Big City Tales

Carnegie Museums Bring the World to Pittsburgh

October 3, 2018
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After making a name for himself as a shrewd (and VERY rich!) businessman in the late 1800’s, Andrew Carnegie turned his attention from building corporate empires to championing societal causes. Carnegie spent the last 18 years of his life (from 1901 to 1919) passionately engaged in the pursuit of philanthropic efforts that included establishing libraries, universities and cultural institutions around the world, many in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Carnegie Steel Company was based. The Carnegie Museums were legacy gifts to the citizens of Pittsburgh, the vast majority whom Carnegie knew first-hand would never have the means to experience life outside of the United States, so he endeavored to bring the world to them.

Museum of Art

Located in the historic Oakland district, the Carnegie Museum of Art was the first of its kind in the United States to be focused primarily on exhibiting contemporary works. Carnegie’s vision was to build a modern art collection consisting of the “Old Masters of tomorrow” who were the emerging artists of the day such as Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Thomas Eakins, Henri Matisse, Winslow Homer and others. Today, the museum’s permanent collection consists of some 35,000 works including paintings, decorative arts, sculptures and other installations.

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Plaster Casts

Along with showcasing modern works, Carnegie was keen to expose Pittsburghers to some of the world’s greatest architectural wonders from ancient, classical and medieval times. No easy task, but his quest was made easier in that the making of large scale plaster casts was all the rage during the late Victorian era, including Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek and Roman sculptures; and building facades such as the Porch of the Maidens and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.

The Hall of Sculptures

The balcony area leading into the Hall of Sculptures features numerous full scale plaster cast sculptures, as well as a variety of decorative arts dated between the 18th and 20th centuries. The interior of the hall is based on the Parthenon’s inner sanctum complete with towering columns, a carved frieze and high ceilings.

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Hall of Architecture

The museum’s collection of architectural plaster casts is the largest in the United States, and third largest in the world. Of the 140 pieces, two of the grandest are the West Portal of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, a Benedictine abbey in France that was built in the Provencal Romanesque style; and the Northern Portal of the Bordeaux Cathedral that features Romanesque and Gothic design elements. In addition to building facades, the Hall of Architecture also contains elaborately carved sarcophagi and Ancient Greek and Roman statues.

Museum of Natural History 

While Carnegie and his team of experts were tending to the acquisition of paintings and sculptures for the new art museum between 1895-1898, archaeologists in the western United States were making some major discoveries of prehistoric dinosaur bones.

Upon hearing the news, Carnegie saw a potential opportunity to now also bring the world of natural history to Pittsburgh. He sent a hand-picked team of scientists to undertake digs in Wyoming where they were successful in finding many fossils, including one named in honor of Carnegie’s patronage, Diplodocus carnegii, that is today nicknamed “Dippy” and is proudly displayed in its natural habitat.

Dinosaur Hall

Dinosaur Hall was constructed in the early 1900s to showcase Dippy and the other finds from the Mesozoic Era such as Apatosaurus louisaeTyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, among dozens of other original fossils.

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Art + Natural History + Science + Warhol = Lasting Legacy

It’s been over 120 years since Andrew Carnegie first hatched his plan to bring the world to Pittsburgh. Today, the Carnegie Museums include the Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum, and both the Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History have undergone major upgrades and expansions in recent years to accommodate new exhibits and galleries. Without a doubt, Carnegie created a lasting legacy not only for Pittsburghers but also for legions of out-of-town and country visitors who annually descend on the city to soak up its unique heritage.

 

 

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The Pride of Pittsburgh

January 11, 2018
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Even with one of its nicknames being “Steel City,” Pittsburgh is a city that has long intrigued me. True, some historical references conjure up images of thick black plumes of smoke hovering over dreary factory buildings in a landscape devoid of green spaces. But that was then and this is now. The industrial town of old has definitely made way for a new cosmopolitan vibe that is attracting curious visitors like me in droves. Indeed, in recent years the city has received notable accolades for its livability, culture, foodie scene and economic prosperity.

Yes, “The ‘Burgh” or “City of Bridges” as the city is also referred to today is chock-full of amazing architecture, museums, parks, educational institutions, restaurants, and sports & entertainment options on par with New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major US cities. Whichever nickname you prefer, each truly represents the best of Pittsburgh’s past and present.

Here is a sampling of the Pride of Pittsburgh:

A “Top 10” City View

As the locals have long been aware, Pittsburgh has a lot of attractions to be proud of. The view of downtown from the Mt. Washington district at the top of the Duquesne Incline (pictured below) is one of the city’s shining gems. This vantage point also just happens to rank in Fodor’s Travel “10 Most Incredible Views of America’s Cities” and shows off many of the city’s bridges, skyscrapers and the fountain at Point State Park, a national historic landmark.
downtown Pittsburgh

When dusk makes way to mid-evening and late night, the city lights begin to twinkle and reflect off of the river waters making for a glorious sight that photographers of all levels clamor to capture. Even my humble 35mm point and shoot digital camera produced a decent shot. Having enjoyed a lovely panoramic nighttime view of downtown, I was looking forward to getting a closer look in the daylight of Pittsburgh’s iconic buildings.

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Architecture

It may not be the tallest building in Pittsburgh, but PPG Place certainly caught my eye as it sparkled against the backdrop of a crystal blue sky.  The complex towers above most of the city’s skyline and its series of buildings stretch over three city blocks. PPG Place is noteworthy for its matching glass design consisting of six buildings, 231 spires, and 19,750 pieces of glass. At ground level, a large plaza paved in a mosaic of red, grey and black granite provides a gathering place for various seasonal activities such as an outdoor skating rink during the winter months and a fountain feature from spring until fall. For those who prefer an indoor refuge, the Wintergarden is a glass-enclosed garden oasis located in the main tower that is open year-round.

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PPG Place is also located next to the Market Square district where restaurants, cafes and retailers cater to tourists, as well as the regular Monday to Friday downtown business crowd. One of the popular casual dining haunts in Market Square is Primanti Brothers, known for their colossal “Almost Famous” sandwiches of grilled meat, an Italian dressing-based coleslaw, tomato slices, and french fries piled high between two pieces of thick Italian bread. Believe me, you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day, and you’ll probably want to head to one of the city’s nearby world-class museums to walk off some calories!

Museums

From history to art, to soldiers and sailors, or the celebration of the bicycle, Pittsburgh’s wide variety of museum options offers something for everyone’s taste and interests. 

Heinz History Center

Located in the Strip District, which is a one-half square mile shopping area northeast of downtown, the Heinz History Center is Pennsylvania’s largest history museum and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The center showcases Pittsburgh’s past and highlights its tradition of innovation, notably that Pittsburgh is known as a city of “firsts” such as the first Big Mac hamburger at McDonald’s, the first retractable roof, the first drive-in gas station, the first ferris wheel, etc. As depicted in its many permanent and rotating exhibitions, the city is the headquarters of the Heinz food empire, is where famed explorers Lewis & Clark launched their epic trek from Pittsburgh to the Pacific from, and is where the beloved children’s show, “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” was filmed at the local public broadcasting station. A unique feature of touring the museum is that you can start in the stairwell and view highlights of the city’s 250-year history on the walls and steps as you wind your way to the top floor and then work your way down. I highly recommend this approach before taking in the full exhibits; the incline is not too steep and the museum is only six floors so you don’t have to be in tip-top shape.

Andy Warhol Museum

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Before he took New York City and the entire world by storm with his abstract art (most notably Campbell’s soup cans and images of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), Andy Warhol was a fresh-faced kid from Pittsburgh. Located in the city’s North Shore district, the Andy Warhol Museum holds the largest collection of Warhol’s artworks and archival materials, and is the largest single artist museum in North America.

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I found it interesting to see Warhol’s development as an artist before and after his fixation with Campbell’s soup cans, and late in his career when he started using computer generated design and color techniques. It also surprised me to learn that he was a pack rat and amassed quite a collection of knickknacks.

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Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History Museum 

Founded in 1895 by renowned businessman Andrew Carnegie, the Carnegie Museum of Art is considered to be the first museum of modern art in the United States. With paintings ranging from Monet to Whistler, the museum’s impressive collection also features one of the largest collection of plaster casts of architectural masterpieces in the world that are housed in the massive Hall of Architecture wing. The statues and building facades may be plaster, but they certainly looked authentic which speaks to the high quality of the replication process. The Porch of the Maidens installation captured my attention along with an elaborate burial shrine.

The Natural History Museum is noted for having one of the finest collections of dinosaur skeletons in the world, but has many other exhibits covering subject matter such as minerals and gems, Ancient Egypt, life in the Arctic, and geology. The museum’s high vaulted ceilings are the perfect construction to show off the towering heights of long extinct species.

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Educational Institutions

Situated in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus, the Cathedral of Learning stands 535 feet tall and contains 42 floors.

Aside from its magnificent Late Gothic Revival exterior, the interior features the infamous Nationality Rooms that are located on the first and third floors. The rooms are representative of various cultural and ethnic groups that have settled in the Pittsburgh area. When not in use, the public is free to explore the rooms; there are also great city views from the windows on the 35th and 36th floors.

Sports & Entertainment

Pittsburgh has a stellar record of winning sports franchises and an impressive array of venues to show off their talents in. PPG Paints Arena is the home of the 5-time Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League; Heinz Field is where the 6-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League play; and PNC Park is where the 5-time World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball hear the cry “Batter Up!” Even if ‘black and gold’ aren’t your colours, there’s plenty to cheer about and admire in this amazing “City of Champions!”