Almost everywhere you look in Pittsburgh, art, in some form, is staring back at you. From the timeless work of the Steel City’s native son, Andy Warhol, to the various paintings, sculptures, and galleries that appear around town, Pittsburgh has evolved from a city known for its production of steel to a hub of technology and innovation—and a center for art and culture. Here are six notable artists, past and present, that are associated with Pittsburgh.
The most famous artist to emerge from Pittsburgh is pop-art icon Andy Warhol. He was born in a working-class neighborhood in 1928 and attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) in the mid to late 1940s. He then began his professional career as a commercial illustrator in New York City.
Warhol was a renowned painter, sculptor, illustrator, and photographer, but he became a pioneer in the visual arts with a variety of acclaimed works in television, film, music production, fashion, and theater.
Some of his most popular works are his silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Diptych, plus the 1966 experimental film entitled Chelsea Girls, and a series of multimedia events called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.
Today, his legacy lives on in the Andy Warhol Museum, a seven-story, 88,000-square-foot facility that holds the largest collection of Warhol’s artwork and archival materials. He also has one of Pittsburgh’s iconic bridges, the Seventh Street Bridge, named after him.
American painter and printmaker Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh), in 1844. Determined to become a professional artist, she studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia when she was only 15 years old. She would eventually end her studies and move to France where she spent most of her adult life.
While in Paris, she became lifelong friends with fellow artist Edgar Degas, one of the founders of Impressionism. Her paintings oftentimes depicted the lives of women, both privately and socially—with an emphasis on the special bond a mother has with her children. Some examples include A Woman and a Girl Driving (1881), The Child’s Bath (1893), and Mother and Child (1905).
One of her most famous paintings, The Boating Party, was reproduced on a U.S. postage stamp.
Tanner was born into one of Pittsburgh’s Underground Railroad sites in 1859, the first of seven children. His family moved to Philadelphia when he was young, and like Cassatt, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Tanner was the only black student. And like Cassatt, he would eventually find his way to France.
Not only did Tanner become an internationally acclaimed artist, but he was also the first African-American painter to receive such honors. He became a hero to many black Americans. His most famous painting, The Banjo Lesson, depicted an elderly black man teaching a young boy (presumably his grandson) how to play the instrument.
As the years progressed, Tanner delved more into biblical themes, painting the award-winning Daniel in the Lions’ Den plus the critically acclaimed The Resurrection of Lazarus, The Good Shepherd, and more.
The Great Fire of Pittsburgh was one of the most devastating events in the city’s history. A third of the town was destroyed in approximately seven hours during the 1845 catastrophe, and the only visual recollection (aside from fire relics) are the renderings of local artists who witnessed the event.
William Coventry Wall was one such artist. Wall was born in Oxford, England, in 1810 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1821. He moved his family to Pittsburgh in 1841 and opened a shop selling frames and artist’s supplies. His shop was destroyed in the fire, but he managed to save enough of his supplies to document the event with a series of paintings, including View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh after the Fire, and Great Conflagration at Pittsburgh.
He eventually had the paintings turned into lithographs for sale.
If you’ve been to the Pittsburgh International Airport, you’ve undoubtedly been bowled over by the 20-foot-tall (six meters), black-and-yellow monstrosity that looks like a Transformer robot made of Pittsburgh’s many bridges. Its name is Arch, and it has a story.
Arch is a steel-and-fiberglass sculpture created by Los Angeles conceptual artist Glenn Kaino. It was installed in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District in 2008 to celebrate the city’s 250th anniversary. Arch was only supposed to be in place for six months, but due to popular demand, it remained for three years. After some restoration, several local organizations combined to arrange for a permanent home for the sculpture at the airport.
When Pittsburgh Steelers running back Baron Batch retired from football in 2011, he turned to his true passion. He became a full-time artist and started his own company, Studio AM, in the city’s Homestead neighborhood.
Batch’s signature colorful elephant images can be seen all over Pittsburgh, along with uplifting messages like “Don’t be scared, be light” and “You are made for amazing things.” Batch painted in places where he had permission, but he also painted in places he didn’t, without considering he could get in trouble for it—which he did.
Batch was charged with more than 30 counts of criminal mischief and fined more than $30,000. Some good came out of it, though. He collaborated with his arresting officer, also an artist, and local teens on a project to inspire young people. The result was an uplifting mural that was on display at a local art gallery, SPACE Pittsburgh.