What is your aluminum story?


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