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Seven people stand in front of a red caboose inside a large industrial space.

The Restoration of the Unity Railways Caboose 53A

By Blog, Historic Preservation

The caboose restoration volunteer crew: Keith Clouse, Mike Lickert, Kevin Scanlon, Shelley Parkerson, Ken Dunay, Matt Kory, and Andy Wagner. Dave Dudjak and Rich Proctor participated in the restoration, but are not included in the image.

The Restoration of the Unity Railways Caboose 53A

With the help of a dedicated team of volunteers—and a donation from a longtime community partner—a second railroad car has been restored at the Carrie Blast Furnaces. The Caboose will help interpret the relationships between local railways and the mills, and also share the specific stories about a short line operation and small mining communities in eastern Allegheny County.

By Rivers of Steel staff

Restoring the Caboose—A Volunteer Story

“Yes, we’ll do it!” Kevin Scanlon spoke for a crew of volunteers, including his friend Mike Lickert.

Both volunteers, the two men organize a cadre of helpers who regularly rise to the occasion to maintain and improve the condition of the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark. When presented with the opportunity to restore a historic caboose, which is housed in the Blowing Engine House on the landmark site, it was an easy “yes.” After all, the volunteers had already rehabilitated the exterior of the Pusher Engine onsite a year or two prior.

“The caboose had been sitting inside the Blowing Engine House since being donated to Rivers of Steel by the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pennsylvania,” said Kevin. “Over the years, the paint had been peeling, and the wood siding had some rotten spots. The idea was to make it presentable so that it eventually can be an interpretive piece on the role of railroads’ interactions with steel mills.”

The volunteers’ activities generally stop from late October until landscaping duties pick up again in the spring. While this project gave the volunteers something to work on indoors during the winter, it—like the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill—was a project that had been in an arrested state, waiting for a moment when time and resources could converge.

An image of the 53A on painted on wooden boards with peeling red paint.

The only identifying mark on the caboose when it came to Rivers of Steel was a white 53A. The number indicated the year that the Unity Railways purchased it.

“The caboose was painted a deep red, and the only identifying mark was the number ‘53A’ painted on one side,” Kevin continued. “Scott Becker, the executive director and CEO of the trolley museum, provided a starting point for the restoration. He shared that while it was built in 1915 by the New York, Ontario & Western Railway at the Middletown, NY, shops, Unity Railways purchased it in 1953. And since Unity Railways was a small coal-hauling railroad serving the town of Renton in eastern Allegheny County, Scott suggested we restore it using the Unity Railways paint scheme since that was what could align best for our eventual use as an interpretive object. He went on to share that the interior was the same as when they received it from Unity Railways in 1965, so it only made sense for us to match the exterior.”

Unity Railways was a three-and-a-half-mile short line interchanging with the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Bessemer & Lake Erie (B&LE) Railroad in North Bessemer, Pennsylvania, a historic industrial neighborhood now within Penn Hills Township, along the border with Renton region Plum Borough. The B&LE was one of U.S. Steel’s railroads. It took coal and iron ore from the Great Lakes and mines near North Bessemer down to the Pittsburgh-area for the steel mills. When the coal plant on the Unity closed in 1965, the caboose was donated to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, where it often housed Santa Clause during its Christmas celebrations.

After establishing the provenance of the caboose, the volunteers got to work. Working with Ron Baraff, Rivers of Steel’s director of historic resources, it was decided to repaint the caboose as close as possible to its appearance during its time with Unity Railways.

Four people, two on the ground and two on scaffolding, strip paint from an old caboose.

Andy Wagner, Shelley Parkerson, Matt Kory and Mike Lickert strip paint from the caboose.

“The exterior paint was separating from the primer,” Kevin went on to say. “This may have indicated that the oil-based paint was applied over latex primer. Some of the wooden siding was so rotten that you could poke a finger through it, and a quadrant of tar paper was missing from the roof. New paint could not go over the bad base, so we began stripping the paint. That took place from November of last year through March 2024. It was done using heat guns and a propane torch, then sanded—not an easy task on those cold winter days!”

Ten of the tongue-and-groove siding boards had to be removed and replaced with new wood. Other spots were patched with fiberglass. The platform floor on one end was completely replaced. In March, the first coat of primer was applied, followed by a new shade of red that was close to the original color.

A black and white image of a train car parked under a structure with a nondescript background

The Unity Railways Caboose 53A parked under the Pennsylvania Turnpike overpass at Unity, PA. Original photo from 1954, courtesy of David Dudjak.

David Dudjak, a railroad enthusiast who has provided technical assistance to Kevin and the volunteers in the past, supported this project as well. “The proper lettering was a bit of a challenge,” said Kevin. “David helped quite a bit with finding the correct font. As only Dave would put it, ‘It appears the lettering is Railroad Roman . . . not to be confused with Lulu Roman of Hee Haw fame.’” Kevin went on to share that David provided good advice on how to create and use lettering stencils, in addition to locating an original negative image of the caboose from 1954 that established the placement of the lettering.

Additional volunteers were involved with the restoration of the interior, which retails its original Caboose Interior Green paint. “The interior was in good condition,” Kevin shared, “but a few features were missing and others were added. Rich Proctor, with assistance from Andy Wagner, has been working on wiring to add interior lighting and outlets for future displays. And, since the short rails on the Unity sometimes had to back up a distance, the caboose was equipped with an air horn to warn motorists at crossings. Mike Lickert restored the horn; it’s now connected to a small air compressor. You should hear it!”

A woman on a ladder lifts her arm to paint the word "Unity" which is masked off by paper.

Retired paint chemist Shelley Parkerson had the honor of painting the new lettering stencils.

“The Carrie volunteer crew never ceases to amaze me,” said Ron Baraff. “They approach their tasks—often those that would be considered the most mundane—with such great enthusiasm. Their excitement about a project gets us excited as well. I’m thankful for all of them but especially Kevin Scanlon for his leadership in orchestrating the recent restoration efforts on the Unity Caboose. Our generous volunteers brought our cool little caboose back to life with great skill and devotion. They are such knowledgeable folks with so much to offer. Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about them.”

Kevin Scanlon also warmly extended his gratitude to the team: “A big THANK YOU to all of the restoration crew: Keith Clouse, Dave Dudjak, Ken Dunay, Matt Kory, Mike Lickert, Shelly Parkerson, Rich Proctor, and Andy Wagner!”

Interested in volunteering? We’d love to hear from you! Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, volunteers assist in maintaining the landscaping at the Carrie Blast Furnaces, in addition to helping with projects such as the restoration of the Unity Railways Caboose 53A. Work sessions are generally Wednesdays and / or Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to noon. No special skills are required, but you might just learn some new ones! Email volunteers@riversofsteel.com to learn more.

A white woman in a long sleeved t and ball cap poses for the camera in an industrial space.

Partners for Creative Economy: Workforce Development

By Blog, Partners for Creative Economy

Malayna Arambula, now an employee of Rivers of Steel, first joined the organization through a pilot workforce development program.

Partners for Creative Economy: Workforce Development

Partners for Creative Economy is an economic development initiative of Rivers of Steel that combines five strategies for uniting, uplifting, and empowering communities throughout the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Long-standing efforts, such as the Mini Grant program and community partnerships, have been expanded and paired with newer enterprises, including the Creative Leadership Program and the forthcoming Center for Heritage Tourism. This article is the first in a series that explores each of these key elements; it focuses on new workforce development initiatives recently launched by Rivers of Steel.

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

Why Workforce Development

In its more than thirty-year history, Rivers of Steel has been devoted to preserving the region’s industrial and cultural heritage, including its labor history. In saving some of the last remaining physical artifacts of iron and steelmaking in the area, Rivers of Steel is also rekindling labor skills that were fast disappearing, training a new workforce who will be able to contribute to historic preservation projects or apply their knowledge to more conventional industries.

This focus on workforce development is one pillar of Rivers of Steel’s ambitious Partners for Creative Economy, an initiative that works in collaboration with heritage and cultural organizations and municipalities in the eight southwestern Pennsylvania counties that compose the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland. The goal is to strengthen and uplift communities that were hard-hit by and are still struggling to recover from the collapse of Big Steel and related industries in the 1980s, using preservation efforts, creative placemaking, and tourism, along with funding and other community development support.

“These historical assets offer unique opportunities to train local individuals in hands-on traditional trades like welding, masonry and blacksmithing—through projects that help preserve an important piece of their own history,” explains Chris McGinnis, Rivers of Steel’s senior director of programs and regional partnerships. “In the ’80s, these industrial relics were like an open wound—a fresh reminder of the jobs that no longer existed. In the intervening years, resulting from the work of Rivers of Steel, many people now recognize the value of these assets.”

He continues: “These remnants of industrial life were saved, but a vision was needed to encourage people to come back to the area. In order to support tourism and revitalize these communities, our efforts in redeveloping these landmarks were—and still remain—targeted at helping local communities and former steelworkers weather the lean years after the collapse of Big Steel. In the process, we created a destination that shares stories essential to understanding the heritage and legacy of southwestern Pennsylvania.”

The scale stove and stacks of the Carrie Furnaces seen from the Ore Yard dwarfs a tour group in hard hats at its base.

An Industrial Tour of the Carrie Blast Furnaces

The Epicenter of American Heavy Industry

A walk around the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark site offers a scaled-down reminder of the massive network of mills and factories that lined the entire Monongahela Valley for more than a century, virtually all of them now gone. The greater Carrie site itself occupied 107 acres along the river, which was part of the U.S. Steel Homestead Works, which employed more than 15,000 people. Blast Furnaces #6 and #7 at Carrie were rescued from demolition, along with an array of infrastructure, including the AC Power House and Blowing Engine House. In its prime, six furnaces at Carrie churned out 9,000 tons of iron daily.

Workers at the Homestead Works possessed highly specialized skills and had colorful job titles such as batch pickler, pig machine operator, scarfer, larryman, babbitman, skull cracker craneman, and the more obvious stove tender, salt thrower, cinderman, and car dumper operator. Millwrights also possessed a variety of general talents, too, for welding, machining, engineering, carpentry, and bricklaying—all required for maintaining the furnaces and mills.

The workforce development program will focus on the skills a millwright would need—and the more specialized skill set on how to preserve and restore industrial artifacts and infrastructure. While there is a need to develop expertise in the manual trades in general, this program will help establish industry standards for what is required when addressing historic, industrial preservation projects.

Two men work on a crankshaft weighing 132,000 pounds.

Rick Rowlands and Adam Taylor, who help to train apprentices, burn off old grease on the crankshaft of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill.

Developing a Specialized Workforce

Rivers of Steel hopes to remedy this talent vacuum by recruiting and educating a new workforce in the region who will be capable of performing specialized skills that not only support Rivers of Steel’s own preservation efforts, but also those in other regions of the country.

The first project of Rivers of Steel’s workforce development effort is the historic preservation of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill on the Carrie site.  The last mill of its kind in the world, it currently sits in pieces, waiting to be restored and rebuilt inside the Blowing Engine House, ultimately forming the centerpiece of Carrie’s future visitors center, museum, and archives.

A pilot program in the summer of 2023, funded by the Department of Conservation and National Resources, allowed Rivers of Steel to train two apprentices, Malayna Arambula and Derek Stein,  to begin learning about the work of historic preservation from the ground up, explains project manager Rick Rowlands.

“They started with cleaning ten tons worth of dirt, grease, and grime off the parts,” he laughs.

As the project transitions into full restoration, with support from an Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant and a Save America’s Treasures grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, among other sources, these apprentices are being immersed in more specific experiences. Says Rowlands, “They’ll get to do a bit of everything: metalworking, welding, some machining, learning about rigging and lifting—even some concrete work. The best way of learning is to have to do a little of everything.”

Mentoring workers in this way echoes the kind of apprenticeship that went on in the mills and factories along the Mon River for decades. “We’re recreating what was commonplace in the Mon Valley,” Rowlands explains. “It’s kind of something that’s not done anymore.”

The 48-Inch Mill project is just the first of many projects to come. Skills taught through the program will include traditional masonry, welding (ARC & MIG), foundry work and pattern making, blacksmithing, basic carpentry, basic structural engineering, metal fabrication, and more. Participants, made up of youth and adults from the region, will actively assist on Rivers of Steel’s preservation projects as well as on test models, learning valuable decision-making and problem-solving competencies. Graduates from the program may continue working with Rivers of Steel as paid staff when positions are open or take their experience to other organizations in need of this valuable knowledge.

Creating Opportunities

In many ways, the work of this new labor force will be as specialized as that of the millworkers who came before them. These trainees will work on and around sensitive surface areas that have been exposed to the elements and require highly specialized techniques and handling. They will learn to restore historic masonry and do structural welding, as well as perform artisanal blacksmithing and foundry work. Rivers of Steel’s historic landmark sites are a vast classroom for honing these critical skills.

A headshot of a woman with brown hair, fair skin, in a black top.

Samantha Swartz, the director of the historic preservation workforce training program.

“Having this workforce development piece lets Rivers of Steel use restoration and preservation as a springboard for this exclusive training of talent,” adds Ron Baraff, Rivers of Steel’s director of historic resources and facilities. “The next Save America’s Treasures grant is for the Blowing Engine House, to restore and stabilize that building, which requires many facets of skills. This will all become training grounds for work skills that can be used here and at other historical sites and workplaces.”

Samantha Swartz is the new director of the historic preservation workforce training program and is excited for the challenges ahead. “One of the great things about workforce development at Carrie is it is full circle. It is a site where opportunity was lost, and now it’s a footprint for opportunity for the whole Mon Valley. It’s pretty incredible—the potential for these efforts!”

An Early Foray into Workforce Development

Years before the workforce development initiative became a formal part of Rivers of Steel’s vision and mission, the organization used its historic sites to retrain area workers. One of the earliest efforts was at the Bost Building National Historic Landmark—a building recognized for its connection to the tragic 1892 Battle of Homestead and the subsequent lockout and strike.

Rivers of Steel’s President and CEO Augie Carlino, an advocate in the initial community-based efforts to save the Carrie Furnaces in Swissvale, along with the Bost Building in Homestead, and the Pump House and Water Tower in Munhall, describes an early workforce development effort following the massive mill shutdowns:

“A federal economic development grant in the late 1990s was Rivers of Steel’s first workforce development project at the Bost Building,” Carlino explains. “We trained mostly former, displaced, and some retired steelworkers as tour guides. They had the stories and the experiences; they just needed some guidance in how to be docents to interpret those stories for visitors. The intent was—and still is—to get into these communities that have been left behind and employ people—to get them interested and invested in these new means of economic identity and opportunity.”

A man in a welding helmet leans over a project that casts sparks as he works on it.

Michael P. McCauley, Jr., Rivers of Steel’s maintenance manager, who is also a millwright, is part of this growing workforce.

Contributing to the New Economy

Augie Carlino points out how all of these places fit Rivers of Steel’s mission and vision. “Philosophically—the Bost Building, Pump House, Carrie—these preservation projects we see as beyond ‘save and sit.’ Preservation is not static. They are symbols of who we were—and are—contributing to a new economy in the area. The workforce, along with tours, events, and demonstrations, contributes in new and different ways to these communities and economies,” explains Carlino.

Chris McGinnis agrees. “Carrie and similar sites can be just passive places to enjoy, or it can be much more impactful when the community gets to take part in restoring, interpreting, and keeping these places alive.”

Summing up the workforce development initiative, Samantha Swartz notes, “I am a history nerd, and I most love the history of the working person. When you discover the history of Carrie, you are walking on truly historic land where lives were lost and futures destroyed. You can sense it! But I also sense the phoenix coming up out of the ashes and giving back to the community, bringing hope for the region.”

In 2009, former Homestead steelworker and grievance man-turned-songwriter Mike Stout wrote a lyric celebrating Pittsburgh’s glorious industrial history. It touches on what inspires Rivers of Steel’s workforce development program:

To the millions who worked in your factories and mills,

The ghosts of their labor are living there still.”

Rivers of Steel’s vision embraces the powerful lingering spirit of ingenuity and hard work that built not just this region, but the entire nation. In restoring and preserving the physical remains of the once-mighty iron and steel industry, Rivers of Steel is able to preserve and promote marketable skills and grow a small but knowledgeable labor force in the region who will be dedicated to carrying on the task of saving priceless industrial artifacts for future generations and visitors near and far.

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out Lynne’s previous article on the Historic Preservation of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill.

A hulking piece of machinery in a warehouse type building

The Historic Preservation of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill

By Blog, Historic Preservation

The 48-inch Universal Plate Mill as it appeared in the fall of 2022, immediately prior to recent preservation efforts.

The Historic Preservation of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill

After spending decades in storage, the 48-inch Universal Plate Mill from the Homestead Works is undergoing historic preservation work with support from an array of funders and a collective of workers. Since May is National Preservation Month, we’re excited to take this opportunity to share some of the important work that is currently going on, outside of public view, at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark.

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

The 48-Inch Mill, a Part of Our Nation’s Story

It rolled out the steel that built the Empire State Building in New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and scores of other iconic American structures in its 80-year history from 1899 to 1979.

Known as the 48-inch Universal Plate Mill—and originally located at U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works—it was one of the mighty workhorses that defined the Steel Valley. When steel was king in the region, the mill churned out slabs of thousand-degree metal that became rolled plates used in large-scale construction.

Today, it sits in pieces inside the Blowing Engine House, part of the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark, waiting to be cleaned, restored, and rebuilt to recall its former glory. Even in pieces, it is the only surviving steam-powered rolling mill in the nation—and even the world. When restoration is complete, it will be the centerpiece of an ambitious visitor center and museum with exhibition and artifact space at the Carrie Blast Furnaces. Before then, it will help train a small workforce in crucial industrial restoration skills.

The task of resurrecting the 48-inch Mill is no small feat. However, the dedicated team at Rivers of Steel is undeterred, armed with the energy, vision, and expertise to make it happen. The effort is already in motion, fueled by funding from key grants and private foundations.

Ronald Baraff

Rivers of Steel’s Director of Historic Resources & Facilities, Ron Baraff.

“This is a really exciting time,” says Ron Baraff, director of historic resources and facilities for Rivers of Steel. “All those years of pushing, working to save and preserve structures and artifacts from the steel industry, hoping to do all those things people thought were just too big to do—now, they’re all coming to fruition. And the restoration of the 48-inch Mill is so vital to telling the history of this area.”

Reassembling the 48-Inch Mill

Baraff describes the task of reassembling the mill as a monumental challenge, akin to constructing a massive toy model without complete instructions. The pieces, including the main crankshaft weighing up to 132,000 pounds, present a significant logistical challenge. With only a handful of photos and drawings as references and perhaps no living steel worker with firsthand knowledge, the restoration project requires a unique blend of expertise and dedication.

A man stands on a flatbed trailer in front of a crankshaft that nearly doubles his height that could be 30 feet long.

Rick Rowlands with the crankshaft from the 48-inch Mill when it was being moved to Carrie a decade ago.

Enter Rick Rowlands, the project manager heading up the mill rebuild for Rivers of Steel. As the executive director of Youngstown Steel Heritage, Rick became the only nationwide expert on old steam-powered rolling mills by restoring the Tod engine of a rolling mill in Youngstown, Ohio, and poring over the existing documentation on Homestead’s 48-inch Mill.

“Rick is an iron, steel, and railroad savant. He kind of showed up at Rivers of Steel’s doorstep like a feral cat,” Baraff laughs. Rowlands started doing modest restoration projects at the Carrie Blast Furnaces site, but upon hearing about the 48-inch Mill, he told Baraff, “You know, I love blast furnaces, but I really love rolling mills!”

Rowlands explains, “The best way of learning something is because you have to know it. There are two parts to this mill: The first half is the steam engine restoration, which will be completed by the end of 2024—then we’ll switch to the actual mill.”

A sign that acknowledges the Save America's Treasure grant.

A sign hangs on the 48-inch mill that acknowledges support from the Historic Preservation Fund.

Assembling the Resources

After more than thirty years of storing the mill parts, hoping for the day when it could be put back together, Rivers of Steel received a prestigious Save America’s Treasures grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to launch this three-year restoration effort. Rivers of Steel made the case to save this vast historical artifact that tells the important story of how regional steelmaking was pivotal to building our nation. In a separate project, with support from the Hillman Foundation, a second Save America’s Treasures grant, and a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Rivers of Steel is working to stabilize and restore the Blowing Engine House, the building where the 48-Inch Mill will permanently reside.

A white man with graying stubble on his chin in a ball cap and glasses smiles for a headshot.

Rivers of Steel’s Facilities Operations Director & Construction Project Manager, Adam Taylor.

Working on the massive mill rebuild is a dedicated crew comprised of Adam Taylor, Rivers of Steel’s facilities operations director & construction project manager, and new recruits Malayna Arambula and Derek Stein. Machinist Chad Fetternick was also contracted to assist Century Steel and DCI Field Services with the heavy lifting and cement pouring.

The first step was for Adam Taylor to locate and purchase special equipment for the job—things like a sixty-ton crane and large lathe—and to create a machine shop for fabricating essential parts. All of this equipment will remain onsite at Carrie for this and future projects. While most of the enormous mill and engine parts survived intact, smaller pieces went missing, and others must be repaired or completely remade.

“We have to make things like five-inch bolts, parts of shafts, and keyways that we can’t just go out and buy somewhere,” says Taylor, a trained millwright working in tandem with Rowlands to supervise the efforts and oversee the recruits.

Malayna Arambula and Derek Stein came through a Rivers of Steel pilot workforce development project in the summer of 2023, funded by the Department of Conservation and National Resources (DCNR). They were both interns in that program and were charged with doing some of the gritty prep work for this project. With funding from several private foundations and public sources to support further workforce development, Arambula was hired full-time this spring. Stein was hired part-time as maintenance crew to assist with the mill and engine rebuild, among other tasks.

Arambula and Stein will be learning on the job, doing everything from cleaning decades of grease, dirt, and corrosion from parts to painting, repairing, or machining new parts. They will also learn how the giant pieces will be lifted into place and even help with the concrete work required to support the massive structure. Stein has some machinist experience, and Arambula operated heavy machinery and did welding during her time in the Coast Guard.

“It’s kind of like the old days,” says Rowlands about Arambula and Stein, “where you’d come to the plant as an apprentice and get put onto different jobs to assist and do a little bit of everything.”

The workforce development initiative is part of Rivers of Steel’s ongoing commitment to developing a regional labor force of people who will have the skills to help with industrial restoration projects elsewhere in the country or who can apply what they have learned to other, more conventional jobs.

“This project also trains them in fast pivoting—being able to switch gears, to envision and problem-solve,” adds Baraff.

A film by the Steel Industry Heritage Task Force, the organization that evolved to become the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation, which details the dismantling of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill at the former Homestead Works in 1990.

The 48-Inch Mill’s Post-Homestead Journey

The fact that this mill and engine were salvaged and stored for decades with most of the parts intact is nothing short of miraculous. Its long, circuitous journey to its permanent home at Carrie is equally incredible.

Augie Carlino, the president and CEO of Rivers of Steel, has been there since the beginning of the mill’s resurrection story—back in the days before Rivers of Steel was even established. In the late 1980s, the Steel Industry Heritage Task Force, which later evolved into Rivers of Steel, operated under the Mon Valley Initiative and fought to save some portion of the vast steelworks in the area after the collapse of Big Steel. The Smithsonian Institution identified the 48-inch rolling mill as the last of its kind in the world. Permission was granted in 1990 to save the mill, and it was a three-month-long challenge just getting it dismantled.

Carlino was onsite in Homestead as two massive cranes tilted in the struggle to lift the foundation elements of the mill. Standing next to him was the mill’s last foreman, Leonard Fleming.

“Leonard was this humble, soft-spoken, elderly guy who was foreman from the 1940s to the end. He was there to record some oral history about the mill,” says Carlino. “Suddenly, he starts yelling, ‘Mr. Carlino, they’re not doing it right!’—meaning how they were taking it apart. At that point, I shouted out to shut the work down.”

The work stopped. The original blueprints were consulted, and they contradicted the foreman’s advice. Fleming then explained that the drawings were intentionally not modified during the 1940s as a form of job security for the older workers. Many World War II GIs returned to the mill for jobs, but only the old-timers knew how the mill actually went together.

“So the crew went back to work using Leonard’s memory, and the mill came apart as he said,” adds Carlino.

Following dismantling, the 900 tons of mill parts were hauled to an old Westinghouse Electric site at RIDC’s Keystone Commons in Turtle Creek, where they were generously stored for free for roughly five years until that space was needed for new development. Once more, the mass of mill and engine pieces were transported, this time up the valley to Trafford, which cost Rivers of Steel a considerable amount in storage fees.

Ron Baraff came on board in 1998 and recalls seeing the mill “in hundreds of pieces, very few labels, some parts with trees growing through them—crazy, strewn about. It was a daunting set of pieces. We thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’”

In 2013, Rivers of Steel secured funds from the Colcom Foundation to finally move the parts to Carrie, a site Rivers of Steel had begun maintaining in 2010 via a long-term lease agreement with Allegheny County. Three years later, after addressing the landmark site’s most urgent preservation needs, Rivers of Steel brought the 48-inch Mill to its new home inside the Blowing Engine House at the Furnaces—and there were just enough funds left to do some start-up prep.

Two workers guide a large section of the mill into place with help from a crane.

Rick Rowlands documented the process of bringing the 48-inch mill to the Blowing Engine House. See his flickr photo album.

“In 2014, Rick Rowlands did some basic assembly getting the roll stands and cylinders in place, but we quickly ran out of funds,” recalls Baraff. A decade later, the DCNR and Save America’s Treasures grants kick-started the real work of training, preservation, and rebuilding. The team can now reassemble the roll stands, rolling tables, drive mechanism, and steam engine.

In Rowlands’ opinion, “The building part is easy. We’ll figure it out and make it happen. Each piece is a little challenge to overcome. The hardest part is finding the money. The rest of it is just fun! I get up each day and beat my head against this heavy machinery and couldn’t be happier!”

A black and white image inside the steelworks.

A Library of Congress image of the general interior view of the 48-inch Mill at the U.S. Steel Homestead Works.

The Work of the 48-Inch Mill

When it operated at its original location on the Monongahela River in Homestead, the mill was housed in a 60’x150‘x75’ steel-frame building with riveted Fink trusses and a monitor roof. Corrugated metal covered the roof and sides with a crane way on the east and north. In addition to the mill and its engine, the building also contained an operator’s pulpit, a scale pit, and a parts storage rack.

The rolling mill was fed steel ingots that were heated to a minimum of 1,100 degrees, depending on the product required, and would roll out long plates of finished metal up to 100 feet long. The Mill’s name is a designation of the maximum width of the plate that could be extruded, with varying widths up to a maximum of 48 inches. It rolled steel slabs up to two inches thick under extreme force and pressure, which also cleaned and eliminated scale that would cause surface defects. Hot rolling produced high-quality steel that was stronger and more formable and weldable than that produced using other methods.

In its early days, the mill was driven by a steam engine rated in the tens of thousands of horsepower—easily the largest engine in the country and perhaps the world in the early part of the twentieth century. It made a constant, thundering, puffing sound that could be heard for miles.

A digital rendering of the 48-inch Mill in a restored historic building.

A rendering of what the completed 48-inch Mill will look like in the Blowing Engine House, after both have completed their historic preservation journeys.

The Layers of Significance of the 48-Inch Mill

When completed, the restored mill and engine will take up almost 23-thousand square feet— roughly one-third—of the Blowing Engine House.

Though the finished, restored 48-Inch Mill will not be fully functional, the Rivers of Steel team plans to make certain parts movable, such as the rollers and crankshaft, so that the public can get a sense of the power and majesty of this state-of-the-art technology in its heyday.

When this behemoth ruled the Mon Valley, only employees were allowed near it. Ron Baraff elaborates: “In a few years, people will be able to be right on top of this thing, at angles you’d only see if you had worked in the mill way back. This project ties together production, American ingenuity, and the impact of what was produced in this region. Beyond saving the Carrie Furnaces, it’s a real feather in our cap to restore this 48-inch Mill!”

“This is a pretty important piece in terms of technology and from an engineering point of view,” says Adam Taylor. “This is it. This is the last one in existence.”

Rick Rowlands adds: “Tens of thousands of people spent their lives building and working in this mill. They had their own communities around it. Then it all closed down, and you have these empty fields. Who were these people, and how did they do this? I like to think I’ve helped keep something around of those people and their lives.”

Baraff, Rowlands, Taylor, and the team realize that this is a labor of love and pride in the region, with their desire to accomplish the nearly impossible. Helping preserve and continue to tell the story of the steel industry in the Mon Valley with the 48-inch Universal Plate Mill at the Carrie Blast Furnaces will be priceless for future generations to experience.

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out Lynne’s previous article on the Intercollegiate Iron Pour.

A color image of the same colonial home.

The Historic Preservation of the LeMoyne House

By Blog, Historic Preservation
The front of the LeMoyne House National Historic Landmark in Washington, Pennsylvania, which is currently undergoing historic preservation work; image courtesy of Washington County Historical Society.

The Historic Preservation of the LeMoyne House

Established in 1973 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, May has been recognized as National Preservation Month for more than fifty years! To help celebrate, Rivers of Steel is sharing the story of LeMoyne House, a National Historic Landmark in Washington, Pennsylvania, which is currently undergoing historic preservation work.

By Julie Silverman, Contributing Writer

From a Home Built in 1812 to a National Historic Landmark

Shakespeare might have said, “What’s in a name?” but as we celebrate National Historic Preservation Month, we could ask, “What’s in a home?” In Washington County, the LeMoyne House has withstood time and history’s tests for more than 200 years.

Dr. John Julius LeMoyne built the pale stone house on 49 East Maiden Street in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1812. His son, Francis, also a doctor, was a staunch abolitionist who offered his home as a stop along the Underground Railroad. The house was passed down from father to son to daughter, Jane, then Madeleine LeMoyne. When Madeleine passed away in 1943, the house was donated to the Washington County Historical Society (WCHS). In May 1944, the WCHS moved their offices from the third floor of the Washington County Courthouse to the LeMoyne House, which became both offices and museum, opening to the public in the fall of 1944.

With only the LeMoyne family as occupants of the house until 1943, any changes, upkeep, and maintenance were made under the supervision of the family. Eighty years and countless footsteps through the house later have made repairs and preservation vital. There are special challenges for a house that in 1997 received designation as a National Historic Landmark—the first of six Pennsylvania National Historic Landmarks of the Underground Railroad to be registered.

Several signs posted on plywood credit funders for preservation work.

Signage highlights the funders and collaborators in the LeMoyne House’s preservation efforts; image courtesy of WCHS.

A Historic Preservation Begins—and a Story Unfolds

Ellis Schmidlapp is an architect hired by the WCHS’s project manager, the StoneMile Group, to work on the restoration and preservation project. He recommended repairs to the exterior stone and mortar and rebuilding a section of the main front stairs. “For a landmark house that is to be used as a museum, the challenge is to preserve the historic materials and spaces as near to their original appearance and condition as possible,” he said. Attention is also aimed toward “updating mechanical, electrical, and safety systems in a way that is minimally intrusive to the historic character of the building.” WCHS is going to great lengths to preserve and maintain the integrity of the home, retaining its original features and giving it an opportunity to last for centuries to come. Part of the preservation work is handling some older materials that are no longer commonly used, such as “fragile interior finishes of leather, wallpapers, and paint.”

A set of four concrete steps that are clearly worn at the edges and discolored.

The portico entry steps of the LeMoyne House before preservation work; image courtesy of WCHS.

Bright white concrete steps with sharp edges and defined details.

The portico entry steps during preservation work; image courtesy of WCHS.

As the house receives an uplift, so will the way it tells its story. When the WCHS first opened the home as a museum, they set up displays of family artifacts and papers. Through the years, extended family members have continued to donate items for the collection; however, the visitor experience remained a general exhibit of Washington County history. Sandy Mansmann, current president of the Board of Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation, first saw the LeMoyne House in 1970. “There was lots of old stuff,” she said, “but not much of a story to tell of the depth of the local, and later national, importance of the LeMoynes.”

Beyond preserving artifacts, showcasing key moments of history remain a focus. Clay Kilgore, executive director of WCHS, and Tom Milhollan, director of operations and development, are spearheading an exhibit to highlight the involvement of Francis Julius LeMoyne and others in the Abolitionist Movement and its practical extension, the Underground Railroad.

A long, new building with a historic look to it.

Washington County Historical Society’s new Research & Education Center; image courtesy of WCHS.

Four years ago, construction began on WCHS’s new Research & Education Center. This effort allowed WCHS’s offices to move out of the LeMoyne House as its center of operations and make the focus the house on the story of the LeMoynes’ place in social reform. While some grants for the house facilitate preserving facades, other grants, including a mini-grant from Rivers of Steel, are bringing to life the Arcs of Freedom exhibition.

A oil painting of a wealthy man with sideburns, a black suit, and arched black eyebrows, and a widow's peak hairline.

Dr. F. J. LeMoyne’s portrait; image courtesy of WCHS.

Representing The Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad

This project continues the story The LeMoyne House has been telling for decades. In his time, Dr. LeMoyne was a radical abolitionist. He believed not only in ending slavery, but also in the equality and education of enslaved people once they were freed—that all people deserve equal rights. He medically treated Black Americans and was the only doctor in Washington County at the time to do so. But as LeMoyne’s involvement the Abolitionist Movement increased in the 1830s, he began to realize that it would not be enough to simply talk about abolition, and that more practical steps would be necessary.

Building on the story of Dr. LeMoyne, Tom said, “The Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad represented the convergence of a lot of different people coming from different racial backgrounds, different social backgrounds, different economic backgrounds, different religious denominations—all coming together for the common purpose of defeating slavery.”

Arcs of Freedom, the upcoming interpretive project, will add previously hidden pieces. “We want to tell the story of the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad through the eyes of the participants—first and foremost, through the freedom seekers themselves,” Tom said. These are the stories that have been forgotten. This new exhibit seeks to preserve stories of the free Black community that had been bypassed. “We feel that history has been kind of slanted to where freedom seekers were totally dependent on wealthy white benefactors to take them to freedom, and that is an incorrect narrative.”

Tom said, “The African American Underground Railroad conductors helped build that movement.” Clay adds, “We had an artist from Washington & Jefferson College—a student there—who obtained photographs of the descendants of one of the freedom seekers and made a composite of what this freedom seeker might have looked like. We’re going to add faces to names—names that people really don’t know. Now, not only are they going to get the name, but they’re going to get the face to it.” For example, this professionally designed exhibit will feature people such as George Walls, who was one of the most prolific African American Underground Railroad operatives in this area. Photographic images and even key details of his life were missing; however, with a bit of luck they found a newspaper interview with him and were then able to find photographs of his descendants.

“We’re interacting with a descendant of one of George Walls’s brothers,” Clay said. “Her name is Lorraine Walls Perry—she lives in Pittsburgh and is a member of our steering committee for this exhibit. She has been really helpful in us understanding the whole enterprise from the perspective of the African American operative. Lorraine, herself, is not only a descendant of an Underground Railroad operative, but she’s also a descendant of a freedom seeker on the Underground Railroad by the name of Alfred Crockett. We have put tremendous effort into uncovering obscured resources—resources that were previously hidden from common view. And we’re trying to bring all of that information to the foreground in this exhibit.”

Dr. F. J. LeMoyne’s Philanthropy

Francis Julius LeMoyne was less visible in the movement after 1850. He suffered from arthritis, and travel was increasingly painful. At this point in his life, he refocused most of his efforts on philanthropy and other social reform causes. His activities emphasized his interest in education and included establishing Washington’s first public library, currently known as Citizen’s Library. During the Civil War, he donated money to Washington College, keeping it from bankruptcy and ensuring that education continued for those who returned home. He donated $20,000 to a small seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, so that many newly freed people could go to school; it’s called LeMoyne-Owen College, even though he requested that his name be withheld. As early as 1835, he started the Washington Female Seminary so that girls, including his own daughters, could receive an equal education. (At that time, the norm was that boys went to academy, and girls studied at home.)

A small brick building with a red roof, two doors, and a headstone-type monument in front of it.

Dr. F. J. LeMoyne’s crematory; image courtesy of the WCHS.

In 1876, LeMoyne again challenged the norm by creating the LeMoyne Crematory—the first crematory in the United States and only the second in the world. He believed that cremating human remains would be more advantageous to health and sanitary conditions. He built the crematory on his own land just outside of Washington, Pennsylvania. Restoration was completed in 2020, and the LeMoyne Crematory is now also part of WCHS and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A sepia-toned image of a large colonial style home with a front entrance with columns that offers steps down to a sidewalk that runs right along the street. A second entrance to the right is less ornate and disrupts the home's symmetry.

A historic image of the LeMoyne House; image courtesy of WCHS.

Connecting the Past to the Present

Historic homes allow unique insights into a specific era. The LeMoyne House, from its inception in 1812, has been both stage and witness to history. “It has seen the construction of the National Road,” Clay said. “It has seen freedom seekers come in and out. It has seen abolitionists come here and speak. It has seen women’s suffrage movements and Susan B. Anthony here in this house. It has seen the Civil Rights Movement through the movements of today. We want to weave an entire story that tells not only of the LeMoynes, but of the struggles that people have had and how everything here fits into it—how the movements of today tie to the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist Movements of the past.”

The LeMoyne House in Washington, Pennsylvania, intertwines the articles of the house and the history of Dr. LeMoyne himself, with the context, circumstances, and rich heritage of the Western Pennsylvania region. It was honored with a competitive grant from the National Park Service’s History of Equal Rights grant program for which ten historic sites were selected in support of their preservation work and historical connection with advancing civil rights.

“Saving and restoring the house is a valuable resource to tell this story, even with its creaks, groans, and smells. The structure definitely has outgrown its capacity to effectively house and maintain historic county records and documents. Its return as a primary history museum is most welcome. Its renewal and the construction of an adjacent center for research and document storage will once again revive the interest of continuing generations to visit and appreciate the legacy of Washington as a center of our heritage,” said Sandy Mansmann.

To read more about the LeMoyne House and its role in the Underground Railroad, read this contribution by the Washington County Historical Society from this past February.

A white woman with coily hair in a blue shirt smiles in front of a white background.

Julie Silverman is a museum educator, tour facilitator, and storyteller of astronomy and history for various Pittsburgh area organizations, including Rivers of Steel.  A Chatham University 2020 MFA graduate, her writing is most often found under the by-line of JL Silverman. Occasionally, under the name of Julia, she has been seen on TV.

 

A group of young black women of a variety of ages with natural hair pose with a sign that reads "FROGANG LOT OF LOVE" with balloons on it.

Getting to Know: Shiftworks

By Blog, Getting to Know

The FroGang celebrates their Lot of Love in Beltzhoover.  Photo by Ishara Henry.

Getting to Know: Shiftworks

Getting to Know is a new column that offers an opportunity to become better acquainted with some of Rivers of Steel’s partners throughout the eight-county Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area via a series of articles featuring one of our community allies. In this article, writer Jason Vrabel examines how Shiftworks Community + Public Arts serves its mission through civically engaged public art crafted in collaboration with an array of communities, both geographic- and affinity-based, and how this work elicits stronger connections among those stakeholders.

By Jason Vrabel, on behalf of Shiftworks

Public Art + Community: Building Resilience Through Collaboration—Four Stories from the Pittsburgh Region

Let’s Eat

Dozens of community members sitting under a canopy tent discussed the handmade, colorfully painted ceramic plates on the tables—no two were the same. From a distance, the plates looked like family heirlooms. One plate was an illustrated sweet potato with instructions for how to grow one, and circling the edge of it was an anonymous quotation about the pandemic’s impact on the cost of food.

A team of servers dressed in black and white fanned out to serve the first of a three-course meal. As the guests began eating, the servers commenced the second part of their dual role—as performers.

 Whether they knew it or not, everyone was participating in Let’s Eat: Abundance, Access and Community, a public art project designed to address food insecurity. This project was led by multimedia artist Lindsey Peck Scherloum and her team, which included The Brashear Association, Inc., a nonprofit organization serving South Pittsburgh neighborhoods, as a community partner.

A multicultural group of women sit to eat together.

The Let’s Eat event. Photo by Ishara Henry.

Let’s Eat was one of four collaborative projects undertaken as part of the Public Art and Communities program (PAC), a program of Shiftworks Community + Public Arts (formerly known as Office for Public Art), in collaboration with Neighborhood Allies and the Borough of Millvale. Overseeing the program was Divya Rao Heffley, Shiftworks’ associate director, and Tamara Emswiler, senior program manager for social impact design at Neighborhood Allies. Between 2021 and 2024, PAC engaged approximately 1,000 people in creating temporary works of public art that addressed a community-defined need, such as persistent racism or social isolation, that was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Under the tent, Donathan Arnold, one of the servers-turned-performers, announced, Here are some of the words people shared when we asked them to tell us about food.”

“I’m proud when food tastes good, when I cook and people compliment me, when I’m cooking with my family. I live in Allentown,” responded another server / performer, embodying a resident who had responded to a request for statements about their relationships with food. Many similar statements followed.

A year prior, during the project’s community engagement phase, the Let’s Eat team had identified food insecurity as their theme—an issue of great importance to The Brashear Association, which operates a food pantry year-round—with the goal of reducing stigma by “celebrating food” in a communal way.

“But what about that is art?” Scherloum asked at the time. “It’s a cool idea and could not be art, but we’re going to make it art.”

And they did. Let’s Eat combined ceramics, performance, and community-inspired dishes to create an event series that was entertaining, educational, and empowering. The Brashear Association’s community engagement, combined with Neighborhood Allies’ project management, enabled the team to find consensus around conflicts that arose. It was a supporting cast, however, that included dramaturge Nick Grosso and his actors, event planner Tara Ferderber, and chef Carlos Thomas of Feed the Hood that made Scherloum’s vision a reality.

Public Art and Communities: A Program of Shiftworks, Neighborhood Allies, and the Borough of Millvale

Logo reads Shift Works Community plus Public ArtsThe PAC projects might have taken different paths toward completion, but they all followed a process designed by PAC’s Program Team and Advisory Group. Through a Call for Artists, each of the four selected community partners—The Brashear Association, Steel Smiling, Etna Community Organization / Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization, and the FroGang Foundation, Inc.—chose their artists. Primary and secondary project managers (mostly staff from Shiftworks and Neighborhood Allies) with expertise in community-based public art were assigned to support each team.

Everyone convened at Placemaking Academy, a six-week training program led by Shiftworks that introduced the newly formed teams to the work ahead. Community engagement best practices, discussions about the possibilities of what public art could be, and establishing a common urban design language were some of the topics covered. Artists then embarked on an engagement process in the communities where they would work for the next two years.

The Let’s Eat passage above and those that follow are excerpts from a report titled, “Public Art + Community: Building Resilience Through Collaboration.” Through storytelling, the report captures the personalities, struggles, and triumphs of creating public art in the Pittsburgh region.*

Black women sit at a table with flowers in a vase and appear to be working on baking something as their hands are covered in flour.

The Black Queer Affinity Series. Photo by Ishara Henry.

Black Queer Affinity Series

A walled garden on a former nineteenth-century estate in Pittsburgh’s East End was recently claimed by artist Noa Mims for anyone who was Black and Queer and wanted to participate in an experiential public art project. In collaboration with Steel Smiling, a nonprofit organization committed to Black mental health, Mims created the Black Queer Affinity Series, a three-part project that incorporated group yoga sessions, social gatherings, and ceramics into a creative healing process centered on Black Queer mental health.

All public art needs space. Like murals and sculptures needing walls or plots of land, events need to happen somewhere. Mims had studio space for the ceramics workshops they wanted to incorporate, but where would they find—in Pittsburgh—an indoor space for a group of Black Queer people to come together and engage around shared mental health experiences?

Knowing that Black-run spaces accommodating of large groups were scarce in Pittsburgh, Mims said, “At a certain point in time, I stopped looking at it as a challenge and started looking at it as an initiative to carve out space within the city for us to exist, to gather, to find community. Curating that kind of experience came down to, ‘How can I make everyone comfortable with this thing that normally doesn’t get to happen?’”

Mims’ needing to create space where none existed highlights current cultural realities of the Pittsburgh region that no single project or organization can change outright. But cities are made up of communities, which can change and also effect change. The Black Queer Affinity Series impacted Steel Smiling and a segment of the city’s Black population in ways big and small, but it also raised questions about the nature of Pittsburgh communities—how they’re defined, how they’re created, and how they’re sustained.

“Sometimes community isn’t where we are; it’s who we’re with, what we’re doing, what we’re talking about, and how we show up for each other,” Courtney Abegunde, Steel Smiling’s operations director, said. “Many people don’t feel like a part of the community they live in.”

“Communities have been self-identifying for millennia,” Divya Rao Heffley, a project manager for the Black Queer Affinity Series said. “Communities can be place-based but can also transcend place. The Shiftworks approach is to ask communities, ‘How do you define yourself, and then how can we support that?’”

Along with their project team, Mims organized twenty-one events. Their goal of confronting social isolation through togetherness for Black Queer people was achieved and, in doing so, revealed the persistent struggles unique to Black residents of the Pittsburgh area.

“People were able to come together,” Mims said. “For folks who had been isolated for quite some time, it was really refreshing to say, ‘I’m not alone with these experiences that I’m facing.’ That was a huge success in and of itself: You’re not alone; you’re isolated. And that takes active engagement to counteract. That’s where the success lies—in breaking down that isolation.”

A white man listens to a black man standing by a freestanding window like structure.

Artist Jason McKoy, right, discusses his We Are Windows installation, 2023. Photo by Ishara Henry.

We Are Windows

The similar mill town histories of Etna and Sharpsburg have led them on similarly innovative post-mill town journeys toward becoming sustainable communities. Sitting side by side along the Allegheny River, these two communities seem too alike to be separate boroughs.

Community leadership has enabled the kind of collaboration needed to further long-term community goals for both boroughs, including investing in public art. As the executive director of Etna Community Organization (ECO) and a member of Etna Borough Council, Megan Tuñón said she originally envisioned pursuing a “traditional” public art project through PAC.

“I came into it thinking we were going to do something like a mural, but it turned out to be so much more than that,” she said.

 Sharpsburg’s mayor, Brittany Reno, who was executive director of the Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization (SNO) at the time, said that artist Jason McKoy’s “tech-based, out-of-the-box” art was just what these communities needed. Being accepted as co-applicants into the PAC program, ECO and SNO collaborated on a public art project unlike any other in the region. We Are Windows, the project undertaken by McKoy, demonstrated how innovative public art can facilitate, or provoke, civic engagement in unexpected ways.

While all PAC teams needed to respond to the pandemic in some way, McKoy would have the added challenge of working in two municipalities simultaneously. Early on, he found the longstanding rivalry (a “beef,” he called it in jest) between Etna and Sharpsburg amusing, but he respected each community’s autonomy and identity. With personal interaction limited by the pandemic, McKoy used postcards to solicit input about the issues the communities wanted to address. The response showed two boroughs speaking with one voice.

“What was coming directly from the community was isolation, isolation, isolation,” McKoy said. Both places experiencing the same thing became the impetus to create “one work of art that would knit the communities together, instead of pursuing two separate projects.”

McKoy’s concept featured electronic “windows” that “looked” from one borough into the other. Placed in publicly accessible locations, digital screens (think vertical flat-screen TVs) displayed multiple video feeds from cameras placed in the corresponding community—kind of like a group Zoom call, featuring places more than faces.

An online forum held to discuss We Are Windows brought about mixed reactions. Privacy and possible “surveillance” were central to community concerns. As a project manager for We Are Windows, Derek Reese, Shiftworks’ program manager for artist services, said real community engagement allows for these kinds of issues to arise.

“We don’t steer away from controversy. We don’t try to sanitize situations,” he said.

Noting that “compromise is the only way to get things done,” Reno said candid neighborhood discussions led to a scaled-back version that satisfied the communities’ privacy concerns.

Reflecting on the community-based approach to creating art, Tuñón said We Are Windows was valuable to her as a community leader who wants to invest in more public art. “I appreciate how innovative [this project] is, and that it aligns with how we see ourselves as a community … We want to do innovative things moving forward.”

Reno added, “This process challenged us and definitely led to me feeling more cognizant of the fact that the entire process is art, the reaction is part of the art.”

McKoy, who has historically sought an element of disruption in his art, anticipated some resistance to We Are Windows. When asked if his project shifted public awareness about cameras in the public realm, he said, “I want to say yes, even if only an increment.”

About the project’s impact on public perception about art, he said, “In places where art isn’t in the forefront . . . part of my job is to change people’s minds, or at least make them think deeper and more critically about what art can even be. I believe—I hope—I accomplished that.”

A mural on panels affixed to a brick building with a blue background that features representations of black women with natural hair and inspirational quotes.

The FroGang Mural in the Lot of Love in Beltzhoover. Photo by Ishara Henry.

FroFully Connected

On a grassy parcel in Beltzhoover known as the FroGang Lot of Love, dozens of guests arrived for FroGang’s long-awaited mural dedication ceremony. Several event-day hiccups kept them waiting, but Kelli Shakur, FroGang’s founder and CEO, was unfazed.

“There were a lot of challenges that could have deterred the whole mood and atmosphere,” Shakur said afterward, “but instead, because of the love of FroGang and the love of what’s going on on that lot, people stayed. That’s what the Lot of Love is all about: bringing people together and turning things that should be bad into good.”

FroGang Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote positive self-image for Black girls by celebrating natural Black hair and culture. The Lot of Love is a modest-sized lot of outsized importance that FroGang had been seeking to adopt and enliven as an outdoor center for activities and events. Shakur’s organization had long-envisioned a mural that would commemorate the Lot of Love when it’s in use, and claim the space for FroGang when it’s not. Through PAC, artist Rell Rushin created Frofully Connected, a mural celebrating Black girls and women, painted on large panels designed to be installed on the brick facade of an adjacent building.

Rushin’s artwork, as big-hearted and unafraid as FroGang’s mission, was completed on time, but its installation was held up by onerous city regulations for more than eight months. Frofully Connected is a story of the unwavering determination of an artist who was new to public art and a community organization with a vision.

Rushin began attending FroGang’s recurring Successful Sister Sessions as an observer at first, later as a participant. While conceptualizing what the artwork would be, she was struck by one activity in particular: girls reciting affirmations—positive statements about themselves that they had written in journals—while looking into self-decorated, handheld mirrors. She was moved by seeing them “loving themselves and each other and causing no harm by judging or being cruel.”

The latter is learned behavior, Rushin said, and “seeing them unlearn that was really cool.”

Rushin’s bold color palette and her figurative illustrations of Black girls and women were influenced by the FroGrang girls, whom the artist acknowledged when signing the artwork. The 32’ x 8’ mural accomplished the initial goal of claiming the land for FroGang, but it’s the text accompanying the images that directly speaks the goals of confronting racism and replacing feelings of isolation with belonging:

WE ARE WHO THE WORLD FEARS, BLACK GIRLS LIVE HERE.

Rushin’s smooth journey (her first) through the city’s Public Art and Design Commission  helped her grow as an artist, but even with the help of an architect, engineers, project managers, and a professional sign installer, countless delays throughout the permitting and zoning phases kept her mural grounded.

“If we were struggling—a whole team of people—to get this mural up, what would this process look like if I wasn’t working with Shiftworks? There would’ve been no chance of my artwork getting out there,” Rushin said.

Almost nine months later, the Frofully Connected mural is finally out there.

Five black people practice yoga in a park

Artist Noa Mims Steel Smiling series seeks to bridge the gap between Black people and mental health support through education, advocacy and awareness. Photo by Ishara Henry, 2023.

Place Matters

There is a strong sense that public art, over time, belongs to more than whoever commissioned it, created it, or owns the deed for the land upon which the artwork resides. By intention or accident, public art invariably becomes part of the public realm in ways that can’t easily be measured. Created by many hands, public art belongs to many people.

If public art is to be an effective means of addressing inequality, it must confront the complex environments where it is placed. Launched during the greatest health crisis in a century, PAC shifted collective and individual perspectives by directly confronting root causes of persistent racism, stigmatization, and social isolation. PAC’s final artworks will be temporary, but the aesthetic experiences produced by them and the processes that created them will endure.

###

To learn more about the people and processes behind these four transformative works in the Pittsburgh region, please read the publication Public Art + Community: Building Resilience Through Collaboration, also written by Jason Vrabel on behalf of Shiftworks.

* The excerpts above have minor modifications to reflect the style guidelines and writing conventions of Rivers of Steel. No substantive changes have been made that reflect the content or intent of the original author. 

About Shiftworks

Shiftworks Community + Public Arts envisions a region in which the creative practices of artists are fully engaged to collaboratively shape the public realm and catalyze community-led change. Shiftworks builds capacity for this work through civically engaged public art, artist resources, public programming, and technical assistance.

If you’d like to learn more about Shiftworks, read about their transformation in this article by Sallyann Kluz and Ashley Anderson, Art. Works.

A blacksmith hammers on an anvil.

Event Preview: The 2024 Hammer-In Festival

By Blog

A blacksmith demonstration at the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop for the Hammer-In Festival.

The 2024 Hammer-In Festival

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

Step back in time to the age of blacksmiths and local machine shops at the annual Hammer-In Festival in Greene County, about an hour south of Pittsburgh. Set in the charming town of Rices Landing, overlooking a rural stretch of the Monongahela River, the festival takes place in and around the wonderfully restored W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop. The event traditionally happens the third Saturday of April and promises something for everyone.

the interior of the facitily showing the machines in the shop and the line shaft system

The interior of the front shop, featuring the machines and the line shaft system. Image by Richard Kelly Photography.

“This is a must-see attraction! And it’s surprising in this quiet neighborhood to have this amazing marker of our industrial heritage,” says Greene County Tourism Director JoAnne Marshall.

Approaching the 123-year-old shop with its red-barn clapboard exterior, the clang of hammers on anvils greets the ears. Tristate area blacksmiths will be demonstrating their artistry for the public to enjoy inside this National Historic Landmark. Metal casting, copper working, and a tour of the facility and its machines are also part of the experience, along with an auction, food, and a first-ever local crafts market.

“The Hammer-In has been going for 36 years (with two years off during COVID times),” T.J. Porfeli, Rivers of Steel’s historic site coordinator, explained. “It’s a rare chance to have access to blacksmiths. Here you’re surrounded by multiple blacksmiths with a variety of skill sets.”

Blacksmiths from Pittsburgh Area Artist Blacksmiths Association (PAABA) and the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association (ABA) will be crafting things such as hooks, kitchen utensils, animal and botanical forms, and more. A different smith will demonstrate every hour, taking questions, and describing this age-old process of heating and hammering iron into versatile, attractive, and functional items. It is a chance for craftsmen to meet and collaborate with one another, as well as to offer their skills for public hire. The event has become an immersive and educational way to keep the trade of blacksmithing alive and evolving.

A blacksmith works in front of a crowd.

A small crowd observes a blacksmithing demonstration during the 2023 Hammer-In Festival.

Chris Holt, secretary and editor of PAABA, who is also a blacksmith, describes the fascination of watching her fellow artisans at work: “Instead of mass-produced stuff, people like to see the beauty of hand-crafted items. And if we don’t teach and use this skill, we’re going to lose it.”

The blacksmiths will also present some of their original craftworks that day at a public auction during the festival.

“There will be hooting and hollering as the auctioneer engages the public to open up their wallets to benefit the site,” says Porfeli. “There’s always amazing stuff there.”

Proceeds of the auction will go to PAABA and ABA and toward the continuing restoration of this local treasure—efforts led by Rivers of Steel after taking ownership of the unique facility in 2008. Funds from Save America’s Treasures and four Keystone Historic Preservation Construction grants helped restore the building itself.

A red clapboard building with dozes of six-over-six windows.

The restored exterior of the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop, Rices Landing, PA. Photo by Richard Kelly Photography.

Ron Baraff, director of historic resources and facilities for Rivers of Steel, elaborates: “We have been able to replace the roof and repair the gutters and clapboard walls and windows and stabilize the building. If you lose that shell, you lose everything.”

“There is no other site like it, in terms of beauty of place and being completely untouched, and that’s largely because—and this is a good thing—it’s on the way to nowhere, in this cute little hamlet where time stood still,” Baraff shares. He goes on to say that the machines themselves were well maintained by the Young family and subsequent owners while the shop was open. “It’s also fortunate that it had and will continue to have neighbors and volunteers who are really interested in preserving and protecting this site. They’ve kept an eye on it for many years.”

Young & Sons is the nation’s last of the “small job” machine and metal-working shops that once supported local communities and industry. Before the early twentieth-century move to mass-production machining facilities, workers at Young & Sons would repair and make replacement parts for anything from bikes and automobiles to steamboat, coal mine, and small factory equipment. Unlike other such shops around the country, Young’s did not upgrade its late-1800s technology, except to switch its power sources over the decades—from steam to Bessemer gas to electricity. A period-accurate Bessemer engine will be on display at the event.

“This place is the epitome of being like the workers went to lunch and never came back,” according to Baraff. “Everything is just like it was when the last machine was turned off and more: every invoice was there, every chewed pencil. Everything was preserved, even the hardware store upstairs with all the little drawers and screws and bolts.”

A multigeneration family tours the machine shop as a guide demonstrates how a machine works.

A family tours the Machine Shop during the 2023 Hammer-In.

The Young & Sons interior is both quaint and impressive, with its twenty-five line shaft-driven machines that fill the front shop, animated by a web of pulleys and belts that whirl and dance when switched on to run the old drill presses, lathes, pipe and bolt threaders, and milling machines. Currently, a lawnmower engine powers the entire system of functional machines.

Chris Holt reflects: “To see it all oiled and moving and gracefully doing its task . . . it’s amazing.  It’s a whole ballet of machines happening in unison!”

The floor of the forge room is earthen, to prevent fire from flying metal sparks and the small smithing furnaces in the past. It makes a perfect setting for modern-day blacksmiths to ply their old-time trade.

The fact that time has not touched this gem of a workshop, which opened in 1900 and shut down in 1965, has been an asset for Greene County and all those who love industrial history and nostalgia in general. It has become a meaningful backdrop for the visiting blacksmiths, too.

“Other than how people are dressed, it could all be seventy, eighty years ago. The sounds, the sights, the smells. The volunteers and blacksmiths—they’ve breathed new life into this intimate space,” observes Baraff.

Chris Holt agrees: “The whole environment, the river, the machines. You can just imagine a paddle wheeler coming up the river, docking to get parts repaired. It’s this amazing frozen spot in time. It has to be seen to be believed!”

Three metal workers in leather protective gear pour molten aluminum into a mold.

A moment from an aluminum pour demonstration during the 2023 Hammer-In Festival.

Rounding out the Hammer-In experience will be a first for the festival: a copper raising demonstration (hammering flat sheets of metal to create a vessel or tools) paired with the popular molten aluminum pour demonstration. Spearheaded by T.J. Porfeli, there will also be a first-ever makers’ marketplace, where local craftspeople will display their goods for sale to the public. The Boy Scouts will be selling food, and proceeds will benefit their organization.

“This place contributed to the economy of the region, and it’s still here and doing that,” says JoAnne Marshall. “I make sure I attend every year. You just never see blacksmithing like this. And then the crafts and the people . . . it just makes for a wonderful day.”

This family-friendly event happens on April 20, 2024. It is free to the public, and donations are always appreciated. Festivities begin at 9:00 a.m., with a welcoming ceremony at noon, followed by the auction at 1:00 p.m. and an aluminum pour. Don’t miss this opportunity to watch the past come alive!

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out Lynne’s previous article on the Intercollegiate Iron Pour.

Three people in protective leather gear pour molten iron into molds while four more watch.

The Inaugural Intercollegiate Iron Pour

By Blog

Coral Penelope Lambert works with five students to pour iron from a smaller ladle while two more students observe during last Saturday’s inaugural Intercollegiate Iron Pour at the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

The Inaugural Intercollegiate Iron Pour

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

With Carrie’s majestic Blast Furnace #6 towering behind them, thirty college students and mentoring artists gathered on a brisk March weekend to pour their own iron creations and forge ongoing connections among the metal arts community.

Rivers of Steel’s first Intercollegiate Iron Pour drew students from Carnegie Mellon University, Alfred University in New York, Shepherd University in West Virginia, SUNY Cortland in New York, Seton Hill Greensburg, Chicago Art Institute, and NYU, who were joined by seasoned Rivers of Steel staff and alumni from past iron-pouring events hosted at the National Historic Landmark. Suited up in protective leather aprons and chaps, spats, boots, gloves, masks, and safety glasses, the students put their faces near the fire for a one-of-a-kind encounter with iron casting, sharing their passion for working with this challenging but captivating medium.

A group photo of 27 people in leathers, hard hats and uplifted masks posed on the pour floor with mold in front of them and the furnace behind them.

The crew of the first Intercollegiate Iron Pour.

“It’s just brilliant,” said Alfred University’s Coral Penelope Lambert, professor of sculpture dimensional studies and director of the National Casting Center Foundry. “This place is a sacred site, almost like Stonehenge. The grounds we walked on have this spirit of the industrial past, and that is a really rich thing for artists.” Lambert has been coming to Carrie since 2017, and her own work, called Gushers, was cast on site and now permanently graces the Iron Garden on the eastern side of the landmark site. For this pilot intercollegiate pour, she brought one undergrad and one graduate student from Alfred’s School of Art and Design, Sculpture Dimensional Studies Division, plus two Alfred alumni.

A small group in hard hats stand in a garden area not yet in bloom.

Chris McGinnis, Rivers of Steel’s director of arts, leads students through the Iron Garden. Coral Lambert’s sculpture is visible to the right of Chris.

“The ‘big sell’ here is you’re going to meet people who will become part of your network after college. It shows what can happen outside of academia and in the future,” Lambert continued.

Josiah Shuman, a junior studying Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, brought nine fellow engineering students to the event; eight are members of a group he founded, called The CMU Forge Club. Shuman and his friends started with an interest in learning how to create sword and knife blades, and Josiah has been to the Carrie Blast Furnaces for blacksmithing workshops. But, he pointed out, he and his colleagues are more steeped in metallurgical theory, as well as research in such technologies as electronic high-density storage materials and capacitors. Most of them had never witnessed this centuries-old technology—a glowing mass of molten iron smelted and poured.

“It was truly awesome,” said Shuman, “and when it sparked, the staff yelled ‘Turtle!’ and you hunch up your shoulders and tuck your face mask in to protect yourself.”

“Everyone working with the students was so organized and enthusiastic and so helpful,” Shuman continued. “Engineers, and I guess a lot of artists, are really kinda shy and not really outgoing types, but as soon as you make connections, you go out of your way to talk to others at this event, which was a little out of our comfort zone. But I think we’ll maintain a lot of these relationships in the future.”

Five people in protective gear pour iron from a large ladle into resin-bonded sand molds.

The crew pours iron from the primary ladle.

Building a community in the metal arts is the Pour’s primary objective. Chris McGinnis, Rivers of Steel’s director of arts, explains the inspiration behind this new event: “Rivers of Steel is part of a small but fierce community of people who are passionate about metal casting. And we want to grow that community to more people outside of that fray, to get students excited about metal and the trades and handwork, and share the history of Carrie that they may not know about.”

Carrie provides a truly unique experience for students of metal arts, where 300 to 500 pounds of iron can be melted and poured. The portable furnace used for the event is a scale version of the two giant early twentieth-century blast furnaces that dominate the site, providing a setting unlike any commercial or university campus foundry.

Rivers of Steel has hosted public pours at Carrie, including at the Festival of Combustion and an Iron Casting Spectator Event, but this is the first program focused specifically for university-level students to give them a sense of the history of iron-making in this region and to keep interest and these time-honored technical skills alive.

The scaled-down furnace at this pour is named “Bumblepig” and was designed and built by two of Coral Lambert’s past students, Paige Henry and Kay Dartt. While both are artists, Henry is now Rivers of Steel’s metal arts technician, and Dartt is a professor of art at Shepherd University. Ed Parrish, the metal arts coordinator for Rivers of Steel, who organized and supervised this event, elaborates: “Her full name is Frannie van Bumblepig [local blast furnaces were traditionally named after women from prominent mill families], and she’s an intermittent cupola-style furnace, which means we plug a tap hole with clay, and when the well is full of molten metal, you tap out 300 pounds. We poured a total of about 3,000 pounds of iron at this event.”

The iron is all recycled scrap from such things as old bathtubs, brake rotors, or radiators, combined with limestone and coking coal, heated by propane and then forced air. It duplicates, in scale, the same process that the Carrie Furnaces employed from 1907 through 1978, with the exception that hematite and taconite (iron ore pellets) were used rather than scrap iron.

Experienced artists and those seeing iron poured for the first time all got an up-close, hands-on experience, whether suiting up and actually poking the tap hole and ladling the 2,500-degree liquid iron, or standing by with essential tools.

Three students in leathers mug for the camera, while a fourth is unaware of the photographer.

Students prepared to participate in the pour.

“All those who wanted to were given a chance to pour,” Parrish said. “It’s hard work, and it’s a team process. Very orchestrated and controlled. But everyone is generally in awe because it’s very dramatic; there’s a natural theater to this process.” The molten iron was poured into resin, sand-packed molds that many of the students premade and brought with them.

Along with the spectacular visual elements, there was the steady hum of people communicating during the intricate process, the clang of pulley chains as the ladle was hoisted, the hiss of sparks, and the bang-bang as cooled metal was knocked off the poke-hole lance. It was all a faint reminder of the heat, glowing skies, and steady noise that emanated from the massive furnaces #6 and #7 at Carrie, along with up to 1,250 tons of iron daily that each of those two produced in their heyday . . . the entire site produced up to 9,000 tons a day!

A sculpture of three hands, two are silver and one is dark.

Stay, 2023, aluminum and bronze, by Clark Clark of Shepherd University.

In addition to the big pour on Saturday, students also participated in a pop-up suitcase exhibition on Friday, where they shared “suitcase-sized” works they had created at their schools or studios. Displayed on 55-gallon drum pedestals inside the AC Power House on the grounds of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, there were a variety of cast metal pieces, sculptures, and even a work in neon.

Participants also had a chance to make their own Doodle Bowl, a popular workshop offered at Carrie where molten metal is poured into small molds that can be custom designed by carving out shapes and patterns in a preformed resin bowl. For this premier student event, the bowls were cast in iron, rather than the usual aluminum used during The Doodle Bowl Experience, the publicly offered version of the workshop.

Josiah Shuman and his fellow CMU students cast preformed 4×4-inch tiles as well as the Doodle Bowls. “As engineers, we were laughing, like, ‘We have to get creative now!’ But it was a great chance to explore our artistic side that engineering doesn’t always allow.”

Ed Parrish adds, “Teaching creativity no matter what your field is can be one of the most important things in your toolbox. There’s always a give-and-take with the students, too. I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

Participants were also given a tour of the Carrie grounds and part of furnace #6. Shuman, who had been to a Rivers of Steel’s Blacksmithing Basics: Hooks and Hairpins program in the past, gained even more insight from this event: “Before this weekend, I knew little of iron and steelmaking in Pittsburgh. [On the tour], you could imagine yourself as one of these iron makers decades ago all day, every day, year after year, pouring heaps of hot metal. You feel small next to those furnaces.”

A group of nine people in hard hats pose for a photo in an industrial setting.

Chris McGinnis, left, led the students through the historic furnaces. Here, they posed for a photo on the stove deck.On Sunday, once the molten iron had sufficiently cooled overnight, Rivers of Steel’s metal arts staff and crew broke the students’ cast pieces out of their molds. The works ranged from very intricate, lacy designs to solid mountain-like forms. “They came out perfect,” said Coral Lambert, who helped with this final stage.

A gloved hand holds an iron heart.

An anatomical heart was one of the items cast.

For mentors like Lambert, the Intercollegiate Iron Pour goes well beyond academics and what can be learned in a classroom. “This is just a melting pot of information that you can be part of and can help shape it for the future. It’s not just the technical stuff, but the important interactions and relationships created.”

Students like Josiah Shuman hope to return to Carrie to work again with staff and other artists. “I’d love to do more of these pours and see what other collaborations—like even a bladesmithing workshop—could come out of it.”

“The connections sparked at this event will serve these artists and engineers well as they complete their schooling and pursue their careers,” said Chris McGinnis. “We hope to see them all again soon!”

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out the metal arts programs offered by Rivers of Steel.

A black and white image of a lanky, blond woman in jeans, a denim shirt and boots, next to an image of her book cover for Heartland that mostly shows sky with a bit of flat plains a the bottom of the image.

A Literary Look—Heartland: A Memoir

By A Literary Look, Blog

Sarah Smarsh by Paul Andrews and the cover of her memoir Heartland.

A Literary Look at Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

A Literary Look is an occasional series that features recommended reads from the Rivers of Steel staff. For Women’s History Month, Dr. Kirsten L. Paine, our site management coordinator and interpretive specialist, introduces us to Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh. The One Book Community Read selection  provides a foundation for discussion of working class challenges in Pittsburgh, Homestead, and neighboring communities.

By Dr. Kirsten L. Paine

This past September I had the opportunity to read Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, by journalist, political commentator, and writing professor Sarah Smarsh. Her 2018 memoir was selected for the Community College of Allegheny County’s (CCAC’s) 2023 – 2024 One Book Community Read program. It is a bit of a departure from my usual fare because it is contemporary and was written by someone who is not only alive but close to my own age.

For someone who reads mostly nineteenth-century American literature written by people who are very much not alive, I was drawn by Sarah Smarsh’s deep engagement with the immediacy of her own life as a child in rural Kansas. In mapping her family’s history as farmers in flyover country, Smarsh narrates generational struggles stuck in cycles of poverty. She highlights her family as an example of the ravaged working class left behind by years of harmful public policy. While grappling with how popular social engagements consider “white trash” as celebratory, beleaguered, stereotyped, and as a lived-in identity, Smarsh treats her life and own search for identity with gentleness and works through feelings of disposability in a world where people far too often see themselves as inconsequential.

I couldn’t help but consider her experience through my own lens, growing up in rural western New York. If someone drove through town on a breezy summer day, they might find the villages and hamlets nestled in gently rolling hills rather quaint. It took twenty years and several out-of-state moves for me to understand why folks took to an environment that felt so isolating to the adolescent version of me, but now I can see some charm in the bucolic idyll despite being aware that sometimes charm is performative.

I did not understand the real conditions of rural poverty. I did not understand deprivation. I did not understand insecurity. I think I observed these experiences from a distance and tacitly understood that other people I knew had very different lives than mine. Proximity meant familiarity—perhaps a kinship—but simply living around rural poverty did not substitute for intimate knowledge of its tolls, risks, and demands on a person, family, or community.

Regardless, I left as soon as I graduated high school. Twenty years later, I find myself here in Pittsburgh, deeply immersed in historic preservation work in postindustrial communities. Our contributions to revitalization efforts throughout southwestern Pennsylvania help nurture towns and villages that, in an increasingly postindustrial twenty-first century, look a lot like the one in which I grew up.

Considering Labor

In my role at Rivers of Steel, the legacy of labor and the industrial working class are daily considerations.  The throughline in Heartland that made me think the most was the way working class bodies appear on the page. Smarsh writes about women and labor as though they are one and the same—as though there can be no concept of womanhood that exists without the primary usefulness of the body as an object that can perform labor. Smarsh also handily doubles the meaning of “labor,” as it stands for the body at work and the body in childbirth. She writes, “Our bodies were born into hard labor. To people who Grandma Betty would say “never had to lift a finger,” that might sound like something to be pitied. But there was a beautiful efficacy to it—form in constant physical function with little energy left over” (Smarsh 44). And just as women’s bodies are inextricably linked to “labor,” she observes, “the person who drives a garbage truck may himself be viewed as trash. The worse danger is not the job itself but the devaluing of those who do it” (45). A laboring person inevitably becomes their task, and that in and of itself is indeed a dangerous way to think, because once a person becomes their job in that their job is their body’s primary function, they cease to appear human at all.

Later in the chapter entitled “The Body of a Poor Girl,” Smarsh writes about how “physical markers of our place and class were so normal and constant, from my vantage, that I never thought to question them: the deep, black bruises ever-present beneath my dad’s fingernails, the smoker’s rattle in Grandma Betty’s lungs, the dentures she’d had since her late twenties, the painful sunburns I sometimes got on my young corneas working outside against a hard slant of light” (82). If a body exists only as a body instead of a whole person, then the pain of intense physical labor is the world’s only indication that the body is even alive.

When I read or listen to stories of steelworkers in Pittsburgh, I hear the same refrain. There is a regional shorthand for “steelworker” to describe the bodies of men and women laboring in billowing mills. One of the tour guides, Keith Clouse, at the Carrie Blast Furnaces often talks about his own experiences as a steelworker. He tells rapt audiences his story and talks about heat exhaustion, burn scars, and the bone-deep sense that “steelworker” is an embodied identity. Working class meant working, and working was good. When someone asks Clouse if he would do it all over again, he answers, “Yes. In a heartbeat.” In some ways, I hear this sentiment echo in the way Smarsh writes, “I feel enriched rather than diminished for having lived it” (44).

Books Beyond the Classroom

When Carmen Livingston, Professor of English at the Community College of Allegheny County, asked me to represent Rivers of Steel as a community partner for the duration of the 2023 – 2024 One Book Community Read program, I jumped at the chance to engage with a modern piece of life writing. I wanted to participate for a number of reasons, but I especially wanted to see literature in action—on campus, at home, in town—as both a point of reflection and identification, and as a blueprint for the possibilities of widespread public engagement.

I sat down with Livingston to talk about her accomplishments with the program this year (as well as hopes for a new slate of projects next year), and she immediately honed in on the project’s interdisciplinarity. She said, “It’s a way for us to do American history and literature in a different way by reaching towards connections that feel real and authentic for our students. We could showcase student work through audio recordings, podcasts, oral histories, personal essays, and theatrical productions.”

I asked her why she ultimately chose Heartland as the vehicle for all of these student projects. Livingston remarked, “This was the book that spoke to the region the most. It speaks to how geography can sometimes limit you and offers possibilities for different kinds of communities to solve ongoing regional problems. Because part of what Smarsh is doing is addressing the failures of a ‘get out to survive’ mentality. What happens when you don’t want to leave . . . when you want to invest in your community? We have in this region a population that hasn’t, can’t, and doesn’t want to ‘just move on.’”

By highlighting student-centered narratives and creative writing projects in their yearlong study, Livingston’s class put Heartland in conversation with their own personal stories about classism, racism, poverty, addiction, and teen pregnancy. Livingston also wanted to ensure that her students’ work did not exist in a vacuum. Community partnerships outside of the classroom bolster the success of the Community Read initiative.

I also spoke with a frequent Rivers of Steel community partner, Emily Kubincanek, program coordinator at the Carnegie Library of Homestead. I asked her why she wanted her Homestead library community to read this book. She said, “It puts into words what many of the Homestead [communities] live with and probably don’t have the opportunity to think about in the way Sarah Smarsh does. Smarsh does a great job at balancing her personal perspective and the larger issues at hand in our country. Everyone could benefit from thinking critically about why being poor in America is so widespread and generational, but people in this area should especially. Her family’s experience losing their career in farming is very similar to the loss of steel mill jobs here, and I think many readers here would see that.”

I appreciated Kubincanek’s point in drawing an explicit connection between the conditions of poverty in rural America and the struggles many former mill towns in the Monongahela River Valley have faced in the last fifty years.

Tangible Community Connections Through Books

Conversation is the driving force of the ongoing partnership between the Carnegie Library of Homestead and CCAC. In addition to having free copies of Heartland available for library patrons, the library and CCAC cohosted a public discussion of the book. I attended this discussion as one of the panelists and enjoyed talking with folks about how Smarsh’s frank depictions of generational poverty reflect many of the conditions found in our own neighborhoods. People talked about access to resources like well-funded public schools and reliable transportation options as key factors in long-lasting feelings of isolation. Some participants talked about seeing the genuine desire of young people to be good and do good and expressed concern that the pressures of modern life might compromise or otherwise thwart their efforts. Everyone in the room thought Heartland would be worth discussing in a high school classroom, while also remarking on the quality of the writing and storytelling.

Our discussion returned several times to a core question: what can we do to help young people up and down the Mon Valley create opportunities that might actually allow them to not only benefit from economic revitalization efforts but also make strong and stable homes in a community? We returned again and again to some variation on the idea of what a postindustrial community could look like.

Rivers of Steel works with many libraries throughout the National Heritage Area, and we often advocate for creating meaningful community connections through reading. These efforts align with the goals of CCAC’s One Book Community Read program. I wanted to know more about how Heartland could be a means of bringing classroom discussion and community partnerships together. Additionally, I wanted to explore how Heartland brings together diverse audiences and creates opportunities for dialogue. Kubincanek discussed the necessary role public libraries play in sustaining communities, particularly poor rural communities that often struggle to maintain access to necessary resources. She says that through Smarsh, there’s a realization that “public libraries are not available for many rural families like they are here in our community.” She reflected that while neighbors “have barriers with transportation and scheduling like everywhere else in the country,” there is potential for a book like Heartland to be “a jumping off point for a conversation about what libraries can do for low-income people in a more urban community like [Homestead].”

When I asked both Kubincanek and Livingston about their favorite parts of Heartland, they both reflected on finding the moments of beauty and hope in hardship—that it is possible to break and heal from cycles of abuse and neglect, and that such instances of beauty are to be treasured. For me, I revisit the end of Smarsh’s memoir where she offers readers a final deconstruction of “The American Dream” as a “ghost haunting our way of thinking” rather than “a sacred contract worth signing toward some future,” where an oft-repeated ideal takes the form of a spector (288). In its place she offers the possibility that “what holds society together in a lasting way isn’t a calculated trade involving sacrifice, currency, and power—a wobbly claim that you get what you work for—but something more like a never-ending spiral of gifts” (288).

Dr. Kirsten L. Paine is an educator and researcher with more than a decade of experience working in higher education. She started working for Rivers of Steel in 2017 as a tour guide at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark and was inspired by the mission to preserve such a national treasure held in public trust. Kirsten is committed to the work of public humanities education in her role as Site Management Coordinator and Interpretive Specialist. By creating and facilitating public programs that make the National Heritage Area’s history come alive for the community, she believes in archival study and teaching from primary sources as vital community resources.

Enjoy Dr. Kirsten L. Paine’s article? Read another story from the A Literary Look series.

A sepia-toned image of a large colonial style home with a front entrance with columns that offers steps down to a sidewalk that runs right along the street. A second entrance to the right is less ornate and disrupts the home's symmetry.

The Underground Railroad in Southwestern Pennsylvania

By Blog

Washington County Historical Society’s LeMoyne House represents an important part of southwestern Pennsylvania’s rich history. The National Park Service states that the LeMoyne House is one of six NPS-recognized Underground Railroad sites in Pennsylvania—and it is the only one of these six located west of the Allegheny Mountains.

The Underground Railroad in Southwestern Pennsylvania

Guest Contribution by Washington County Historical Society

Every year, Black History Month invites us to view the tapestry of American history a little differently— through the lens of the African-American experience. While we rightly celebrate Black excellence in familiar fields—from business and academia to the arts, sports, and modern era civil rights activism—it also offers an occasion to explore lesser known stories. One such narrative is the pivotal role African Americans played in the formation of our nation’s first civil rights movement: abolitionism and its practical arm—the Underground Railroad.

Free Black Communities, Religion, and the Origins of the Underground Railroad

In the decade following the War of 1812, free Black communities began to lay the tracks of what later became the Underground Railroad. To understand how these communities helped initiate the Underground Railroad in southwestern Pennsylvania, one must look back to colonial times. Settlers from Maryland and Virginia brought enslaved individuals to the region, and while slavery did not take root as firmly in Pennsylvania as in other colonies, its presence loomed large, particularly in pre-revolutionary Westmoreland County (from which the counties of Washington, Fayette, Allegheny, Somerset, and Greene were later formed). In this way, African Americans were among the earliest settlers and contributed significantly to the early economic growth of the area.

Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery

A yellowed with age document written in formal script.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s “Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery” was adopted in 1780.

The age of slavery in Pennsylvania began to recede in 1780 with the passage of the “Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery,” heralding a new era of hope for enslaved African Americans. Though not an immediate emancipation decree, the Act ensured that future generations would be born into freedom, marking a significant step toward the eventual abolition of slavery in Pennsylvania. Children born after the passage of the Act became the first generation to gain full freedom in the years prior to the War of 1812. Additionally, some enslaved people born prior to the Act’s adoption would ultimately attain their freedom in Pennsylvania through individual emancipations or through legal challenges of an enslaver’s compliance with the Act. Thus, painfully slow as it was, slavery’s ultimate demise in Pennsylvania was set into motion.

Religion Aides Community Organization

Religion had served as a cornerstone of Black communities, offering solace and solidarity amidst the trials of slavery. During the 1780s, Baptist and Methodist churches began to draw the religious interest of many African Americans. As years passed, especially within Methodism, unresolved issues of slavery and inequality began to divide some of these congregations—and Black congregants began considering alternatives. In Philadelphia, the first African Americans left St. George’s Methodist Church in 1787 to form independent congregations offering a path to spiritual autonomy and equality. One of these became Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded by Rev. Richard Allen in 1794. By 1816, Rev. Allen and others led the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church conference as an entirely independent denomination. Within a few short years, the influence of this new A.M.E. denomination grew and attracted attention in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In Washington County, a local Black barber and Methodist class leader named George Boler wrote to A.M.E. leaders in Philadelphia in 1818 requesting support in formating a new Black congregation in Washington, PA. Rev. David Smith of the A.M.E. church came west in 1820 to help Boler complete this effort. With Rev. Smith’s support, George Boler led a concerted exodus of Black congregants out of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington and into a new society that would later become St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“I then proceeded to open the doors of the (new) Church, and forty-eight persons came forward and joined the A.M.E. Connection.” – Rev. David Smith on founding the A.M.E. church in Washington, PA. – Biography of Rev. David Smith of the A.M.E. church, 1881.

A document listing names written in script on lined paper with columns for additional information.

As members of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, PA, George Boler, Benjamin Dorsey, Betcy Philips, Cloe Warfield, and others formed a new society between 1818 and 1820 that would later become St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Rev. David Smith and George Boler soon replicated their success in Washington by helping establish new A.M.E. churches in Brownsville and Uniontown. In other towns along the National Road and elsewhere in the region, new Black congregations were founded within the A.M.E. and A.M.E. Zion denominations. Ties among congregants and between congregations strengthened in the region. Trusted networks were formed. These networks served a dual purpose: not only did they support the congregants and their churches, but they also provided aid to those in dire need—freedom seekers making their way into southwestern Pennsylvania from the depths of slavery in Maryland or Virginia, as well as those who escaped while in transit on the National Road.

By the late 1820s, these networks, anchored by religious ties, became a lifeline for freedom seekers. They offered more than just spiritual support; they provided practical assistance such as meals, places to rest, and guidance to the next safe house. As the 1830s unfolded, radical white abolitionists in the region, including Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne of Washington, PA, grew increasingly frustrated with the limitations of their efforts to combat slavery through “moral suasion” and shifted their focus to a more pragmatic form of abolition—direct aid to freedom seekers. Through this collaboration across traditional racial, social, and religious divides, the “friends of freedom” formed a broader decentralized network dedicated to helping those seeking liberty. This collective effort against slavery, characterized by everyday acts of kindness and occasional acts of heroism, would become the Underground Railroad in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The upcoming exhibit entitled Arcs of Freedom, to be completed by the Washington County Historical Society later this year, offers an opportunity to explore the story of the Underground Railroad in southwestern Pennsylvania. Through primary funding from the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom program and the Rivers of Steel mini-grant program, the exhibit seeks to remember the voices of all those involved in the movement, including the freedom seekers themselves. In commemorating their courage and resilience, Arcs of Freedom invites us to reflect on the enduring legacy of the Underground Railroad and its indelible impact on our region’s history.

A logo that reads Arcs of Freedom with a line that dips then rises.
A color image of the same colonial home.

The LeMoyne House today.


A multi-ethnic group of elders gathers around a docent in a historic home.

An Underground Railroad tour group learns about the activities that happened in and around the LeMoyne House, a National Historic Landmark in Washington, Pennsylvania.

All images are courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society. 

About the Washington County Historical Society and the Arcs of Freedom Exhibit

The Washington County Historical Society (WCHS) is a center for preservation, research, and education that inspires the discovery and sharing of Washington County’s remarkable history. Central to this mission is WCHS’s administration of the historic Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne House, an enduring beacon of freedom and social reform, for the benefit of the public.

The LeMoyne House, constructed in 1812, is a National Historic Landmark and a site on the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The upcoming Arcs of Freedom exhibit, created by WCHS under its Waller-McDonald Collection of African American History, will be presented at the LeMoyne House. WCHS is grateful for the efforts of the Arcs of Freedom steering committee that includes historian and author Dr. W. Thomas Mainwaring, historian and author Marlene Bransom, freedom seeker descendant and author Lorraine Walls-Perry, and others.

Inquiries about WCHS, the LeMoyne House, the Arcs of Freedom exhibit, and the Network to Freedom program may be directed to Tom Milhollan, Director of Operations & Development for WCHS, where he also leads WCHS’s study of the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad.

Four white people rest along a trail amid an art installation composed of green poles protruding vertically from the ground.

Art. Works.

By Blog

Artist Carin Mincemoyer, shown here second from the right, is seated amidst her 2023 installation Trail Meander. Located under the new Fern Hollow Bridge, the artwork welcomes trail goers to dwell in the space and be attuned to their surroundings. Photo by Sean Carroll.

Art. Works.

Shifting Expectations for What is Possible

Logo reads Shift Works Community plus Public Arts

This week we are excited to share how one organization supports artists, communities, and organizations through public arts. Shiftworks Community + Public Arts, formerly known as the Office for Public Art (OPA), recently reorganized as an independent nonprofit, and while their name has changed, their mission has not.

Sallyann Kluz, executive director of Shiftworks, and Ashley Anderson, marketing and communications manager of Shiftworks, reflect on how the organization collaboratively shapes public space through the arts—aiming to shift not only landscapes and cityscapes, but also expectations and perspectives for what is possible.

By Sallyann Kluz and Ashley Anderson, Guest Contributors

It’s time for a pop quiz! Which of the following is a public art project?

  1. Artist-designed postcards, illustrating works by Black artists in the city of Pittsburgh;
  2. A play that reflects the oral histories of Afghan refugee women who have settled in southwestern Pennsylvania;
  3. A visual history of the waters of what we now call Fern Hollow etched on the infrastructure of a newly constructed bridge;
  4. A residency program to support Black artists who m/other;
  5. An artist-led meditation on the Explorer riverboat, accompanied by investigations of the microscopic organisms living in the waters of Pittsburgh’s three rivers;
  6. All of the above

If you answered all of the above, you likely view public art as something that extends beyond what many see as its traditional definition—a mural, mosaic, sculpture, or monument in public space. You understand public art as the way artists and their creative practices can help shift our perceptions and expectations of shared spaces and stories. You experience public art as not only the product of the work of artists, but also as the process through which they engage community members to create the work.

Shiftworks Community + Public Arts works to broaden the understanding of what public art is or can be. We view public art as inclusive of the practice of engaging artists to collaboratively shape public spaces and experiences—physically, socially, and culturally. We believe that the process of creating the artwork is just as valuable as the final artwork. In fact, the process of creating the work may actually be the artwork.

Two pedestrians cross a bridge with fall trees in the background and art embedded in the sidewalk.

400 Million Years of Water is an artwork on the new Fern Hollow Bridge by artist John Peña, 2023. Photo by Sean Carroll.

Who is Shiftworks?

Shiftworks Community + Public Arts, formerly the Office for Public Art (OPA), is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization working across southwestern Pennsylvania to collaboratively shape public spaces and catalyze community-led change. Established in 2005 as a one-person part-time office to advance the role of public art in the region, we have grown to a team of seven full-time staff that is stewarding public art projects across southwestern Pennsylvania. Our team has worked behind the scenes on numerous public art projects for nearly 20 years. In that time, we have supported the creation of more than 70 temporary artworks, 30 permanent installations, and 20 artist residencies, in addition to creating 325 events celebrating the work of artists in public space throughout the region.

As our capacity has grown, so has our ability to be more actively engaged in a broader spectrum of public art projects. In our early years, we focused on building the knowledge of what public art existed in the region and facilitating others to commission new artworks. Over time, we have greatly expanded our work to increase support for both artists and communities interested in working in public space. We do this through a range of projects that:

  • Support artists seeking to connect their studio practices to public space;
  • Commission artists as part of design teams for infrastructure and other large-scale projects;
  • Facilitate social and civically engaged works that bring community members and artists together as cocreators.

Through it all, we are guided by the following four key principles that we strive to engage in all aspects of the organization.

Artists are agents of social, civic, and cultural change.

Yes, public art can physically enhance public places, making neighborhoods and shared spaces more beautiful. And yes, public art can be revitalizing and entertaining, and bring economic opportunities. But the process of developing public art projects can also provide unique pathways and engage communities in critical conversations about their visions, hopes, and aspirations.

Artists working in public space can create platforms that amplify the voices and talents of community members who have been disenfranchised, overlooked, or ignored in civic processes.

In this, public art can be a catalyst for community change, advancing social, civic, and cultural goals. Engaging artists opens up opportunities for creative problem-solving and encourages new kinds of interactions among participants. Through public art projects and programs, communities become more deeply engaged in shaping the future of our region, and become more connected, resilient, and innovative through the process.

A white man listens to a black man standing by a freestanding window like structure.

Artist Jason McKoy, right, discusses his We Are Windows installation, 2023. Photo by Ishara Henry.

Community members are highly valued collaborators with expertise in their neighborhoods.

In community development terms, we take an assets-based approach to our work. As Ives Garcia writes on the American Planning Association blog, we believe that communities have existing yet often underrecognized resources at hand—abilities, skills, and lived experiences—that can be mobilized to address the critical issues facing them. Artists are not invited to identify problems and offer solutions for the community, but rather to engage their creative practices to collaboratively catalyze these existing assets. In the process, new skills and approaches to problem solving are fostered.

While the artists engaged bring their expertise in their respective fields and practices, community members contribute their own expertise as equal partners in the collaboration. They have deep knowledge of the histories, memories, and traditions of their places, and understand what community members perceive as their greatest strengths as well as their greatest challenges. We believe that by working together, artists and communities can identify new and innovative ways to mobilize and engage the existing assets to create new futures that were previously unimaginable.

Equity and social justice are the foundation of our work.

We believe that public art’s impact is its capacity for catalyzing social change, building cohesion, and amplifying shared knowledge. To achieve these outcomes, we center equitable and just practices throughout our work—both for our public-facing programs and our internal organizational structures. This means acknowledging that, for far too long, many of our community members have been disenfranchised, overlooked, and ignored in civic processes. In particular, Black artists, Global Majority* artists, Disabled artists, and Queer and Transgender artists have been excluded from working in and shaping public space in our region. This can lead to some difficult conversations that challenge us as an organization and as individuals to recognize our missteps and mistakes, and challenge us to do better.

This work is never done. As an organization, we remain committed to listening, learning, and growing. We seek feedback from the artists, communities, and other collaborators with whom we work, and strive to share what we have learned in creating an organization that honors the multicultural realities and lived experiences of our region.

Five black people practice yoga in a park

Artist Noa Mims Steel Smiling series seeks to bridge the gap between Black people and mental health support through education, advocacy and awareness. Photo by Ishara Henry, 2023.

A successful public art landscape depends upon a thriving network of public art practitioners.

In order for southwestern Pennsylvania to have resilient and flourishing communities that are engaged in creative practices, our artists, creative workers, and collaborators must also be flourishing. Shiftworks provides tools and resources for artists and others to develop their public practices, and we also advocate for investments in their work, their development, and the health of the arts community.

Shiftworks provides training and professional development for artists and others seeking to work in public space, and connects them to both local and national resources that can further their practices. We facilitate opportunities that would be out of reach for many independent artists, and guide clients and partners to provide fair compensation.

For many artists in the Pittsburgh region, a project with Shiftworks is their first professionalized public art experience. Through our processes—including artist selection, contract administration, payment procedures, and project management—we aim to build their capacity to grow their practices and expand their opportunities. Our goal is not merely having a successful public art project, but supporting the development of a public art practitioner whose practices will positively impact the region.

A larger than life size puppet of a young girl engages with an actual young girl while a crowd surrounds them.

Artist Cheryl Capezutti’s Little Amal; Play in peace was an event in September 2023. Photo by Renee Rosensteel.

What’s Next: New Name, Same Mission

As a result of our 2020 strategic plan, we recognized that our original name and identity as the Office for Public Art were holding us back from telling the fullness of our story. This, in turn, hampered our ability to support others in telling their own stories.

Originally established as a partnership between the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning, in its early days OPA provided capacity to support the City’s public art program through technical assistance and educational programming. Today, the City’s public art collection, Public Art and Civic Design Commission, and the Percent For Art program are all managed by our colleagues in the Public History, Art, and Design division at City Planning.

As a result of our original partnership, many people erroneously believed that we were part of the City of Pittsburgh rather than an independent organization that works with artists and communities across southwestern Pennsylvania. To remedy this, we engaged Pittsburgh-based design and communications firm Little Kelpie, which helped us to more clearly define who we are and tell the story of our work.

Shiftworks Community + Public Arts is not a change in mission, rather a recognition of who we are, what we do, and where we are headed. It signals a years-long shift for the organization, which has gone from a behind-the-scenes collaborator to a leading agency in our region. Shiftworks tells the story of how public art, as creative work, can shift experiences, systems, and relationships. These shifts can be sudden and require an immediate response, such as the ground-shaking changes brought about by COVID-19, which catalyzed our team to build Artists Bridging Social Distance in the early days of the pandemic. Or these shifts can be slower, resulting from the continued application of subtle but firm pressure, such as those from our continued work with municipal and other governmental agencies to include artists in their processes.

Today, Shiftworks pursues new initiatives, builds systems, and develops the resources necessary to create a sustainable and diverse ecosystem for public art for southwestern Pennsylvania. We accomplish this through delivering four key public-facing program areas: Civically Engaged Public Art, Artist Services, Public Programs, and Client Services. Each of these programs generates broader understanding and enthusiasm for engaging artists, prepares artists with the skills and tools necessary to undertake community-led projects, and actively develops partnerships and collaborations that lead to further opportunities. In addition to our own programs, we partner with artists who are leading community-engaged projects to provide administrative and planning support, providing them with the capacity to focus on being artists rather than administrators.

Throughout the next year, we will tell more stories about the artists, communities, and organizations with whom we work, sharing what we learn along the way and building more pathways for connecting our work with our region’s communities. We hope that you will join us on this journey.

Five people in costume pose with a boat captain on the bow of a vessel with a river in the background.

Artists Celeste Neuhaus and Heidi Wiren Bartlett presented their work Conflux on the Explorer riverboat in September 2022. Photo by Beth Barbis.

About Shiftworks

Shiftworks Community + Public Arts envisions a region in which the creative practices of artists are fully engaged to collaboratively shape the public realm and catalyze community-led change. Shiftworks builds capacity for this work through civically engaged public art, artist resources, public programming, and technical assistance.

Sallyann Kluz is a Pittsburgh-based arts administrator, architect, and urban designer whose practice is situated at the intersection of art and community development. With over 20 years of practice in the Pittsburgh region, her work is focused on the public realm and the people who inhabit it. Her practice includes public art programs and strategies, community engagement, design education, public space design, and neighborhood development strategies.

Ashley Anderson has over 10 years of experience working in customer service, hospitality, event planning, and sales, which has informed her ideas of community engagement and how to create welcoming experiences that leave a lasting impression. In her role as Marketing and Communications Manager for Shiftworks Community + Public Arts, Ashley is focused on developing strategies to effectively communicate the projects and programs of the organization. Ashley also works with artists to create marketing strategies for their individual projects.

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*Shiftworks uses the term Global Majority, coined by Jamaican-British educator Rosemary Campbell-Stephens, to describe people who are Black, Asian, Brown, Latino/a/e/x, Indigenous American, dual-heritage, and people indigenous to the Global South, and/or have been racialized as ”ethnic minorities.” As Campbell-Stephens has written, “Globally, these groups currently represent approximately eighty percent (80%) of the world’s population making them the global majority.”

Shiftworks recognizes that no term used to broadly describe race or ethnicity is comprehensive or adequate. Language and the discussion around race and ethnicity are forever-evolving. As a result, Shiftworks continuously discusses the ethnic and racial terms we use as an organization.

We will continue to use specific terms that refer to race, ethnicity, or nationality as they apply to individuals and/or groups (e.g., Chinese American, Black, Chicano). Community feedback is encouraged and will be implemented into staff discussions about organizational language. To provide feedback, contact Dominique Chestand, Shiftworks operations manager, at dominique@shiftworkspgh.org.