Store and Raphael’s legacy in the Verona community, a group of student interns and staff from the History of Art department ventured to Verona, PA, about thirty minutes from Pittsburgh. We drove up on the main street, Allegheny River Blvd, where the small town began. Our purpose was to find the original location of the ‘The Store’ and investigate its history as art historians. With the town being so incredibly small, we were able to track down the original location of 737 Allegheny River Boulevard in 1971, which is now occupied by the shoe store, 'Otto’s Shoes.' (In 1973, the Store would relocate to a bigger space, a few blocks down the street, at 719 Allegheny River Boulevard, now occupied by the fitness center 'No limits. Sport performance').

    As we scanned the outside of the building we saw the store owner looking at us curiously from inside.  We met the owner, Larry, and learned from him that he knew little about Betty Raphael, taking over this store front around ten years ago. Before he moved into the building, his friend, Gloria, housed her store there, and before that, the whole entire building was used as a theatre. Larry also disclosed information regarding his father’s involvement in the art world when he was younger. His father owned Geisler Brothers Art Dealer on 5627 Penn Avenue in East Liberty. His father was mainly in charge of making safety and instructional posters for the steel factories in Western Pennsylvania. Later on, he offered Larry the family business but Larry decided to pursue shoe sales.

    As another possible lead for information about Betty Raphael, Larry then directed us to Gloria, the owner of 'Gloria’s Fixations.' Gloria, too, did not know much history of the store front and did not have any knowledge regarding Betty Raphael. But, she did direct us to our next destination: The Verona Municipal Building which houses a special history room of Verona.

    The History Room contained information about the railroads, the community, various pictures, objects, newspapers, and other documents. We learned that the Social Women’s Club was a huge part of Verona’s community. Additionally, there were many scrapbooks that recorded the crafts and arts that occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s.

    While we did not discover any specific mentions of Betty Raphael, we did enjoy learning more about the history of Verona. Now, when I resume my work at Contemporary Craft, looking through the personal scrapbooks of Betty Raphael, the visit has made me curious even more curious about the owner of 'The Store.'

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    The Stephen Foster sculpture in front of Carnegie Museum in Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Photo by Aaron Henderson.

     

    Remembering or Erasing The Past? The HAA Department Responds to Stephen Foster Memorial

    Author: Ben Ogrodnik

    2017-2018 Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education

    During a volatile political climate, where public attention has scrutinized the meaning and origins of Confederate public sculptures across the country, students and faculty at University of Pittsburgh’s History of Art department have weighed in on a local monument, the Stephen Foster Memorial, which contains a controversial depiction of Foster above a black slave.

    A group of faculty and students from HAA recently attended community meetings, held on October 4 and 25, debating the fate of the Memorial, organized by Pittsburgh’s art commission. Since the Race-ing the Museum workshop, the history and future of this Oakland sculpture has been a lighting rod of discussion in the Pitt academic community.

    The recent hearings on the monument have generated thoughtful dialogue on race relations in Pittsburgh, and on ways of remembering the US history of slavery in ways that do not silence or white-wash the exploitation of African Americans.

    Kate Joranson, Head, Frick Fine Arts Library, attended the public hearings, and remarked: 'While listening to the public comments, I found myself wanting to participate despite not having prepared comments in advance. I ended up sharing that in addition to the choice as to whether to remove the statue, the art commission has a companion choice to make: Who’s voices will they choose to amplify?.'

    History of Art graduate student, Sarah Connell, also attended the events and reflected that, 'I was particularly struck by the misunderstanding of the statue as an objective record of a real event or a portrait of a specific African American, rather than a fabricated character or stereotype.' However, Connell observed, on a more hopeful note, 'I was encouraged by the large number of people who attended the public hearing and by how overwhelming the comments called for the relocation of the work.'

    As a result of the department’s participation in this event, Professors Kirk Savage and Shirin Fozi led the drafting of a letter that was sent to the Art Commission of Pittsburgh, advocating the removal of the Stephen Foster statue. On Wednesday, October 25, 2017, the commission unanimously voted to take down the statue.

    Despite the arguments for keeping the 117-year-old bronze statue, which ultimately lost out, Katie Lynn Loney astutely noted that the removal of the sculpture does not equate to the erasure of history or loss of Pittsburgh pride in local artwork or historical figures. To the contrary, the conversations around the memorial have renewed an interest in the meaning of historical representation and how memorials can lose purchase or significance with the passage of time.

    As Loney stated, 'Those advocating for the statue’s removal, showed that they were well aware of the statue’s power to degrade African Americans and to support white supremacy. While people [at the hearings] showed that they were ashamed (and a couple proud) of the memorial and the historical moment of its production, I was particularly struck by everyone’s awareness of the memorial's contemporary presence and what it says about our community to celebrate the statue in public space.'

    Here is the letter by Savage and Fozi, co-signed by 40 members of the HAA department:

    October 9, 2017

    The Art Commission

    City of Pittsburgh

    Dear commissioners:

    We are writing as faculty and graduate students of the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. We encounter the Stephen Foster statue on a daily basis. Over the years several of us have brought classes, colleagues, and other groups there to learn and to spark discussion. We have had numerous discussions about the statue in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy. After considerable thought we have concluded that the statue must be removed from its place of honor in Schenley Plaza.

    While we bring a certain specialized knowledge to this debate, we write with due humility, knowing that our voice is one among many legitimate voices in our public sphere. Many of us attended the public meeting on October 4 and listened carefully to the voices in that room. This letter also responds to that public dialogue.

    The key problem with the Stephen Foster statue is not the man himself (though his music isn’t without controversy), but the imagery on the monument. It is the inverse of the Confederate monument problem. There the controversy is almost never about the mode of representation; Confederate statues take the same poses and styles as Union statues do. The Confederate problem arises instead from the men being represented – what they stood and fought for. In Foster’s monument, the problem is almost entirely about the representation itself and its racial storyline. In the public discussion, these two issues – the man and the monument – often become confused with one another, yet they need to be pulled apart in order to move the conversation forward.

    If we survey the whole array of public monuments in the U.S., the Foster statue stands as one of the most outrageous racial representations ever erected in public space in this nation. There is truly nothing quite like it anywhere.

    Why? Because of the black banjo player and his juxtaposition with the white genius Stephen Foster in a conspicuous narrative of inspiration/appropriation. The barefoot, ragged black banjo player was a common stereotype in minstrel shows and print culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 'Uncle Ned' does not refer to a real individual, but to a caricatured figure that Foster invented for a song published in 1848. The song, like so many other works of art, music, and literature of its time, depicts Ned as a faithful servant whose 'hard work' earns the affection of those who have enslaved him, painting a sentimental and harmonious picture of a horrific historical reality. Yet it is here in Pittsburgh, for the first and only time, that this delusional stereotype entered the high-art realm of public sculpture.

    The only reason for putting Uncle Ned into bronze was to magnify the elevated genius of Stephen Foster. In the composition he appears as the intellectual in the act of composing, his eyes lost in thought, as he perches upright on a rock in gentlemen’s attire protected from the ground by a cloth underneath him. Uncle Ned, seated below him, is his opposite: a natural entertainer, in direct contact with the ground, his mouth open in song revealing the gaps in his teeth, his bare foot slung over his knee in a pose that slouches informally. All these oppositions are consistent, and are immediately and unthinkingly absorbed as racial difference. And difference here is not horizontal but vertical and hierarchical. White/black, up/down, culture/nature, thinker/entertainer, gentleman/pauper, master/slave: all these binaries combine to communicate a clear racial storyline that confirms the superiority and power of white culture.

    The monument is not really about Stephen Foster, but about the need of white elites in the Gilded Age to transform Foster into a culture hero, to rebrand him and the city of Pittsburgh in the process. And the most effective way they knew to make that transformation was to insert the good plantation 'darky' and the racial hierarchy he evoked.      

    During the public meeting, we heard this refrain in favor of the sculpture: Stephen Foster was a good man because he valued black music and because he recognized that enslaved people had feelings just like regular people do. We don’t agree that white people deserve congratulations for realizing that enslaved people are in fact people. But quite apart from that, we want to return the issue to the representation itself. The sculpture does not in fact focus on their shared humanity, but on the unbridgeable divide between their two worlds. Even if 'Uncle Ned' is Foster’s muse – again a point of controversy because Ned could just as easily be seen as Foster’s own creation, not inspiration – the muse serves only to spark the great man who represents a higher order of civilization. There is no level playing field here between black music and white music. It is one-way road from the primitive to the civilized, through the territory of appropriation.

    This is a racial storyline that falsifies history and hurts everyone by perpetuating the very racial thinking that has always justified slavery and segregation. It does not take special training to recognize its basic storyline: the racial hierarchy is out there for all to see.

    We do not advocate for destruction or even 'censorship' of this insidious narrative. We simply want to withdraw it from its place of honor in public space. Ideally the sculpture would be relocated to a museum space where it could be recontextualized and reinterpreted in relation to the difficult issues of racial slavery and segregation that the monument both raises and obscures.

    Sincerely,

    Kirk Savage, William S. Dietrich II Professor

    Shirin Fozi, Assistant Professor

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    José Díaz talking about the jar series Faghat Eshgh-Only Love, 2007

     

    On Farhad Moshiri’s Solo Exhibition at The Andy Warhol Museum

    Author: Golnar Touski

    Graduate student. History of Art and Architecture.

    Farhad Moshiri: Go West, an exhibition curated by Jose Carlos Diaz, The Andy Warhol Museum’s chief curator, is currently on view at The Andy Warhol Museum. This is the Iranian artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, surveying two decades of Moshiri’s career.

    Moshiri rose to fame with his embellished, jeweled paintings adorned with calligraphic inscriptions of Iranian pop poetry. Over two decades, his works referenced the Iranian pop culture, calligraphy and decorative arts in dialogue with the prevalent American culture of entertainment and consumerism, ubiquitous in Iran of 1980s and 1990s. Often profiled as a Pop artist, his art defies categories of art commonly associated with the Middle East. He uses icons of the Iranian and ancient Persian art, but unlike his Iranian modern predecessors of the 1960 and 70s, he is not much interested in abstraction. Rather he employs visual markers of Middle Eastern art to comment on consuming an imagined Persia.

    In the context of The Andy Warhol Museum, Farhad Moshiri’s works find a situated-ness that otherwise would not be as visible to the Iranian and non-Iranian audiences alike. Seen in this context Moshiri initiates a dialogue with the Western imported pop culture, Western movies, Disney cartoons and French postcards on the one hand; and iterations of the Iranian consumerism on the other. Seen next to Warhol’s interest in and referencing of the American pop culture, Moshiri’s labor-intensive, elaborate remaking of popular everyday objects juxtapose infinite reproducibility with an obsessive hand-making of images; a way of making reproducible objects of one’s own by dense, rich textural adornment and adoration.  

    Moshiri’s art could be thought of as a playful manipulation of mechanisms of desire, labor and language. By flattening ancient objects in his famous jar series (Faghat Eshgh-Only Love, 2007) he generates a metonymy of the Ancient Persia, an imagined identity referring to everyday lives of Iranians who were exposed to the globalized capitalism especially during the years after the 1979 revolution and who found it necessary to define Iranian-ness in the face of an increasing political isolation of the country.

    Such artistic strategy also redefines objects linguistically, linking the Persian calligraphy, a form of “sublime” artistic production to consumerism. Moshiri notices how calligraphy, an art of Persian royal courts and a revered form of art practice became a commodity of the world of art and a marker of identity.

    But perhaps the most striking about his recent works, such as the Frosting Stories series, is their uniquely sensory quality. Viewing Moshiri’s art closely is a completely different experience. The glittery, ornate details strike a chord with the viewer's sense of nostalgia and desire; and it would be fair to say that the Iranian and American audiences both experience such an affective, visceral response. The rich textures and subtle details recreate the Persian 17th century architectural elements, Persian manuscript illumination and calligraphy, but in the shape of cake frosting and cheap jewelry; something thet one wants to touch, and taste. Something that is commodifiable Yet the commodities Moshiri offers us always entail an uncomfortable encounter that is either sexually charged or implicitly violent.

    Moshiri’s use of domestic labor is also worth noting. He employs local craftswomen whose specialty is making wedding dresses to create garish, glittery beaded surfaces and embroidered paintings; a form of low-brow, domestic art which was never taken seriously vis-à-vis sublimity of the Iranian Modern art movement of mid-1960s and 1970s. While the imagery is playful and cartoonish, the rich texture is indicative of hours and hours of labor, hence implying a subtle sense of discomfort in the contradictory co-existence of labor and consumerism.

    Moshiri was born in 1963 in the early years of the Iranian modern art movement; he is well aware of the legacy of the Iranian modern art as a form of 'committed art' which at the same time drew heavily on the EuroAmerican tradition of modernism. It so seems that Moshiri’s glittery, elaborate surfaces respond to a culmination of events before and after the Iranian revolution of 1979, when revolutionary aspirations of the modern art were replaced by a fervor to accumulate objects and consumption of identity.

    ___

    Golnar Yarmohammad Touski presented her response to a tour of the Fahrad Moshiri: Go West exhibition by Jose Carlos Diaz on October 20 at The Andy Warhol Museum. The above blog post records her comments and reflections on this occasion.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Graduate Work
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    Robert Sterns, “Verona Has a ‘Handy’ Approach to Art: The Sociable Workshop,” The Pittsburgh Press, March 4, 1973: 12. Betty Raphael’s Scrapbooks, Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

     

    Organizing the community through art and crafts

    Author: Cyd Johnson

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Fall 2017

    Before starting my internship at Contemporary Craft I first watched a documentary, Tracing Outlines, and was immediately enchanted with its founder, Betty Raphael. How could I have lived in Pittsburgh my whole life and not have known about this awesome woman who started a modern art gallery downtown in the 1940s? After watching the documentary on Outlines gallery, I was excited to learn that at my internship I would be flipping through her large leather-bound scrapbooks and learn about other, somehow even more inspiring projects.

    After Outlines Gallery closed in 1947, Betty Raphael got involved with the Riverview Community Action Corporation, a volunteer community service organization for the boroughs of Oakmont and Verona which provided used clothes to people in need, either giving the clothes away or selling them at bargain price, but needed storage rooms for all the clothes they were receiving. Raphael reached out to a small craft store in Verona that was preparing to shut its doors, called “the Store for arts and crafts and people-made things.”  She agreed to continue selling the works of local craftsmen in the Store if they could also use the space as storage for the clothing.  

    Shortly thereafter, a project grew out of the Store called the “Sociable Workshop.” The Store’s original director, Beth Cameron Walter, described it as a place “where professional artists and designers work with students, hobbyists, retirees and handicapped people in a non-profit program for the hand arts." They paid unemployed people to come to the workshop and take classes with professional designers and craftspeople. The objects made in the Sociable Workshop were sold in the Store, and two-thirds of the profits were given to their makers, while the other third went towards other community projects such as a bus that ran between the boroughs and helped transport people to/from the Workshop. (A bus system which, by the way, is still in place today).  

    The Sociable Workshop grew into a master-apprentice program, attracting nationally known craftspeople to come in and create easily reproducible designs for people with some technical skills, but who lacked creative ingenuity. The objects produced in the workshop began being noticed by retailers, first with a line of Santa Clauses sold in several New York department stores (including a window display at Cartier), and handmade objects being sold at Gimbels, a local department store. After seeing the displays, Park Smith called Betty Raphael and asked her to produce 800-1500 pillows/month for his stores. This led to the expansion of the Sociable Workshop into a new space, and the employment of nine weavers, four finishers, a manager and two assistants. Despite Betty Raphael pouring her own money into it, the Sociable Workshop was always in debt. While they received some federal funding as an anti-poverty program, it was never enough. Raphael, with the help of the Riverview Community Action Corporation, decided that they had enough support within the community to fund-raise this and other community outreach projects. They hosted a Bootstraps Twin-Boroughs party to fundraise. Objects from the Store were sold at the fundraiser, and all the volunteer groups put their best foot forward in attempts to raise the money the government refused to give them. In the words of Betty Raphael herself, "Who can say how far a community or city neighborhood could go today toward 'taking care of its own' if the government would help rather than hinder their efforts?" 

    In scouring these news articles and advertisements beautifully arranged in her aging and delicate scrapbooks, a single quote from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette art critic, Donald Miller, properly summarized my findings: "No one has ever worked harder or more cleverly to promote crafts in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania than Betty Raphael. She deserves more success."  This got me thinking -if Betty Raphael couldn’t sustain this project, can anyone? And, are there any arts organizations, today, that are actively thinking about community outreach in such a powerful way? I figured talking with my co-workers at Contemporary Craft would be a good place to start, since it is Betty Raphael’s remaining legacy.

    The outreach coordinator informed me of programs they do a few times a year, as well as many connections they have in education with schools and museums. Contemporary Craft maintains their status as a non-profit, offering a free gallery space and  programs that work in schools and with the women’s shelter in Pittsburgh. I understand that Betty Raphael struggled to secure funding in the 1970s, and I can’t imagine that getting government funding for a project of the magnitude of the Sociable Workshop would be any easier in 2017…

    Is it still possible? I am now determined to find out. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    The front of Benjamin Franklin House. It is a Georgian period exterior (from the 1730s). The house is Grade I listed, the same as Buckingham Palace, meaning that nothing can be changed on the interior or exterior of it.

     

    Digging Up Bones and Revolutionary History at the Benjamin Franklin House

    Author: Darcy Foster

    Summer Study Abroad scholarship 2017 - Women’s International Club Scholarship (London, England)

    Few people know that Benjamin Franklin lived in London for nearly 20 years before the American Revolution. My good fortune was to intern for six weeks at the lodger house in central London where he lived. The Benjamin Franklin House is the world's only remaining Franklin residence and was converted into a museum, in 2006, on the 300th anniversary of his birth.

    Being a relatively small museum with only four staff members including the director, I was given a wider range of work experiences than is possible at a larger site. The house itself was the artifact; the staff created an actress-led tour to help visitors imagine how the rooms were used. This tour consisted of interactive projections with the actress tour guide and audio recordings that included excerpts from some of Franklin’s letters. 

    My role was selling tickets and introducing the tour to visitors by discussing the history of the house and Benjamin Franklin’s role as a lobbyist in London in the 1750s-1770s. I also helped with education days for nearby schools and researched school outreach programs. In conducting research for these programs, I was able to illuminate Ben Franklin’s role in the politics at the time of the revolution, noting his activities with Boston Tea Party by searching through an online archive of his letters, managed by Yale University.

    The House’s social media presence is already pretty strong, but they needed help programming tweets for the future. So, thinking of ways that their social media could reach a wider audience, I started using the hashtag #MuseumMondays. Now some of their tweets are linked to other museums, giving the House the opportunity for more exposure.

    This internship culminated in an article I wrote for the newsletter discussing a discovery around the anatomist Thomas Hewson, who lived in the house with Franklin (Hewson had married the landlady’s daughter). Museum staff discovered that Hewson ran an anatomy school out of the house, when they were digging a hole to check the foundation and found hundreds of human and animal bones buried in what would have been the garden at that time. The bones were excavated and dated back to the late 1700s when Franklin lived at the house. Staff believe that Hewson had buried the bones in the garden to avoid raising suspicion as he was probably illegally obtaining his cadavers from grave robbers. In the article I wrote about the anatomy school itself and how it changed hands throughout the years. The anatomists running the facility would often catch diseases from the cadavers, and pass away. 

    This internship abroad was a phenomenal experience. Working with native Londoners was a rich cultural experience, and working in a small museum exposed me to the full spectrum of museum services.  As a result, I hope to pursue a career as a curator, and seeing how a small museum like the Benjamin Franklin House operates will be extremely beneficial in the future. 

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

    Portrait of Stan Brakhage in Sally Dixon’s home, c. 1975. Photograph: Robert Haller

     

    The Art of Seeing: Microcinema Series Recovers Pittsburgh’s Vital Film Heritage

    Author: Ben Ogrodnik

    As the 2017-2018 Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education, one of my greatest joys has been learning more about local arts organizations and being able to spotlight the city’s art history for the general public. As a PhD student focused on films made in and about Pittsburgh, I am especially interested in how filmmakers and local institutions work together to make a vibrant, original contribution to film art.

    The Andy Warhol Museum, for example, boasts an impressive, state-of-the-art mediatheque. Audiences can see Warhol’s ‘underground’ films (after being inaccessible for decades) and episodes of his TV show starring movie stars, musicians, and fashion icons. Another institution with a connection to film is the Society for Contemporary Craft, whose founder Betty Raphael, was a champion and advocate of scrappy independent filmmaking. Raphael was a close friend with Maya Deren, a modern dancer and artist. Raphael allowed Deren to use her parents Swissvale/Edgewood home as a movie set for her film Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946). Between 1970 and 2003, the Carnegie Museum of Art was a bastion of film-as-art. The Museum brought in visiting artists such as Werner Herzog, Jean-Luc Godard and Yvonne Rainer for in-person presentations, screenings and festivals. Over the course of 30 years, 200 internationally recognized artists came to Pittsburgh and galvanized excitement in film production.

    Many places have a connection to film if you look hard enough. One of our greatest institutions is Pittsburgh Filmmakers. This fall, I have been organizing a microcinema series that commemorates the rich legacy of this media arts organization. In the 1970s, Pittsburgh Filmmakers was founded by a group of poets, hippies, and visual artists as an artist-run equipment center. They intended to democratize access to costly equipment, and establish a free space for the exchange of ideas and creativity. Over the decades it has evolved into a world-class school for photography and visual media. This microcinema series highlights avant-garde filmmaking in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, with an appreciation of how this catalyst organization continues to support artists of various genres and backgrounds.

    The first event, “Seeing with Experimental Eyes” on Wednesday October 18 2017, I have co-organized with Lauren Goshinski, and with financial support from History of Art and Film Studies at Pitt. We are screening one of the most influential--and controversial-- works of the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Trilogy. In September 1970, the prolific artist Stan Brakhage visited the city. When he was in town the film curator Sally Dixon helped him get inside the West Penn hospital, the city morgue, and the Hill District police. As a result, he made a trio of documentary films about each of these “forbidden” places (eyes; Deus Ex; and The Act of Seeing with one’s own eyes, all finished in 1971). The Trilogy is today better known outside the city, being very rare and difficult to show.

    With this collaborative event, both Brakhage and Pittsburgh Filmmakers will be commemorated. Robert Haller, the then-executive director of PF, facilitated workshops and filmmaking activity on the part of Brakhage. Brakhage’s 1970 visit inspired a new generation of local artists and PF members, including Brady Lewis, Greg Gans, Sharon Green, and others who felt empowered to pick up a camera and try their hand at film.

    Pittsburgh Filmmakers is also one of the few places where people can still see 16mm film. Thanks to their commitment to analog film media and projection equipment, the Trilogy is being shown as originally intended, on celluloid film, for free. The Trilogy depicts the Steel City in a truly extraordinary way. Brakhage believed that the “Visual” was the primary, most essential element of film. He edited and recorded images in such a way that the spectator feels like a child viewing the world, with new eyes. He gives a hard look at life and death; after making the exceptionally demanding Trilogy, he would never be the same again. A post-screening roundtable of experts, artists and curators will discuss the films, considering their technical design and impact on the community.

    The microcinema series emblematizes the work that I love doing as a Mellon Fellow — recovering the arts heritage of the city, and spurring more interest and enthusiasm in the vast institutional resources here. I hope to see you at the first event!

    Click here for more details.

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Joe's first U.S. Steel appearance

     

    The Steel Man Reaches Out Across Time

    Author: Evan Chen - Consuming Nature Workshop

    As someone who is interested in how certain historical knowledges or narratives fail to reach us in the present moment, during the week of the workshop I found myself arrested by the apparition of Joe Magarac, a Pittsburgh folk figure who could be located and seen all over our local archives. As someone who first moved to the city in the fall of 2007, I find it painful to imagine how much local history and culture has been erased or papered over by the waves of gentrification and “urban renewal” that began around that time. I am also interested in what these histories might have to tell us about the present. Pulled back from the margins of visibility or legibility, what can we glean from the fragments that remain?

    For me, the Joe Magarac folktale belonged to such a set of remaindered historical fragments. His story first appeared in an article written by Owen Francis which was published by Scribner’s in November of 1931. Francis hears about Magarac -magarac (a word that approximately means “jackass” in Hungarian- from “one of the many Slavs” working in a Monongahela Valley steel mill, leading to the story being recounted. Francis’s storytelling approach feels anthropological in a bad way. He describes the story as “typical of the Hunkie” as if he is the white steward of Russian and East European knowledge. It does not help that the narrative is written in clunky, transliterated dialect. But the rough contours of the folktale as it will circulate elsewhere are also laid out here: Steve Mestrovich’s beautiful daughter Mary is set to marry. He holds a feat of strength contest in order to draw interest to her and determine who is best to help carry on the family line. Pete, the local favorite, competes well, but eventually the inhumanly large Joe Magarac has to show up to serve as his ringer (Joe is not interested in Mary and claims that his work is too important for him to pay attention to a woman at home). Joe goes to work in the mills and eventually melts himself into steel in order to literally become part of future mills that will succeed and survive due to his supernatural strength. (1)

    Since then, Magarac’s appearance and disappearance in the name of steel has circulated in a number of different contexts. During the Consuming Nature workshop, we encountered many of these, including at least two comic books published by U. S. Steel in the 1950s, where Joe appears to a pubescent boy in a queer fever dream to educate him about...steel. [See images 1 and 2 above] (2)

    Magarac was also a visible fixture within shared and public spaces in Pittsburgh across the 20th century. A photograph located within Pitt’s Historic Pittsburgh collection shows one portal of the now defunct Manchester Bridge, circa 1918, featuring Magarac on one end and another folk figure, the coal miner Jan Volkanik, on the other. When we visited the archive at Rivers of Steel in Homestead, we saw Frank Vittor’s 1951 mock-up of a fountain for Point State Park that was centered on Joe’s muscular vitality. There also used to be a statue of Joe as part of “the Olde Kennywood Railroad Ride” in Kennywood Park. [See images 3, 4 and 5 above] (3)

    Beyond the above, the text that first and foremost drew my attention in his direction was Joe Magarac and His U.S.A. Citizen Papers, was written by Irwin Shapiro, illustrated by James Daugherty and published by Julian Messner in 1948. In this instance of the story, Joe is still an ambiguously nonhuman or superhuman “immigrant,” but there follows a surprising twist. Towards the middle of the narrative, Magarac is melted and shaped into a steel girder, and then he is shipped to Washington D.C., where he becomes a constituent part of the Capitol Building. Once installed, he overhears a congressman and a senator engaged in a xenophobic conversation about the threat of Slavic immigrants to the United States’ sovereignty and well-being. Enraged by their ignorance and lack of respect for these working people, Magarac gets so hot that he melts out of the building, destroying part of it. When he re-solidifies, he is a man again, and he goes to war with all of Washington D.C.  This builds to a climax where the president has to offer Joe his citizenship to get him to back off and to agree not to destroy the whole capitol. [See images 6, 7, 8 and 9 above] (4)

    Given current events, I was amazed to encounter this 70-year-old text that felt so relevant to the xenophobic strains that remain in contemporary America. As a Chinese American whose grandfather immigrated to this country within a few years of ...and His U.S.A. Citizen Papers’ publication, a time when racist immigration quotas dictated the racial makeup of this country, that text seized me in a way others did not. I think I was also seized by the text’s other naked, avowed political sensibilities—it is clear from reading it that Irwin Shapiro was an unapologetic advocate for labor and immigration at a time when such sympathies could have cost him mightily.

    One might wonder what all of the above has to do with human extinction and the anthropocene, the stated theme of Consuming Nature. I would argue that all of this is relevant in relation to concepts of genealogy and transmission that are important to thinking about history more generally. For example: since the initial written record about Magarac was written by Francis, more than one scholar has raised the question of whether his narrative is fakelore, something made up by the workers he was interviewing to get one over on him, or perhaps made up by Francis so he might have something new to report on. In this vein, Ivan Kovačević has worked through a whole body of literature that speculates about the Slavic linguistic origins of the surname to determine whether Francis’s story is authentic. (5)

    I would argue that regardless of or even in concert with such concerns one can still appreciate how Francis’s narrative spun in multiple, unpredictable directions through the various iterations one can still see today. Seeing is contingent, however, on knowing where and how to look, and on someone having left and preserved something for you to see. In the case of Shapiro’s Magarac book and the various Magarac statues that used to be visible around Pittsburgh, I wonder if an ethic of the anthropocene might hinge on finding ways to constantly remember and call up the past in as much of its heterogeneity as possible. Perhaps we could read as allegory how Joe Magarac melts himself into a material trace of his labor, a labor that can be read and understood by future generations only if they are open to gleaning his story from the fragments of the past. If the horror of the anthropocene comes out of its erasure of tradition and its dissolution of human history all at once, perhaps we had better get to remembering in as much detail as we can while we still can.

    (1) Francis, Owen. “The Sage of Joe Magarac: Steelman.” Scribner’s, Nov. 1931, pp. 505-511.

    (2) These two delightful and propagandistic comics, Joe the Genie of Steel and The Return of Joe the Genie of Steel, can be viewed at Hillman Library Special Collections on Pitt’s campus. Special thanks are due to the University Library System’s Clare Withers, who shared these materials with participants and also guided my hand towards other relevant Magarac materials.

    (3) For sources and additional context, see: 

    http://www.historicpittsburgh.org/islandora/object/pitt%3A715.185399.CP

    http://vannevar.blogspot.com/2013/04/joe-magarac-fountain-point-state-park.html

    http://pghmurals.com/Joe-Magarac-367.cfm

    (4) The text has also recently been reprinted by our own University of Pittsburgh Press.

    (5) Kovačević, Ivan. “Who Murdered Joe Magarac?” Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore, no. 59, 2014, pp. 85-104.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

     

    Categories: 
    • 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

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