Artist tracks the region's changing landscape

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Cynthia Cooley is best known for her paintings of Pittsburgh's hillside neighborhoods and industrial valleys.

The adventurous artist, who has been painting and photographing the city since 1964, has climbed steps in many city neighborhoods, visited nine steel mills and crawled through two coal mines, including one in Butler called the Rosebud Mine and another in Washington County where she saw longwall mining.

A show of Mrs. Cooley's art opens with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight at Borelli-Edwards Galleries, 3583 Butler St., Lawrenceville. The show runs through May 10.

For the exhibition of 26 artworks titled "Pittsburgh Evolves: Looking Back, Looking Forward," Mrs. Cooley returned to places she captured more than 20 or 30 years ago to see how the landscape had changed. Visitors will see a photograph of the artist's original painting next to a new artwork painted at the same location.

One image shows a 1976 painting of Rialto Street, a steep road on the North Side that was recently reopened. Then, it was crowded with houses. In the painting done earlier this year, only stone walls remain and the snowy street was still closed.

Mrs. Cooley began photographing exteriors and interiors of steel mills in the 1980s, unaware that the age of steel was coming to an end. A good friend who worked for Washington Steel in Washington, Pa., helped her gain entry to that mill. "In the 1980s, women didn't work in mills," the artist recalled. "It was kind of fun. The men said, 'Oh, you're interested in seeing how we work.' "

She photographed Edgar Thomson in Braddock, Allegheny Ludlum in Brackenridge, a mill in Weirton, W.Va., and a Timken steel mill near Columbus, Ohio. Most recently, she toured a steel mill in Sharon, Pa., and another in Ambridge where ingots were being molded into pipes used in Marcellus shale gas exploration.

Recently, she returned to Hazelwood, once the home of a coke works.

"I knew that everything had been taken down. To go back and take photographs of this giant empty area where there used to be a coke works," she said, made her realize how much had disappeared.

Marylynne Pitz: or 412-263-1648.

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