Carnegie Museum downsizes its painting classes

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Art students have painted for decades in a room with high ceilings and red marble columns in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's basement. While their work dried on racks along one wall, they washed out brushes in large sinks.

"It's gorgeous. You go in there and you feel something," said Linda Wallen, a longtime painting instructor for the Carnegie Museum of Art. Now, art students will take instruction in a small, nondescript classroom without sinks at the rear of the museum. Their former basement studio will become offices for museum employees.

"I know that there's a squeeze on space," said Ms. Wallen, a North Side resident. "The classrooms they are putting us into would be better suited for office space."

The museum's lease will soon expire for a building less than a block away where other museum staff were housed, said spokesman Jonathan Gaugler.

"People who have been in that building have to find a space over here," he said.

The Brutalist-style building at 4615 Forbes Ave. housed Carnegie finance and fundraising staff and was part of three acres that Carnegie Mellon University purchased for $25 million in 2009.

In the past eight years, Ms. Wallen said, the museum has turned two large spaces, one for dance, the other for art, into offices for employees.

Ms. Wallen, who said she has taken classes at the Louvre in Paris, said that studying Old Masters is essential to a painter's education.

"Just the thought of a major museum not having painting classes is so odd," Ms. Wallen said. "I was scheduled to teach two painting classes this summer. Both were canceled, so I am teaching elements of drawing instead. That's a beginning drawing class."

Dr. Carol Zisowitz, a psychiatrist who lives in Squirrel Hill and has taken painting classes, said students are like "stepchildren."

"They pay the teachers such a low amount of money. This room is huge. The floors look like they haven't been cleaned since the museum was built."

While the sinks don't always work, the room has plenty of lighting.

"It's been great. People love it. It's a nice, central location," Dr. Zisowitz said, adding that classes at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside are "not as good and more expensive and the teachers aren't of the same quality."

"We are not eliminating our adult studio classes," Mr. Gaugler said, adding that managers are reconsidering how to make the classes more flexible. One possible example, he said, might be the museum's new Hillman Photography Initiative teaming up with Carnegie Mellon University for a weeklong seminar on a facet of photography.

Between June and August, the museum offers classes in drawing, ceramics and figure drawing, Mr. Gaugler said. After the Carnegie International opens on Oct. 5, "Nicole Eisenman will be here doing a whole drawing workshop for a week. She's one of the artists for the International," he added. She will offer a weeklong drawing seminar at Carnegie Mellon University and the Museum of Art.

Ms. Wallen does not believe that option will appeal to many students.

"Those are workshops that are not for your average Pittsburgh student. They are not going to take the workshops with the people from the International. They don't want to investigate cutting-edge conceptual art. They want to learn the basic old-fashioned techniques of drawing and painting."


Marylynne Pitz: or 412-263-1648.


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