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

  • Fletcher Martin, Contract Miner, 1947


    Who are the Workers?

    Author: Joshua McDermott

    PhD student in Sociology and Work Forces workshop participant

    There’s a long and stubborn tendency among scholars and activist to narrowly define workers and the participants of labor movements as only those workers formally employed by a firm. In recent years, concepts such as “precarious workers,” “the precariat,” and others have been employed to claim to give theoretical salience to a supposedly new type of worker in the developed world whose work is defined by intermittent and unprotected employment. 

    In reality, there has never been a neat dividing line between workers and precarious workers, except, perhaps in the exclusionary strategies employed by some forms of trade unionism. From a historical perspective, what today we might identify as precarious workers, informal workers, household workers and the like have always been important, if not central, to labor struggles. In other words, radical worker’s movements have always been comprised of individuals who many scholars, to this day, fail to recognize as workers, due to their lack of formal employment, or the degree(s) of separation of their labor processes from direct commodity production. 

    This view is not only empirically and historically inaccurate, but also exclusionary. Through my field work in the cities of the Mano River Region of West Africa, it’s clear that informality has always been a feature of the labor movement in West Africa, where upwards of 90% of workers are either casually employed or self-employed as petty traders. Despite their lack of formal employment (i.e. employment regulated by the state, ensuring a semblance of worker protections), these workers are essential to the functioning of not only their national economies, but the global capitalist economy. 

    Pittsburgh’s labor history is no exception. My week-long immersion into the visual and archival history of Pittsburgh’s labor history during the Work Forces workshop only reaffirmed this fact. It was often in the most maligned and excluded portions of the working class that I found the most radical and coherent programs for social change. Indeed, it is on the margins of the working contract where the workers are usually the most vulnerable to mistreatment, but also the most consciousness of the injustices of the prevailing order.

    Painter Fletcher Martin’s Contract Miner, stands out as a piece within the University’s art collection that calls for direct acknowledgement of marginal workers, depicting a lone, faceless coal miner, explicitly lacking union protection. The archive’s collection of pamphlets and flyers from black workers’ and communist groups, and from feminist and women’s rights organizations, further attests to the priceless insights and holistic considerations that marginalized workers gave to the history of labor struggles in Pittsburgh. It is through the struggles and actions of the most overlooked and exploited workers that labor activism has often drawn its most profound and powerful lessons, strategies, and victories. 

    Labor historians and labor activists in Pittsburgh, and around the world, would do well to remember that. 

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Andrey Avinoff, Early American Room, 1938-1937


    From Massachusetts to Manila: George Clapp and the Nationality Rooms

    Author: Ellen Downs

    HAA 1020 Exhibition Development student - Fall 2019

    The Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning have long been a staple of Pitt’s campus and have evolved alongside the city since their inception in the 1920s. The newest of the rooms, the Filipino Room, opened this year in June 2019. Meant to evoke abahay na bato –stone style of house from the 18th century– this room was built to be recognizably Filipino to anyone who enters it. The room is also filled with a collection of artifacts from the Philippines, including ceramics, religious statuary and sea shells. Although not based on any specific building, the room, according to fundraising chair Tina Purpura, “reminds [her] of [her] grandparent’s home.”

    This latest addition is a world away from the first rooms built in the Cathedral. The Early American Room, constructed in 1938, was commissioned and funded by George Hubbard Clapp. Clapp’s collecting habits are subject to fresh investigation in the current exhibition at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Art Gallery (UAG), “The Curious Drawings of Doctor Clapp,” which is on show until 6 December.

    In addition to commissioning the Early American Room, Clapp also contributed to the design of the room. The room is reputed to be inspired by the ancestral home of Clapp’s first American forebear who immigrated to Massachusetts in 1630. Clapp’s own copy of the Memoirs of Roger Clap is now held in the University Library System collection, and is featured in the exhibition. Clapp also gifted many of the artifacts decorating the Early American Room, such as a needlework sampler and a set of his Colonial American coins to contribute to the room’s collection. Many similar items from Clapp’s collections are also display in the exhibition at the UAG, including his own specimens of shells collected from the Philippines and given to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Given Clapp’s own passion for conchology, it is a curious twist that the newest Nationality Room should also include shells among its collections. Nationality Room committees may have a somewhat different agenda to that of Clapp and his peers in 1938, but at the same time, their goal of assembling the most evocative spaces and objects to represent their respective cultures remains very much the same.

    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    What is your aluminum story?

    Author: Sylvia Rhor Samaniego

    Director, University Art Gallery

    “What is your aluminum story?” That was the question we posed to visitors on Saturday, November 2 when the University Art Gallery (UAG) teamed up with Rivers of Steel (RoS) Arts to host a Hot Metal Happening in front of the Frick Fine Arts Building in Oakland. 

    The answers ranged from the school-spirited – dozens of Pitt students inscribed “H2P” into the mold – to the whimsical – children depicted cartoon elephants and stick figure family portraits. There were names etched in Arabic as an ode to a participant’s heritage and the symbol of the Alzheimer’s Association, as an homage to the those who work towards finding a cure for the disease. There were elaborate caricatures and elegant fleur-de-lis. 

    Whatever the subject, the finished aluminum tiles reflected the experiences and insights of the many people who visit the UAG on a daily basis. 

    That was the point. The event signaled a new phase for the UAG, which is opening its doors to community events that will allow the people of Pittsburgh to tell their own stories.

    Conceived as part of the programming for the Metal from Clay: Pittsburgh’s Aluminum Stories, currently on view in the gallery, the event is one of the many workshops offered by RoS that are inspired by the history of ironmaking on the Carrie Furnaces site. Visitors – novices and return guests, alike – are offered a chance to get hands-on and experience the metal-making process first-hand.

    More than 200 people dropped in for our workshop. Each visitor was given a scratch mold of sand to design, with the help of RoS staff. They then watched as the workers from RoS, suited in heated scrap aluminum to over 1200 degrees and poured the liquid metal into the molds. 

    The dramatic process at the foot of the Schenley Fountain, with the Cathedral of Learning rising in the background, made for an impressive site. Like the participants who added fragments of their own stories to the tiles, the event itself also told the Pittsburgh story. It spoke to the ways that aluminum is embedded into the everyday life of the city just as much as steel. 

    A selection of the finished aluminum tiles will be on view during the UAG’s second annual Maker Event on Thursday, December 5, from 5-7pm.

    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Collective Book Launch for Jennifer Josten, Caitlin Bruce, Harris Feinsod

    Author: Rebecca Giordano 

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    On October 25th, Pitt’s Humanities Center hosted a collective book launch for three scholars whose work draws out transnational networks of creative practice. Bridging three disciplines, multiple media, and several different decades, the authors each spoke about their book projects with nods to each other’s work followed by a generous and lively Q&A. HAA associate professor Jennifer Josten presented her book Mathias Goeritz: Modernist Art and Architecture in Cold War Mexico alongside Pitt Department of Communication assistant professor Caitlin Bruce who shared her book Painting Publics: Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter. Chronicling different decades and locations, each presented Mexican artistic production as sites within hemispheric and transnational networks from distinct methodologies and disciplinary vantages. Harris Feinsod, now an associate professor of English at Northwestern, discussed The Poetry of the Americas: From Good Neighbors to Countercultures, a supranational history of poetry and politics he worked on while an Early Career Specialist at the Humanities Center (2015-2016). 

    Throughout the talk, the authors referenced the conversations they shared while developing their projects at Pitt. From the discipline-specific approaches to translation to the art historical methodologies designed to give principle weight to the art object, each voiced what they borrowed and what they shared. Hearing how such cross-disciplinary conversations advanced their projects shed light on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and the spaces which host it. During her presentation, Josten gave a close reading of all three book covers which each have artworks made in Mexico, noting that Feinsod’s book featured a work by Mathais Goertiz, the subject of her book. Feinsod and Josten both focus on the movement of ideas and people within geopolitical realities that defined Cold War cultural production. Bruce’s work brings these concerns into the present while capturing the personal and living nature of such networks through observation and interviews. 

    During the Q&A, Feinsod recounted to the audience that revered Mexican writer Octavio Paz had once graced the Cathedral of Learning for a year in 1969 during his exile in protest of the Mexican government’s actions in the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. Feinsod read from a letter Paz wrote during his time in Pittsburgh, which Feinsod translated into English. Paz’s witty and sharp letter is filled with funny barbs about the Cathedral’s “purest Gothic brick and cement” and quips about industrialist Andrew Mellon and poet Robert Bly. A pitch-perfect capstone to the event, the letter illustrated Pitt’s long history as a hub of hemispheric thinking, marked by intelligent criticism, a commitment to broad inquiry, and scholarly humor. 

    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Arushi Sahai introducing the director Avijit Mukul Kishore


    Nostalgia for the Future

    Author: Arushi Sahai

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Homes are machines that we live in. 

    Last month, the Department of History of Art and Architecture co-sponsored a screening and discussion with director Avijit Mukul Kishore about his documentary, Nostalgia for the Future. The film tells the story of Indian modernity through the lens of domestic architecture, exploring the bonds and ideals of the ambitious postcolonial nation and its citizens. Using four examples, the film shows how the newly-independent nation would weave a new narrative of progress and development using the idealized concept of the home.

    The film opens in 1890 focusing on the architectural language of the time by looking at Lukhshmi Vilas Palace in Baroda, the largest domestic architecture in India and a leading example of modernity in its time. The European statues and fountains which adorned the interiors of the house evoked progress and status for educated class of colonial India. The definition changed in the 1950s, where the film opens its second act. The first decade of postcolonial India reflects the vision of a new nation-state as was projected by its leader, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru believed in a country liberated from history: to be modern was to be new. This ideology manifested in the conception of Chandigarh – the first ‘planned’ city in India designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Nehru ardently believed that by living in modern architecture the citizens of India would become modern. The modern had to be made of steel, concrete and sans history. The third chapter explores public housing in Delhi which was designed by the Indian government with the intention of housing refugees from Pakistan as well as bureaucrats. Designed to promote the nuclear family, the houses had a set floor plan of a living room, bedroom, kitchen and toilet: a set mechanical production of domestic space for new India. The film concludes with the present-day Gurugram where high towering domestic apartments juxtapose makeshift slums which together make the city’s landscape. Through these four places and times, Kishore weaves parallels of architectural history within broader cultural histories to elaborate on India’s aspirations for modernity and its projection on to its people. 

    An invigorating Q&A session followed the film screening where students from various departments joined the director to reflect on the film. The questions addressed a range of medium concerns including Kishore’s mixing of poetic black-white film and digital video with found footage from state propaganda films and mainstream features. Others addressed his use of unadulterated Hindi (rather than the more colloquial Hindustani) for narration. The Q&A session proved to be enlightening by highlighting the use of filmmaking as a medium to reflect on architecture. Through Kishore’s confluence of mediums including those originally used as propaganda, the film shows how architecture has been embedded in a various media and social worlds. 

    • Graduate Work
    • 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.

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    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

    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    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?

    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • 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.

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    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.

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh