Faculty Work

  •  

    "Caravans of Gold" and the Premodern World: HAA Field Trip to Toronto

    Author: Shirin Fozi

    Assistant Professor, History of Art and Architecture

    On February 22 a group of 37 HAA undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty were in Toronto to see the Aga Khan and Royal Ontario Museums. The central goal of the excursion was to see Caravans of Gold, a path-breaking examination of art, culture, and exchange in the age of Mansa Musa, when access to extraordinary gold mines made a West African king the richest man in the world. Deeply rooted in current scholarship and developed in partnership with curators in Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria, it showcases not only the wealth of the Saharan region during the period ca. 1000-1400 CE but also argues powerfully for the role of trans-continental trade routes in linking Africa to networks of exchange that extended as far as China in the east and France in the north. To name but one example, the show includes ivory statuettes from Paris in dialogue with a bronze figure from Nigeria; the goal is to show that French craftsmen were using African ivory even as African artists were obtaining copper from France. The exhibition was an outstanding opportunity to rethink the global Middle Ages with an emphasis on Africa.  

    It was a great privilege to see Caravans of Gold at the Aga Khan, one of the only two museums in North America exclusively dedicated to the art of the Muslim world and a showcase for the diverse artistic practices that are often clustered under the umbrella of “Islamic” art. Containing objects from a vast geographical territory that spans from China and South Asia, across the Middle East, to Spain and North Africa, the permanent collection at the Aga Khan Museum emphasizes the cross-fertilization of cultures, techniques, and artistic practices. Cross-cultural contacts between Muslims and Christians are reflected with particular strength in the collection, which includes medieval architectural decorations recovered from the Iberian Peninsula and also an extraordinary eleventh-century ivory oliphant made in southern Italy. The group also visited the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and had time to explore its outstanding collections of Asian, European, and Indigenous North American art. The ROM, home to one of North America’s finest and most comprehensive collections of Chinese art in particular, offers exceptional possibilities for connecting cultures of the premodern world. Objects from the Six Dynasties through the Mongol empire (220–1368 CE), for example, reflect sustained, in-depth exchange between cultures across Eurasia in ways scarcely accounted for by modern geopolitical boundaries. There was much more in Toronto than could be absorbed in a single day, but still we learned a great deal from even a brief encounter with these powerful collections just across the northern border.  The organizers of the field trip, Shirin Fozi, Sahar Hosseini, and Michelle McCoy, are particularly grateful to the Asian Studies Center, the China Council, the World History Center, and the Undergraduate Dean’s Office for a set of small grants that supported the field trip and allowed us to keep the participation fee to just $30 for transportation, lodging, and museum tickets.

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Where are the Women Architects?

    Author: Thomas J. Morton

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

    While approximately 50% of architecture students in the United States are women, the number of women who are practicing architects is a fraction of that number. And, the number of women in leadership positions for architecture firms is a fraction of that fraction. One can ask, Where are the Women Architects?, and this topic is the focal point of a series of events occurring March 26-28, 2020 at the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Library – Oakland. The Architectural Studies Program in the Department of History of Art & Architecture at Pitt and Women+ in Design PGH are organizing the events. Despina Stratigakos, who authored the book, Where are the Women Architects? (Princeton University Press, 2016), will offer a free, public lecture on this topic on Thursday, March 26th at the University Club in Oakland (the lecture starts at 6:30pm). Stratigakos is a Professor of Architecture at the University of Buffalo and Vice-Provost for Inclusive Excellence. Mary Beth McGrew, the Associate Vice-Chancellor for Design, Planning, and Real Estate at the University of Pittsburgh, will introduce Stratigakos. Following her lecture, Stratigakos will be joined for a Q & A by Lori Brown, Professor of Architecture and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Syracuse University. A reception in the University Club will follow.

    On Friday, Brown and Stratigakos will speak at a breakfast organized by the Women’s Leadership Initiative of the Urban Land Institute and will meet with students and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh throughout the day. On Saturday, March 28th Lori Brown will oversee a free, public Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the Carnegie Library in Oakland (10am-2pm). The event is open to the public, and no previous experience with edit-a-thons is necessary. The goal of the edit-a-thon is to add as many entries as possible to Wikipedia for women designers  – a group that is woefully underrepresented in Wikipedia. If you change the web, you change the world.

    These events have many sponsors, including Pitt’s Year of Creativity, the Department of History of Art & Architecture at Pitt, the Architectural Studies Program at Pitt, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) at Pitt, Women+ in Design PGH, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID), and the Urban Land Institute Pittsburgh – Women’s Leadership Initiative.

    Emily Pierson-Brown, Associate at Perkins Eastman - Pittsburgh, and Thomas J. Morton, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History of Art & Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, organized the events.

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Mary Ethel McAuley, Women Working on the Strassebahn, Collection of Rebecca and Tasso Spanos

     

    Say Her Name: Year of the Woman at the UAG

    Author: Sylvia Rhor

    Director, University Art Gallery

    “I refuse to be one of the forgotten women!” Artist Lila Hetzel’s defiant words were published in an editorial letter to The Bulletin Index in 1938. Hetzel was writing in response to a critic’s assessment of the annual exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP), in which the author omitted the many women included in the organization’s inaugural exhibition in 1910. Among the excluded was a young woman named Mary Ethel McAuley. McAuley, a Pittsburgh native, was not only one of the inaugural members of the AAP, she was also a reporter, author, illustrator, painter and teacher. McAuley’s name was regularly in newspapers and on exhibition rosters, yet, despite exhortations like Hetzel’s, she has been nearly forgotten today. The upcoming exhibition in the UAG, Mary Ethel McAuley: Behind the German Lines sets out to find her again.

    Although she has been referred to as an “untrained” or “outsider” artist due to her seemingly simple visual style, the research for this exhibition has shown that McAuley was far from it: She was a trained artist, conversant in modernist styles of her time, and deeply embedded in art networks, here and abroad. The collaborative curatorial team for the show, which includes Emi Finkelstein and Ana Rodríguez, has discovered a wealth of new information about McAuley, her painting process and her career. McAuley studied with Scalp Level artist Martin B. Leisser at the Pittsburgh School of Design, and, as early as 1910, pursued further training in Europe. When in Pittsburgh, McAuley taught weekend drawing classes in a downtown studio and exhibited frequently between 1903 and 1921 in galleries, department stores and museums in Pittsburgh and New York. A prolific writer and illustrator, she contributed regular columns to the Pittsburgh Post-Dispatch and illustrated popular books. McAuley was a modern woman, forging a career as a painter and writer, and travelling the world at a time when women of her background were often expected to marry and raise families.

    The set of paintings that form the core of Behind the German Lines, was created around 1919 to illustrate McAuley’s first-hand account of life in Germany during the First World War, while she was a correspondent for the Pittsburgh Post-Dispatch. From ration lines for butter and beer to the building of the railway. McAuley’s paintings depict scenes that she witnessed as an American woman. She captures the nuances of quotidian life at that time, paying special attention to women in wartime. Her paintings depict German soldiers in uniform standing alongside chimney sweeps in town squares, women shoveling coal, mothers and children alone on the streets while fathers and brothers were on the front line. The exhibition includes objects from the collection of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, including German World War I helmets, to provide a context for McAuley´s work. 

    Examination of the paintings by conservator Rikke Foulke revealed more about McAuley’s unique painting process. The works were painted or mounted on materials such as artist’s portfolios and board, and McAuley seems to have used a red linen as a painting surface in other works, heavily building up the layers of paint on the canvas. Ultraviolet light inspection uncovered heavy overpainting in certain areas, raising questions about interventions at a later date.

    The ten paintings in the show – the only known extant works by McAuley – were loaned by collectors Rebecca and Tasso Spanos. Mr. Spanos purchased the works in the late 1960s from Harry Eichleay, a local art dealer, who, in turn, had seen McAuley’s works in a gallery window in New York City. Shortly after buying these paintings, Tasso Spanos contacted McAuley, who was living in Squirrel Hill at the time. Though he never had the chance to meet her (McAuley died in 1971), Spanos vowed to exhibit her works and bring more attention to an artist that he feels is on a par with other modernist artists of the early 20th century.

    The UAG has also partnered with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP) on a companion exhibition: Three Artists (Three Women). This exhibition highlights the work of AAP artists Tina Brewer, Fran Gialamas, and Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer. The exhibition is conceived of as a dialogue – across generations and across media – with McAuley’s works. The artists in this show draw on personal and cultural symbolism to explore issues of migration, identity and history in their works. Together, the two exhibitions allow us to ponder how women artists across generations explore these topics. 

     

    Mary Ethel McAuley: Behind the German Lines and Three Artists (Three Women) will be on view through March 28th. The opening reception for both exhibitions will take place on Thursday, February 13th from 5pm to 7pm. Related programming includes a gallery conversation on March 19th at 5pm, with AAP artists Gialamas, Brewer and Cuellar-Shaffer. We will also offer drop-in maker activities in the “Say Her Name” Feminist Maker Space + Reading Room in the gallery’s historic rotunda throughout March 2020.

     

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Andy Warhol, The Last Supper, 1986. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh

     

    The Furtive Faith of Andy Warhol

    Author: Paula Kane

    John and Lucine O’Brien Marous Chair of Catholic Studies, Department of Religious Studies

    In a year that honored Fred Rogers as an exemplar of Pittsburgh and progressive Presbyterianism, the current show at the Warhol Museum embraced a more complex native son and his oblique connection to Catholic traditions.

    For the last several years I have worked with the Andy Warhol Museum as an advisor to its current exhibition, Andy Warhol: Revelation. The show is the first to highlight the artist’s religious background and influences. It closes in Pittsburgh on February 16 and will travel to the Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and then to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The five rooms of the exhibit are preceded by Sunset, an unusual Warhol film from 1967 as part of a commissioned project for the Vatican pavilion at the 1968 world’s fair in San Antonio. Although the project was never realized, Warhol’s 33-minute shot of a California sunset hints at his anxieties about death and disasters–themes that consumed him in the 1960s–, as well as the spiritual sublime. Sunsets may be passages into darkness, or gateways to the dawn. The show then opens with “Ruska Dolina: Church & Community,” depicting Warhol’s local religious influences. “Glory & Graces” connects the tradition of sacred icons of his Pittsburgh parish to his well-known secular icons, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. “The Catholic Body and The Renaissance Spirit: Inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci” consider the role of the body in Warhol’s art and his engagement with sacred Renaissance painting. The final segment, “Sacred & Secular: Reproductions and the Imitations of Christ,” matches artworks drawn from elite sources, such as Raphael Madonnas and da Vinci’s Last Supper, with mass-marketed items like Jesus night lights. 

    In addition to Warhol’s own works, a variety of items enhance the exhibition: drawings of angels by the artist’s mother, who lived with him in New York; Catholic kitsch garnered from city flea markets; photographs of Warhol with friends and the pope; newspaper ads and clippings that Warhol used in his silkscreens; line drawings of body parts. Since this exhibition is the first to highlight Warhol’s Byzantine Catholic roots, it offered an ideal opportunity to consider religion in the life of a modern artist. A conversational approach to this topic seemed more fruitful than a lecture, so I invited art historian Erika Doss from Notre Dame to join me at the museum a few weeks ago for the evening event, which we accompanied with projected images.

    What does revelation mean for a modern artist? For Christians, the word has its roots in the cryptic final book of the Christian Bible, where the end-time is vividly depicted. It speaks of a world undergoing a series of crises before being transformed by the victorious redemptive work of God. For Andy, did a sense of revelation play a part in his life and his art? What does he reveal to us, his viewers? Our conversation at the Warhol hoped to reveal at least two things: first, that in the art world, the religious identity of Warhol was more challenging than his gay identity. As performance artist and poet John Giorno recalled, it was far worse to be religious than gay. It was hard for modernists to accept that religion still mattered. Our second revelation, therefore: Warhol was both religious AND modern.

    Warhol was surrounded at The Factory, his studio from 1962 to 1984, by a cohort of “lost boys,” mostly lapsed ethnic Catholics from working-class families who were constant reminders of that shared religious heritage. Andy was religious, though in an idiosyncratic fashion. In Pittsburgh, his family had moved to Dawson Street in Oakland to live near their church. In Manhattan, Julia Warhol continued to attend a Byzantine rite church, while her son went to Mass at least weekly at various Catholic parishes, rarely taking the sacrament of communion. Andy often stayed at services only for ten minutes or so. We can only speculate about whether he feared the Church’s condemnations of homosexuality, or lacked a spiritual connection with the sacrament, or just liked to watch the congregations without being observed himself. He customarily carried a rosary and a missal with him, and his townhouse was full of devotional objects. He was proud of meeting Pope John Paul II in 1980.

    Although not “a religious artist,” Warhol was both religious AND modern.  He made hundreds of prints of religious subjects, but especially in the two years before his death, when he  repeatedly focused on da Vinci’s Last Supper, using a German engraving of the painting. Here, Warhol’s production of copies of copies of copies using modern photo or print technology and overlaying it with camouflage or pink paint recalls the role of sacred images and relics in Catholic culture: there, the power of the object is not diminished by copying, in contrast to Walter Benjamin’s famous claim that the aura of the original could not be replicated. In Catholic belief, the copied item (a vial of holy water from faraway Lourdes, for example, or a blessed holy card) still carries its sacrality, and the portability of holiness is an important aspect of devotional culture.

    The exhibition segments on the Last Supper and the Catholic body remind us of the important role of devotions in Catholic practice and of the incarnational core of Christian faith: material objects that can be touched, smelled, tasted, and admired visually are reminders of the presence of God, who took on human form. Andy grew up during the heyday of devotional Catholicism in the U.S.,  and appreciated its “thingness,” often for purposes of parody and satire, which led him suggest tantalizing connections between the Catholic subjects of the great Renaissance artists and the cheap mass-marketed religious items of the present.

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Fig1. Margarat Honda. Frog, 2019. Multimedia. Carnegie Museum of Art

     

    Belly Up: or, A Journey Through The History of Art In the Shape of a Frog

    Author: Christopher Nygren

    Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and Director, Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program

    In September 2019, the Carnegie Museum of Art installed a new work in the Forum Gallery: Frog is a five-foot long sculpture of a frog that Margaret Honda created in collaboration with Hollywood propmakers (fig.1). 

    The scale of the work is jarring and the positioning of the frog, which lays on the ground belly up, is disarming. In the animal kingdom, the belly-up position is rarely a good sign. If you linger in the Forum Gallery for any length of time, you’ll inevitably hear visitors whispering to one another, “Is this frog dead?”

    Many other aspects of this frog are also subject to inquiry. If one looks at the sculpture long enough and compares it to photos of the European common frog (Rana temporaria), which is the species of frog closest to this sculpted invention, they will realize that there are a number of important divergences between Honda’s sculpture and real-world frog (the number of digits on the forelegs, for instance) (fig.2).

    These are not “errors”; rather, they are hold-overs from Honda’s font of inspiration for this curious and playful sculpture, which is a painting by the Renaissance painter Bramantino (1465-1530) held in the Ambrosiana collection in Milan (fig.3). 

    Like most pre-modern works of art, the museum has given the painting a descriptive title: The Madonna Enthroned with Saint Ambrose and Saint Michael. However, this overlooks the most surprising element of the painting, which is the gigantic frog that lays on back in the lower right-hand corner of the picture space (fig.4).

    As a specialist of Italian Renaissance art, I know much more about paintings like Bramantino’s than I do about contemporary sculpture. Even so, the Carnegie Museum of Art invited me to participate in a public conversation about Honda’s new work. This event was an experimental format that was dubbed “A Conversational Dissection,” and it brought me together in conversation with Jennifer Sheridan, Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Hannah Turpin, Curatorial Assistant for Modern and Contemporary Art and Photography at the CMOA. Each of us presented for about 10 minutes, and our mandate was simply to bring our expertise to bear on Honda’s sculpture in a way that might enrich our understanding of the sculpture. Dr. Sheridan gave a very informative and rollickingly entertaining introduction to the biology of frogs. She introduced the audience to, among other things, the idea of “snout-vent length” that biologist use to measure frogs. Biologists have aggregated millions of data points to produce charts that show the link between a frog’s weight and its snout-vent length. Dr. Sheridan was able to extrapolate from these charts that, if it were to exist in the real world, Honda’s frog would with more than 900 pounds. 

    My presentation focused on the depiction of frogs in the history of art (mostly Western). I had never given any thought to frogs in art prior to the invitation from the CMOA, but as soon as I began looking for frogs, I started to find them everywhere. Of course, the “Plague of Frogs” is one of the curses that Moses brought down on Egypt in an effort to free the Jewish people from their captivity under Pharaoh (Exodus 8:4-5), and therefore I was able to find many depictions of frogs in illuminated manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, such as this Old English Hexateuch from the 11th century or the Morgan Picture Bible (fig.5 and fig.6).

    I’m especially fond of the illustration of this scene in a Hebrew manuscript known as the Golden Haggadah, which is a fascinating book about which I’d encourage everyone to read more (fig.7).

    My presentation, though, focused mostly on the oddity of having a frog as an attribute of St. Michael. St. Michael is mentioned both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In the Book of Revelation, it is said that he will defeat Satan. In the Renaissance, this was usually figured by having St. Michael defeat some sort of person/serpent hybrid, as can be seen in this painting by Carlo Crivelli (fig.8).

    Looking at Crivelli’s painting, one can certainly see some similarities with Bramantino’s frog. However, Crivelli’s demon is clearly humanoid. Exactly how Bramantino decided to swap out this satanic demon with a frog is unknown. But about 20 years before Bramantino painted his altarpiece, Hieronymus Bosch had begun to infuse frogs with demonic connotations, as one can see in his altarpiece of the Temptations of St. Anthony, in which the hermit saint is taken on a terrifying flight on the belly of a frog (fig.9 and fig.10).

    It is unlikely that Bramantino knew Bosch’s painting and the story of the Plague of the Frogs from Exodus already suggests that frogs might have already been thought of as a demonic sign. Thus, it seems like Bramatino was simply using this logical chain of inference as his point of departure: frogs are associated with the demonic and therefore it makes sense that St. Michael might be pictured with a frog. What he produced was an utterly unexpected image, and the history of that image now included Honda’s sculpture, which is an equally surprising and jarring image. Understanding how Margaret Honda found inspiration for her sculpture in the oddity of a Renaissance painting offers perspective on how creativity and inspiration operate: Honda’s frog is as Renaissance as it is modern, and in that it offers a beautiful commentary on a topic that is dear to our department, which is how works of art manage to occupy multiple and diverse temporalities.

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • 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. 

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty 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?

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    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

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    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.

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • 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.

    Categories: 
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Pages