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


Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Terry Smith, Iva Čukić, Milica Pekić, and Luka Knežević Strika


    Contemporary Art Practices in Serbia

    Author: Ilhan Ozan

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    On October 17, the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Pittsburgh’s Office of Public Art held a public lecture on Serbian contemporary art by art historian and curator Milica Pekić, photographer and visual artist Luka Knežević Strika, and architect and urban planner Iva Čukić. Moderated by HAA Professor Terry Smith, the guest speakers built on their 2018 collaboration with the Pittsburgh artist Edith Abeyta for “Keyword: International,” an initiative of the Carnegie International in 2018.

    In their talk, they shared a number of examples from the collectives they are involved, highlighting the importance of using art and culture to enhance civic dialogue and participation for local communities. In addition to their collaboration, each of the speakers is also involved in other collectives in their own field. These initiatives include Pekić in KIOSKAssociation of Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia; Strika in Belgrade RawOstavinskaMagacinMultimadeira; Čukić in Ministry of SpacePlatform for Theory and Practice of CommonsStreet Gallery

    As this event revealed, their artistic activism seeks to engage with social, political, economic issues. Pekić introduced several projects, including “Project Yugoslavia” realized by KIOSK in partnership with the Museum of Yugoslavia which explores the premise that the former Yugoslavia is not a closed chapter in history and aims to utilize this past to open up possibilities in the present and the future. In short video interviews, 100 participants contemplate key political concepts. Instead of posing specific questions, however, the participants were given a card with information about an object from the museum’s collection with its description, date or period, and origin. The project presents a dematerialized and unconventional mode of working with a museum collection. It currently exists in a digital platform, but will take place as an exhibition at the museum in December 2019. 

    Strika discussed the history of the collective Belgrade Raw, exploring social aspects of the city of Belgrade through photography, a project that significantly contributed to the development of fine art photography in Serbia. Using internet as the primary medium of communication with the public, this artist collective began on Flickr in 2009 and expanded their platforms through exhibitions and print publishing. Pursuing alternative display formats, Strika explained in his presentation that photographs were edited by the group of participants, promoting a collective decision-making process.

    Urbanism is central to Čukić’s practice. She critically approaches Belgrade’s rapid transformation, gentrification, and privatization under neoliberal policies. As she explained, her projects follow two strategic paths: to defend the existing commons and to create new commons in terms of spaces, services, and resources. In this process, they work closely with local communities as well as city government and municipal authorities, intervening and redefining the political spectrum, even influencing policy. They transform spaces and open them for public use, often temporarily, and implement horizontal decision making among their publics.

    While the individual work and practices of this trio are highly embedded in local and regional contexts, they also tackle global issues through contemporary art grounded in everyday life. As the variety of the projects reveals, their collaborations are built on a constellation of art and knowledge from their own fields through different initiatives.

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    Jon working at the Community Plaza in July 2019


    Art for Us with Rivers of Steel

    Author: Jon Engel, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Summer 2019

    How can art serve the community it exists in? When it comes to securing grants, the visual arts often promise to act for the public good. What would it like for artists to act for that good more directly? This past summer, I worked with Rivers of Steel Arts (RoSA) to develop a new series of monthly events called Homestead First Fridays. Homestead – a majority Black neighborhood with a median household income of about $25,000 – is an area which the fine arts sector rarely touches, except to buy up its buildings for studios and galleries. As such, our goal with Homestead First Fridays was not just to facilitate art in Homestead, but for Homestead.

    This seems like a timely goal. Just this past summer, the CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust wrote that homeless people Downtown made the area less “safe” and demanded tighter policing on them. To him, the homeless and other “unchecked” elements undid the “reputation and achievements” that the arts brought to the city [1]. Intentionally or not, a clear statement was made. Art, we are to believe, is not “for” the homeless. If anything, it is “against” them. In the context of a gentrifying Pittsburgh and nationwide artwashing, this is a chilling idea. How, then, could Homestead First Fridays do something different?

    We came up with a guiding vision. Every First Fridays event must bring money into Homestead to benefit the neighborhood and/or must be accessible to and oriented towards the residents that live there. From this, First Fridays was born as an evening of indoor and outdoor cultural programming that RoSA developed alongside local businesses, community groups, and artists. Our style was makeshift and guerilla, aiming to bring the event “to the people.” Everything was built on the main street of Eighth Avenue. We transformed the street visually, postering windows, dispensing maps, and wrapping graffiti-style plastic signs around light poles at high traffic intersections. Bars and restaurants held live music outdoors while empty lots and unused storefronts were filled with pop-up art activities.

    To us, the heart of this was our Community Plaza, a lot we populated with tents of vendors, music, and free artmaking demos. This put money in the hands of our neighbors while also empowering Homestead residents to create. Here, art is not something “over there” done by “someone else.” Art is in everything that ordinary people do, from their industrial jobs to their weekend hobbies.

    We also mounted several pop-up exhibitions in nontraditional spaces, such as an abandoned CVS. All were free and featured local practicing artists. I curated a show using this model – Fresh Air: An Ecofuturist Art Show – in a recently closed lawyer’s office. The show was a commentary on local environmental issues and ecosystemic collapse, concerns deeply relevant to the industrially devastated Monongahela River area. With an open door, a DIY aesthetic, and unconventional and interactive pieces, Fresh Air tried to break from the traditional confines of fine art. It encouraged the audience to participate in art and political conversations that have normally excluded and ignored them. Ultimately, this was the goal of First Fridays as a whole.

    My work with Rivers of Steel provided me with formative experiences in event planning, organizational cooperation, and exhibit curation. More importantly, it was an attempt at art that serves its people. What I learned is this: to be radically accessible, art must be free, public, and locally created.



    [1]. Belko, Mark. “Peduto clashes with Cultural Trust over Downtown safety concerns.” 2 August, 2019. Accessed 28 October, 2019 from

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    Photo of the author, looking at archival materials at Senator John Heinz History Center

    Woodworking in the Steel City: the History of Carpentry and Carpenters

    Author: Paula Kane,

    Professor and Marous Chair, Religious Studies Department and Work Forces workshop participant

    Pittsburgh justly is famous for being the Steel City. But the very city and campus that we inhabit would not exist except for another trade, namely, carpentry. I once harbored the naïve notion that carpenters mainly made furniture and decorative wooden objects, and practiced fine woodworking in stately mansions and office buildings. In other words, I thought that carpentry was less about industry and more about craft. In fact, however, carpentry involves a host of trades including floor coverers, lathers, millworkers and cabinetmakers, millrights, pile drivers, and all-around carpenters who do residential construction. Today, due to a set of forces that include changes in building design generally, it seems that carpentry more often involves heavy-duty construction and hard-hats: rebar and cement dominate over wooden materials; forms, framing and excavation have taken the place of furniture, mantelpieces and stairways.  For the workshop, “Work Forces,” I am beginning a project about the history of carpenters in the Pittsburgh region over the last century. More precisely, it examines carpenters as a “work force,” and changes in carpentry practices over time.

    American carpenters first organized a union in Chicago in 1881, named the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Pittsburgh joined soon after. National UBC membership reached 200,000 by 1910, when it was said that “the craftsman without a [union] card is a man without a trade.” Today there are over 9000 carpenters in western Pennsylvania, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. Local institutions like the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC keep them employed in maintaining, renovating and repairing existing buildings, as well as in erecting new ones. In the United States there are 19 regional and district councils of the IBCJ. In 2016 the western Pennsylvania region merged with several others, including carpenter unions in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. This enormous Keystone+Mountain+Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters now has membership totals above 40,000.

    Union membership, though apparently thriving, continues to be mostly white and male, and it is worth asking why there is little racial and gender diversity. Furthermore, how do carpenters’ wages and health care compare with the other building trades, such as electricians and plumbers? These questions lead me to others, such as how the recruiting process works, how apprenticeships are mentored, and how the union will sustain itself in an era when organized labor is constantly under attack and when fewer young Americans are drawn into the construction trades. Since carpenters are only paid when they are employed, health care costs and pension contributions, which must be paid out-of-pocket during periods of unemployment, remain sources of concern and financial stress for individual carpenters. 

    Thus, I am interested in asking questions about the history of the carpentry union as caretaker of workers, as well as charting the changes in the practice of carpentry through the last century.  Carpentry may be nearly unique among the skilled trades in that it relies upon human labor that cannot be replaced by automation. Carpentry continues to require skills in mathematics, precision measurement, reading blueprints, understanding materials and the use of human hands and hand-held tools. If so, what effect does this necessity for human labor have on the job security of carpenters? And for those portions of the construction process that can be automated, such as machines to help lift heavy loads of sheet rock or lumber, has this innovation prevented physical strain and injury and increased efficiency?  

    The early twentieth century saw carpenters, like most trades, fighting battles against open shop employers. When employers used non-union labor, this action led to worsened work conditions, weakened safety rules, and deliberate attempts by businesses and corporations to weaken or destroy labor unions. This struggle is ongoing, to which are added the new challenges cause by the globalization of labor and the increasing power of multinational corporations over work processes.

    What will be the impact of the globalization of the economy on carpenters and carpentry? If you watched the new documentary, “American Factory,” the first project of Barack and Michelle Obama through their Higher Ground production company, you witnessed one example of the impact of globalization in nearby Dayton, Ohio. There, a corporation owned by a Chinese billionaire who produces glass for automotive windshields, moved into the closed and vacant General Motors plant in 2014. This experiment in global cooperation did not go smoothly: the transplanted Chinese workers were used to laboring seven days a week, and working overtime whenever asked, and regarded the American workers as lazy and indulged. For their part, the Americans were outraged that their union protections were being violated and overrun, and that their workplace protections and ultimately, their jobs were being cut and automated to save money, even though they had already taken pay cuts to work for Fuyao Glass. When the American workers begin a unionization drive, the Chinese hired consultants to oppose a union and undermine the drive. What is the fate of unionized labor in this kind of world, where one nation’s workers expect different conditions and standards?  How can American workers be educated to understand the processes affecting their lives in order to protect their trades? Are carpenters also concerned about these issues, and who is responsible for educating them about legislative and union concerns?

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  • Carolyn Wargula, Karen Gerhart, Mimi Yiengpruksawan and Michelle McCoy


    Wilkinson Lecture Series: Reconsidering the Agency of Pre-modern Japanese Women

    Author: Carolyn Wargula

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Dr. Mimi Yiengpruksawan, Professor of Art History at Yale University, was this year’s speaker for the annual James and Susanne Wilkinson Lecture held on September 26. This lecture series invites esteemed scholars of pre-modern art each year to discuss their research. Professor Yiengpruksawan, a historian of eleventh- and twelfth-century Japanese Buddhist art, gave a public lecture titled “TWILIGHT WORLD OF SCREENS? REALLY? Women, Art, and Agency in Late Heian Japan,” in which she explored how modern analysis and interpretation of Heian-period (794-1185) literature has skewed and even obscured our view of the political and social agency of Japanese aristocratic women.

    Previous scholarship often assumed that Heian-period aristocratic women were cloistered within their residences and were denied the rights to participate in society at large. Visual and literary sources from this period were used as corroborative evidence that court women were simply passive recipients of the male gaze. 

    In her lecture, Dr. Yiengpruksawan underscored the importance of using new exegetical methods and interpretive strategies, such as those developed by David Summers on the use of space, to recontextualize the agency of Heian court women. She explained the influence that court women had as patrons and their contributions to religious institutions, noting that court diaries show that these women held considerable social and economic power, traveled freely, and were not simply passive figures, but demonstrative and loud about their thoughts and desires.

    One point that Professor Yiengpruksawan highlighted in her talk was that Heian women owned property and could inherit land. Minamoto no Rinshi (964-1053), the wife of the illustrious statesman, Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1028), was actually of higher status and had considerably more wealth than her husband upon their marriage, yet most of the current scholarship focuses on his patronage activities. What becomes clear from this talk is that, despite the patriarchal nature of Buddhist institutions at the time, patronage of Buddhist art and architecture afforded women a public voice and means by which they could negotiate power and form new social identities and communities.

    What makes Professor Yiengpruksawan’s research so innovative and inspiring is her interest in framing the patronage activities of Heian women within a cross-border perspective. She concluded the talk by comparing the patronage practices of Rinshi and her daughter Shōshi (988-1074) with those of Khitan princesses on the continent, arguing that these women saw themselves as crucial figures within a larger Buddhist cosmopolis. It is rare and even refreshing for a scholar of Heian-period Japanese art to bring attention to the exchange between Japan and the continent. This talk offers new perspectives on the religious lives of Japanese aristocratic women and serves as an exemplary model for the idea-driven research of the Constellations program.

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    Workshop session at the University Art Gallery with selected works from the Gimbel collection

    Work Forces and Devising an Archive Theatre

    Author: Emma Squire 

    PhD student in Theatre and Performance Studies and Work Forces workshop participant

    On October 25th, 1915 a fire at the Union Paper Box Company in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood killed thirteen and left an estimated fifteen injured. Twelve of these fatalities were women under the age of twenty-four. Archives and Special Collections at The University of Pittsburgh holds the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office records of the inquest into the fire at 207-209 Sandusky Street. This collection of press reports, proof of identity forms, and verdicts from the coroner’s jury provide a narrative of a city reckoning with its lack of enforced fire codes and underfunded firefighting infrastructures. Additionally, these institutional documents contain glimpses of the individual traumas experienced by the community in the aftermath of the tragedy. These papers contain precisely the sort of information that would be necessary for an attempt to create a devised theatre piece around the Union Paper Box Company fire.

    As a PhD student in the Theatre Arts department, I co-founded the Archive Theatre Project in partnership with Archives and Special Collections at Pitt. Our mission is to devise and stage performances, free to the public, constructed from content found within local archival collections. In February 2019 we produced SALK: The Man Behind the Vaccine a staged-reading created from the Max A. Lauffer Papers housed at Pitt. After SALK, University Archivist Zach Brodt suggested that Archive Theatre Project might look into the fire at the Union Paper Box Company as a possible subject. I had hoped that participating in Work Forces would allow me to research the local tragedy from a variety of different institutional perspectives and archival mediums. While I was able to collect information like the coroner’s office records, what I left the workshop with was a heightened sense of the atmospheric conditions in which the event itself occurred. A painting of slag running down a local hill, a conservator explaining the continuous cleaning-up of industrial grim in early twentieth-century Pittsburgh, photography showing the massive construction sites of buildings still standing downtown; these understandings have brought me closer to the sensory experiences of 1915 Pittsburgh. It becomes easier to imagine the smells, sounds, and sights of daily life for the workers of the Union Paper Box Company. It became clear to me throughout the workshop that accumulating specific information regarding the tragedy of October 25th, 1915 was only one part of the story. In order to create a more nuanced devised theatre piece, an understanding of the atmospheric elements of Pittsburgh’s environmental and labor histories would be necessary.

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    The bulk of my research over the past year for Andy Warhol: Revelation occurred in The Warhol’s Archives Study Center, which is the epicenter of primary source scholarship on Warhol. Almost all of my questions could be answered by the trove of archival objects or scholarly texts housed within their collection.


    Realizing Andy Warhol: Revelation

    Author: Kenneth Wahrenberger, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at The Andy Warhol Museum – Summer 2019

    After innumerable hours of planning, writing, and curating, Andy Warhol: Revelation will open October 20, 2019 at The Andy Warhol Museum. The show explores the Byzantine and Roman Catholic influences on Warhol’s artistic production from his earliest known works all the way to his Last Supper series completed at the end of his life. 

    In May of 2018, I had my first meeting with José Carlos Diaz, the chief curator of The Warhol and organizer of Andy Warhol: Revelation. At that time, José was working on the exhibition with Micol Forti, the director of the Contemporary Art Collection at the Vatican Museums. The exhibition was planned to open in conjunction with the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary in October 2019. In addition to its Pittsburgh premier, the show and will travel to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. 

    We worked in earnest throughout the late summer and fall of 2018, finding every possible text related to the artist’s clandestine religious practices and Byzantine Catholic upbringing. After developing a solid research base, we began sorting the exhibition checklist into sections and drafting preliminary floorplans (and looking back, they are astonishingly different than what they are today!).

    In January of this year, José and I began working on the Revelation exhibition catalogue, which ended up being a source of joy (and frustration) until the end of my Fine Foundation Fellowship in late August when the book went to print. The catalogue consists of two scholarly essays, one from Jose and one from Miranda Lash, curator of contemporary art at the Speed Art Museum, a forward from The Warhol director Patrick Moore, section texts describing each part of the show, a selection of high quality plates of works in the show, and a comprehensive exhibition checklist. Suffice it to say, the 96-page catalogue required a remarkable amount of editing, fact checking, and drafting, which occupied my time for the last six months. 

    I was fortunate to work with a marvelous copy editor named Tom Fredrickson and a talented graphic design team from Glue + Paper Workshop. Of course, they were not Warhol scholars and could not help fact check many aspects of the text. I can remember spending weeks culling the exhibition checklist and working with the archival and collections teams to provide names, dates, mediums, dimensions, etc. to certain items in the show. One of the most extraordinary parts of Revelation is that it will exhibit rare and never-before-seen objects like icon panels from Warhol’s childhood church and the original source material for his Last Supper silkscreen series; however, these objects also present new issues of titling, dating, and artistic attribution, which are important to determine for a publication. While this was an complicated process for me, the team at The Warhol was extremely helpful and turned every challenge into a fruitful, educational experience.  

    At the end of the Fine Foundation Fellowship and my previous internship engagement at the Warhol, I have the experience of managing a book project from start to finish, along with heavy involvement in researching and curating a major exhibition with a brilliant curator. Although I am anxious for the public response after the show opens, I think people will be amazed or at the very least intrigued by this mysterious side of Andy Warhol. 

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    Students Explore Museum Careers at Welcome Week

    Author: Alex J. Taylor 

    Assistant Professor and Academic Curator, Department of History of Art and Architecture

    As part DiscoverU Day, sponsored by the Career Center as a part of Welcome Week at the University of Pittsburgh, 20 first year students signed up to hear about the career opportunities to work in museums from a panel of staff from across the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. This was the first year that the Carnegie Museums participated in the program. After lunch in the William Penn Union, students made their way to the Carnegie Museum boardroom to hear how employees from a range of departments made their way from undergraduate study to a museum career. Organized by Grace Anderson and Renee Thomas from the museum’s volunteer office, the students heard from staff across the Oakland museums including Juliana Carlino, Manager of Admissions; Matt Lamanna, Associate of Curator of Vertibrate Paeleoltology, CMNH; Natalie Larson-Potts, Associate Curator of Education, CMOA; Laura Zorch, Manager of Social Engagement, CMOA; and Pitt alumni Valerie Bundy, Education Program Manager, CMOA, and Mandi Lyon, Interim Program Manager for Schools and Groups, CMNH.

    Find out more about the other organizations and businesses participating in DiscoverU Day here

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  • Maria Lis and other workshop participants at the University Library System, Archives Service Center, during the Work Forces workshop


    Work Forces Workshop: The City of Pittsburgh as Pedagogical Tool

    Author: María Lis Baiocchi

    PhD student in Anthropology and Work Forces workshop participant

    The history of Pittsburgh as a center of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, its relevance to the history of the labor movement in this country, and its identity as a distinctly working-class city are some of the most interesting things that any non-Pittsburgh native gets to learn about this city when deciding to move here. At least that was the case for me when I decided to move here to do my PhD in Pitt’s Department of Anthropology. At the time, my work did not involve addressing issues of labor at all. It has been fortuitus that my research trajectory changed to put labor, and specifically household labor, at the center of my doctoral project while doing my PhD in a city where labor has historically taken center-stage.

    The Work Forces Workshop was an in-depth exploration of Pittsburgh’s rich labor history and culture through the prism of archival collections and art exhibitions. It is not an understatement to say that taking part in it transformed my view of the city. Work Forces underscored the potential of Pittsburgh for labor-related research projects through a range of onsite experiences. For instance, we looked into the Left Ephemera Collection in the Frick Fine Arts Library. Visiting the archive in the Bost Building of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, we examined (among other notable materials) notebooks documenting the accidents of workers in one of Pittsburgh’s steel mills which revealed the laboring conditions in this city at the height of its industrial age. I was struck by an interview with a household worker who used to work at Fallingwater kept in the Heinz History Center. 

    Perhaps most interestingly, Work Forces showed the ways in which the city itself and its surroundings can serve as pedagogical tools for teachers addressing the topic of labor broadly conceived in their classroom. An instructor teaching an introductory social theory course covering foundational Marxist concepts could benefit from taking students on a field trip to the Carrie Furnace or the Tour-Ed Mine to drive home abstract ideas about labor conditions imparted in the classroom. Anyone teaching on the anthropology of labor could very successfully draw from the University Art Gallery collection to discuss material covered inside the classroom. In sum, labor scholars and labor teachers of any background, including and especially anthropologists, stand to benefit from engaging with Pittsburgh’s rich material culture not just in research but also in teaching. Work Forces served as a fantastic invitation to do just that.      

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    fig 1. Continuous Miner Paintings at CMOA (photo by Ana Rodríguez)


    ‘Work Forces’ Workshop: automation and the transformation of labour

    Author: Mark Paterson

    Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and Work Forces workshop participant

    The ‘Continuous Miner’. A phrase that has a rhythm, and sounds almost poetic. Like Handel’s famous suite from 1720, ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’. Or so I thought when I first heard the phrase. Whereas one of these titles is a delightful set of baroque pieces of music played on a harpsicord in the music rooms, salons, and concert halls of polite society, the other is possibly the farthest away in terms of space and culture that you could get. For the Continuous Miner is actually a huge hunk of thick metal and articulated conveyer belt, a noisy room-sized machine which works incessantly in the sulphurous underground amongst dark seams in the sooty coalface. With its hardened, pointed, rotating claws at the front of the conveyor, it digs into the darkness like a monotonous machinic dinosaur. Yet how it becomes a subject of artistic production, as opposed to an object of art, will seem unlikely at first.

    It has a certain brutal aesthetic, based as it is so purely on function over form. The ‘aesthetic’ aspect is not superficial, as our introduction to the machine within the Work Forces workshop was as a series of paintings presented to us in the Carnegie Museum of Art (fig. 1), commissioned by the manufacturer. The Jewish-Romanian emigrée Hedda Sterne, instrumental in the avant-garde art scene of New York in the 1940s and 1950s, was one of those commissioned artists, and her oil on canvas painting ‘The Continuous Miner’ of 1954 (fig. 2) differs from the others because the framing is circular, giving an almost fish-eye impression of the machine in its dark environment to the viewer. Costas Karakatsanis, Fine Arts Curatorial Researcher at the CMOA, talked about the background to the paintings, explained that those machines had been invented as far back as 1948 by the Pittsburgh-based Joy Manufacturing Corporation and cost $50,000 at the time (fig. 3; an online inflation calculator tells me this is equivalent to $532,304 in 2019). A variant of this machine is still being made by the Japanese Komatsu Corporation, which bought Joy in 2016, but enshrines the prior company in the model number: the Joy 12CM12 (fig. 4).

    Studs Terkel’s rather wonderful oral history of workers in America, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, includes the account of Joe who graduated from high school in 1930 and went straight to work in the mines, getting up around 3.30-4am to start work at 6. 


    My hearin’… It coulda been affected with so much noise. I was tampin’ up, shootin’ the coal down, just behind the machine. I worked that continuous miner. That made lotsa noise. This hearin’ aid cost me $395. (Joe, in Terkel 1997:16).


    The overview and discussion of the paintings was on Wednesday May 8, and the following day we had the opportunity to see one of these machines ‘in the wild’, as it were, with a visit to the Tour-Ed Mine and Museum in Tarentum, PA, which had a number of demonstrations of mining equipment, starting from the old carts on rails and the use of human loaders with pick axes, and then as visitor progress through the mine you encounter more advanced machines that automated the process. The final machine was a working Continuous Miner manufactured by the Joy Corporation, the exact same machines as in the paintings. We got a sense of the scale of the machine and the noise it created first-hand, and one of the tour guides described working with the machine in his previous job. 

    For me, the fascination with the Continuous Miner is part of a wider developing interest in the history of automation. Based on my current work on the history of the measurement of bodily sensation from 1833-1945, pain and fatigue feature in factories and workplaces (Movement, Measurement, Sensation: How We Became Sensori-Motor, forthcoming with University of Minnesota Press). But my next project will benefit very directly from the Work Forces workshop, as I look at the history of automata and automation, and increasingly how work and the future of work are being transformed (Animal Automata and Living Machines: Robots, Replicants, and Companion Species, contracted with Routledge). Prior to the HAA Work Forces workshop, my emphasis was beginning to change because of the rich history of labor and work around Pittsburgh, and colleagues for example had introduced me to the Pittsburgh Survey and scholars such as Edward Slavishak’s Bodies of Work: Civic Display and Labor in Industrial Pittsburgh (2008). But the visits to archives, museums, and the intense conversations with fellow workshop attendees has certainly advanced this intersection between the history of labor, automation, and the transformation of the workplace.

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  • Sound shirt showcased at the Access+Ability exhibition at CMOA


    Access+Ability: A Vital and Inspiring Exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art

    Author: Thomas J. Morton

    Senior Lecturer, Architectural Studies Program, History of Art and Architecture

    As the world continues to refine its thinking on accessibility – perhaps most importantly by expanding the general concept of accessibility – the Carnegie Museum of Art hosted a provocative and timely exhibition, Access+Ability (1 June – 8 September 2019), that showcased dozens of products and designs that are expanding access and ability for many people around the world.

    Organized into four large sections: ‘Moving,’ ‘Connecting,’ Navigating the Environment,’ and ‘Living,’ the exhibition highlighted some of the recent products and designs that have sought to great expand access and ability for many. Some of these were to be expected, e.g. better designed walking canes, while others, such as the Soundshirt, which “translates the experience of listening into a physical and sensory experience for people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” were completely new and stunning in their creativity. Wonderfully, within each of these sections there were plenty of objects and displays that encouraged active engagement with the visitor. For example, one could touch the handles of new canes, try out the new flatware, and play with Uno cards that were redesigned for those who are colorblind. In addition, there was a display monitor and program entitled, “I wonder what it is like to be dyslexic.” Each of the four sections did not try to be exhaustive in terms of the objects and designs on display; rather, a tremendous breadth of items was on display. They ranged in scale from the fabulous DotWatch (2017) with its Braille displays for time functions and receiving text messages to inclusive playgrounds such as the Magical Bridge Playground (Palo Alto, CA, 2015).

    Each time that I visited the exhibition, I was pleased by the audible gasps of the museumgoers and to hear frequent exclamations such as, “That is pretty brilliant,” and “This is so freaking cool.” The designs on display are awe inspiring, and as it was noted in the wall text: digital technology has completely transformed communication in our lifetime, and people with disabilities have benefitted greatly from these new digital communication tools. These individuals drive innovation, and these new designs are greatly expanding access and ability for many. 

    Although the majority of this exhibition’s run has occurred while most classes were on summer break, its final weeks have provided a brief window for students of all ages to engage with the show. I hope that Pitt faculty members in various disciplines might still encourage students to use the exhibit for class visits, assignments, and projects before the exhibition closes on September 8. 

    As a side note, I am sure this exhibition will have encouraged the Carnegie Museums to reflect on its own accessibility challenges. It was not lost on the observer that docents had to stand at the entrance doors to the exhibit – an exhibit on accessibility – since there are no blue push pads to activate automatic doors for those with limited mobility. As is equally true of our own Frick Fine Arts Building, the accessibility problems of historic architecture remain an urgent issue for public institutions of all kinds. 

    Lastly, one cannot review an exhibition without a few words on the related items in the museum store. The exhibition highlighted products and research, and accordingly, design objects and books with research were for sale in the museum store. I applaud the museum store staff for having affordable objects that would appeal to a range of ages (e.g. Braille math blocks for children and compression socks for adults) and darn good and relatively inexpensive books. Graham Pullin’s book, Design Meets Disability (MIT Press, 2009) and Matthias Hollwich with Bruce Mau Design’s New Aging (Penguin, 2016) stand out among the books; the latter being a particularly enjoyable book to read. 

    Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring exhibition. Initially organized and exhibited by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2018, the CMOA exhibition was curated by Rachel Delphia, the Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design. I applaud her and the museum for bringing such an important exhibition to Pittsburgh and would strongly support the curation of similar exhibitions at the CMOA. As a recent transplant to Pittsburgh, I can state without a doubt that this has been my favorite exhibition at the CMOA.

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