Skip to main content


Sculpture entitled The Iron Smelled Like Sweet Rain Image 1 - iron suspended in air

Artist Profile: Gwen Sadler

By Blog

Rivers of Steel Arts is excited to launch the 2020 Mon Valley Featured Artist Series! Showcasing some of the exciting creative professionals working across the Mon Valley Creative Corridor, this weekly blog highlights multiple artists each month, from a variety of boroughs, to provide a snapshot of the region’s growing cultural vitality.

Gwen Sadler ProfileAbout Gwen Sadler

We kick this series off with an artist whose work is intimately connected to Rivers of Steel Arts, Gwen Sadler. An alumna of Alloy Pittsburgh and a regular contributor to Rivers of Steel’s Metal Arts program, Gwen’s creative drive and dedication to her craft shines a bright light on the community of Munhall, Pennsylvania. You can check out her artwork in the School House Studios on Ravine Street, or watch her cast molten iron with Rivers of Steel during the Festival of Combustion and other events throughout the Mon Valley Creative Corridor.

A Message from Gwen

Hello Mon valley, and beyond! I’m Gwen Sadler, some will know me as Sedlar (the og spelling of the family). For the last few years, post BFA, I have primarily been making cast metal sculpture that deals with the postindustrial landscape and the body. At the heart of my practice lies a scavenger impulse, interest in the cycles of materials through social meaning, and a love for molten metal. When I poured iron for the first time at the Carrie Furnaces little did I know how profoundly it would impact my life and artistic pursuits. I fell in love with the casting process, the region’s industrial history, the transmutation of objects and ideas through changing states of matter, and fire.

Metal work is laborious, dangerous, hard, hot work, that is not for the timid of heart. The community that flocks to the flame are some of the most loving and talented people I have known in life. Finding the friends and mentors that challenge and inspire you to keep creating is part of the artistic path. The alchemical process is both material and spiritual. I have been a part of the Rivers of Steel Metal Arts program since its infancy, about 6 years now—casting sculpture, performing, building tools of the trade, traveling the region, teaching, and learning while sharing this amazing process with people from all walks of life. It has also shown me the dedication it takes to grow a program of this scale. There is always something in the way; creativity and the ability to adapt is key.

Currently I maintain live-in studio space at the Munhall schoolhouse with three other artists. The building is over a century old and has been a place of education, worship, business, and community for the constantly evolving neighborhood. It’s a really special place to be; it’s so important that artists are able to keep access to affordable and inspiring studios as Pittsburgh continues to evolve. We have hosted exhibitions for local artists, had open studios, and are hoping to increase our community engagement, while paying some respect to the legacy of the building. And, it’s right across the river from the Carrie Furnaces, my studio away from studio… So, it’s a pretty great set up, I am very fortunate.

Hope you all are making do with hermetic life, in these upsetting and uncertain times. Uncertainty is part of any creative process; I find again and again being able to work through it is as important as the outcome. For me creating, however I can, is a means of survival…

Instagram @terriblemare

Facebook @ Gwen Sedlar


The exterior of the historic Bost Building.

Bost Building Closure

By Blog

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve, Rivers of Steel is committed to do our part in to help slow the spread of the virus. Therefore, the Bost Building will be closed to the public—including all visitors for meetings—for the indefinite future. Thank you.

Title" The Homestead Strike & the Growth of America as an Industrial Power" appears in text over a historic image of a steel mill

Educator Opportunity: NEH Workshop

By Blog

This summer 72 educators from across the country will convene in Pittsburgh for a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop presented by Rivers of Steel and the Archives & Special Collections Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Entitled The Homestead Strike & the Growth of America as an Industrial Power, the workshop will be offered to two cohorts of 36 educators each during the weeks of July 12 – 18 and July 19 – 25, 2020.

The Battle of Homestead is considered the most famous event in American labor history. This workshop will provide educators with a comprehensive look at circumstances that led to the armed conflict and what its lasting impact has been in the United States. Participants will immerse themselves in the battle from both sides by examining primary sources related to Carnegie and Frick’s business practices, worker conditions, the direct aftermath of the battle, and what came in later years as U.S. business took stock of the relationship between management and labor.

The seven days of programming and research includes extensive discussions and lectures with visiting scholars, along with faculty and staff from the presenting organizations. Daily site visits to relevant historic landmarks and museums will help educators to explore the details and consequences of the Homestead Steel Strike, expanding their insight into these impactful events.

Notable visiting scholars include: Les Standiford, historian and author of Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America; Dr. Paul Kahan, author and a leading expert on the political, diplomatic, and economic history of the United States in the nineteenth century; Quentin Skrabec, author of Henry Clay Frick: The Life of the Perfect Capitalist and The Carnegie Boys: The Lieutenants of Andrew Carnegie That Changed America; along with notable locals Steffi Domike, Tammy Hepps, Barbara Jones, Ken Kobus, Charlie McCollester, Ted Muller, and Joel Woller. Visit the workshop website for more details on these distinguished scholars, along with descriptions of the presenting Rivers of Steel and University of Pittsburgh staff.

Teachers, librarians, museum educators, and the like are encouraged to apply here before March 1, 2020. Selected participants will receive a $1,200 stipend to assist with travel expenses. Successful applicants will be notified of their selection on Friday, March 27, 2020, and they will have until April 3, 2020 to accept or decline the offer.

For inquiries and application submissions please contact:

Kathryn Miller Haines
Associate Director
Center for American Music
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh PA 15260


The Explorer riverboat at dock with students entering the boat.

The Monongahela Explored

By Blog
Earlier this month, the Explorer riverboat journeyed up the Monongahela River to the town of New Eagle, docking at Tubby Hall Park for a month-long residency in the Mon River Valley.

The objective? To provide an opportunity for students in the region to participate in Rivers of Steel’s STEM education programs. More than 900 students from Washington, Fayette, Greene, and southern Westmoreland and Allegheny counties will have an opportunity will step onboard the Explorer for the Environmental Science on the Mon program before the vessel returns to its home dock at the headwaters of the Ohio River.

Students examine macroinvertebrates.

Support for this program was provided by the Eden Hall Foundation and the EQT Foundation, which covered the costs of student participation in the workshops. Additionally, the New Eagle Community Action Group helped to make the residency possible by providing a docking location to the Explorer free of charge.Continue Reading The Monongahela Explored

Immersive multimedia installation to be showcased at the Carrie Blast Furnaces

By Blog

Projection of a man in a hard hat onto an industrial background.Historically Evocative

Artist Valery Lyman has long been drawn to places around the country that are, as she puts it, “historically evocative.” And in her opinion, Pittsburgh and its surrounding steel towns fit that bill.

That attraction is what led Lyman to create a multimedia exhibition that examines the rapid expansion and abandonment of industry—boom and bust cycles that have become a recurrent phenomenon in American history. Entitled Breaking Ground, it will be on view at the Carrie Blast Furnaces for three nights from August 22nd to August 24th. Lensed through the rise of the oil industry in North Dakota, this exhibition considers how these cycles have forged not only our national character and defined our migrations, but are also reflected in Pittsburgh’s own industrial heritage.

Breaking Ground has traveled across the country showcasing a series of site-specific photographic and sound installations assembled by Lyman. Photographs projected onto large industrial remnants accompany sound compositions selected from over 15,000 negatives and hours of audio recorded during her five-year field work in the Bakken region of North Dakota. The installation, presented by Rivers of Steel Arts, will also weave in photos Lyman will capture during her six-week stay in the Monongahela Valley preceding the opening.

“This exhibit is a reflection of industry but also an immersion into a region,” said Lyman. “My goal is for the work to be responsive to, and inclusive of the space where it is experienced.”


Immersion is a major theme of Breaking Ground. Though the piece incorporates photography, projections, and audio, it is up to the viewer to control their experience. “The photographs offer a time capsule aspect; having them overlaid onto a historical site ties them to the history of the space. Adding in the audio recordings gives the space realism while also playing with density and echo and the sound of dreams colliding,” says Lyman.

Rivers of Steel Arts celebrates creative inquiry by crafting opportunities to interpret the region’s past, reimagine its future, and explore a sense of place. Lyman’s Breaking Ground is a strong reminder that the history of southwestern Pennsylvania can be experienced both singularly and as a part of the whole evolution of our country over the past 100 years.

“Lyman’s Breaking Ground exhibition will lend our region’s unique voice to the context of her important work in the Bakken oil fields,” said Chris McGinnis, director of Rivers of Steel Arts. “The project’s manifestation at the Carrie Blast Furnaces provides something truly special and an experience unlike anything Rivers of Steel has yet featured. Lyman’s timely photographic and sound work reveals a narrative all too familiar to those who have grown up in southwestern Pennsylvania—it captures the hopes and dreams of individuals versus the harshness of industry and the landscape itself. The play of subtle light projection and movement fitted over rusted steel and intricate pipes emphasizes the peculiar stillness of this once-indomitable giant, with a nod to the toils of the workers who gave themselves to the Carrie Furnaces.”

For more information on the exhibition, including how to purchase tickets, please visit the Breaking Ground exhibition page.

General admission is $5 per person. Members of all regional unions will gain free admission.

Portrait of artist Valery Lyman

About Valery Lyman

Valery Lyman has an extensive background in documentary film, working for 15 years as a sound recordist, cinematographer, and director. Lyman’s enduring interest in short, impressionistic works, unencumbered by the narrative imperative, landed her at the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard in 2014 to study and work with the renowned filmmaker Lucien Castaing-Taylor. Lyman’s work with photographs and audio separately breaks the time-based visual-aural bind to allow each more textural integrity. This work, including Breaking Ground, is heavily contingent on immersion and wandering, and invites the body into the experience of film.

Portrait of Lyman by Bruce Jackson, Buffalo NY 2018.

African American steelworkers with a mill in the background

Artist Profile: Curtis Reaves’ Remnant of Promise

By Blog

Curtis Reaves holding a camera

About Curtis Reaves

When Curtis Reaves applied to be an artist-in-residence for Alloy Pittsburgh 2018, his artistic vision for a site-specific work at the Carrie Blast Furnaces was nearly fully realized. The resulting video installation, titled Remnant of Promise, is very much an extension of the themes that have been central to Reaves’ work and his development as an artist.

Drawing inspiration from his grandfather’s practice of telling family stories through photographs, Reaves’ work uses traditional and contemporary photographic technologies to share his passion for the arts and its power to build community. His projects are designed to empower youth and adults to become community ambassadors through collaborative video documentation and photographic storytelling.

Reaves is a multimedia artist, educator, and co-founder of the community-based nonprofit C-Clear. Based in McKeesport, PA, C-Clear helps socially disadvantaged youth and adults to realize their true potential while working to break the cycle of generational poverty, using the arts as a driver of economic growth and change in the community.

C-Clear has become a partner of Rivers of Steel through of our work with the Mon Valley Creative Corridor. A recent initiative of Rivers of Steel, the Creative Corridor aims to strengthen the economic and cultural vitality of the Monongahela Valley by fostering the creative economy, collectively working together with creative professionals, enterprises and communities to establish the region as a thriving destination—to live, work and play. Reaves’ work through C-Clear has made him a natural partner in this ambitious endeavor.

Learn more about C-Clear.

About Remnant of Promise

Roughly six million African Americans left the American South and traveled north between 1916 and 1970 in search of a better future. Inspired by his own family’s journey of from Middleburg, NC to Braddock, PA where his mother established “Bert’s Market,” a grocery store which served the steel town community for forty years, Curtis Reaves explores the Great Migration in his video and photography installation, Remnant of Promise.

Using archival images, overlaid with contemporary photos of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, and presented with the spoken words of the poem Forged in Steel—a collaboration with Monongahela Valley poet Mike Vick—this installation shares the migration experience from the perspective of the African American workers. Historically, these iron and steel workers received the lowest paid wages and most challenging positions. Remnant of Promise celebrates the culture, the traditions and resiliency of these workers and their families, both in the mill and in the community.

This video, along with archival photographs, were installed in the Pyrometer Room at the Carrie Blast Furnaces from August 25 through September 29, 2018 during Alloy Pittsburgh 2018 exhibition.

Learn more about the Great Migration in this story from the Smithsonian Magazine.