'Bridge the Gap' project advances at Westmoreland Museum of American Art

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An update on "Bridging the Gap," a public art project that will connect downtown Greensburg with the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, was presented Thursday at the museum's temporary location, Westmoreland @rt 30.

Brooklyn artist Janet Zweig gave an illustrated talk that included past projects and initial plans for the Greensburg commission. Afterward, she and landscape architect Fred Bonci, with whom she is working collaboratively, answered questions and invited input. LaQuatra Bonci, Pittsburgh, is the landscape firm for the museum renovation.

The museum is in the historic Academy Hill neighborhood, which is separated from downtown Greensburg by railroad tracks that run in a ravine below North Main Street and North Maple Avenue, the streets on either side of the museum. The railroad bridges on those streets, made of concrete and chain link fence, are utilitarian not aesthetic. The artist's challenge is to make them an inviting draw to create pedestrian traffic between downtown and the museum.

"Bridging the Gap" is proceeding in two phases. The first, which the artist hopes to implement this summer, combines planters with what Ms. Zweig called "magical portals."

Brushed metal planters filled with tall grasses would screen the fence's concrete and chain link. The portals -- two on Main and one on Maple -- would be large enough for people to step into and would frame aspects of the museum.

"When you go into these little niches, there's something magical that happens," Ms. Zweig said.

A viewer's gaze may be directed to the building's door, a path or a stairway leading to the museum. Some of the view may be magnified. A telescopic device may focus upon a rotating display inside the museum curated by staff and noticeable only from the outside peephole. Objects could include items brought by members of the community of historic or personal value, or by school children.

As the museum landscaping develops, the project will be tweaked. Mr. Bonci noted that there is room for evolution in the collaboration because his firm plans a more naturalistic, as opposed to ornamental, planting. That will accommodate shifting of some components, he said.

Ms. Zweig is the artist who designed the memorial for Ann Katharine Seamans in Mellon Park's walled garden in 2010. The daughter of filmmakers Joseph and Elizabeth Seamans, she was 19 when she died in a car accident in 1999. The memorial's title, "7:11AM 11.20.1979 79°55'W 40°27'N," references her date and site of birth. The artwork comprises lights embedded in the grass that are arranged as stars in the night sky as it appeared when Ms. Seamans was born.

Ms. Zweig worked with Mr. Bonci and Renee Piechocki, director of the Pittsburgh Office of Public Art, on that project and said that was what encouraged her to submit for the Greensburg commission. Ms. Piechocki is also consulting on this project.

Westmoreland director and CEO Judith O'Toole invited additional public commentary about "Bridging the Gap" to her office at 724-837-1500.


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.

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