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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