A Thing of Shreds and Patches: Exhibition Making at Rivers of Steel Arts

United Steelworkers of America Patch from the Rivers of Steel Archives


A Thing of Shreds and Patches: Exhibition Making at Rivers of Steel Arts

Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel Arts – Spring 2019

Rivers of Steel Arts (RoSA) is an organization which connects Pittsburgh communities to their cultural and economic heritage, wrought from the booming industrialization of the 19th century. Through a dedication to conserving and interpreting local history, RoSA fosters compelling opportunities for visitors to experience the area’s past steeped in the steel industry. Held in the Rivers of Steel Archives are a plethora of materials showcasing the history of the steel industry, its workers, founders, the labor movements, and the cultural history of Pittsburgh itself. 

At the beginning of my internship, I was tasked with familiarizing myself with the objects held in the RoSA archives by my supervisor, Director and Chief Curator, Chris McGinnis. From there, I was to study these materials and formulate a narrative for a forthcoming exhibition display case to be shown in Fall 2019. My appreciation of the area’s cultural legacy was bolstered through my hands-on work done in the archives; it was amazing to work so closely, so personally, with the objects of local history – many of which held an amazing aesthetic value. Even the most seemingly mundane of objects were striking in their artistic, historical qualities. 

After coming into contact with numerous objects from the Pittsburgh steel age, I decided to center my exhibition narrative around art in steel. Specifically, I titled it, Art and Design in the Steel Industry. The dramatic beauty of the mills and the intricate details given to materials such as pins, cups, and letters were not lost on me. These objects informed me of a larger artistic movement within the steel industry that is often unnoticed. The design of publications and documents often affirms this stance, with their futuristic, minimalistic, and geometric graphic compositions. 

I greatly value the information I gleaned in the RoSA archives, and from the countless hours of object research guided by Archivist Melanie Root. I am thankful for my newfound appreciation for the artistic initiatives taken by the working, industrial class of the Pittsburgh area. These works of high aesthetic value and consideration further cement the steel industries’ transformative, dynamic nature. 

In terms of my career, this internship has allowed me to directly pursue my museological interests and gain experience in the field itself. My involvement at RoSA has inspired my appreciation of esoteric art – I can more easily find beauty in the mundane and in the “untraditionally” artistic. I feel a renewed commitment to revealing the beauty of working class art and design to the rest of the world.

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh