Carrie Furnaces serve as backdrop for Alloy Pittsburgh art exhibit

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Creating art is one challenge; installing it is yet another, especially against the hard industrial backdrop of a former blast furnace.

Carl Bajandas found this out on a recent, rainy Saturday while he tried to hang a series of sculptures he calls "Museum of Imaginary Flight," which he made out of bent wood and paper.

The Carnegie Mellon University fine arts graduate student stood inside an enormous brick building called the blowing engine house at the Carrie Furnaces, a shuttered mill that straddles Swissvale and Rankin.

Alloy Pittsburgh reception

Where: Carrie Furnaces.

When: 2 to 6 p.m. today.

Tickets: $20, are available at and clicking on the link to Alloy Pittsburgh. Directions to the Carrie Furnaces are also available at that website.

The blowing engine house and nearby blast furnaces -- silent monuments to Pittsburgh's industrial era -- remain on a 30-acre site that was part of the Homestead Steel Works. Built in 1884 and closed in 1982, the Carrie Furnaces turned out molten iron that was forged into steel and used to construct the Empire State Building as well as the Panama Canal's massive doors.

With a wrist rocket that shot out fishing line, Mr. Bajandas aimed toward the ceiling, slingshot style, to loop the line over the building's rafters. There, he planned to hang his sculptures, which were partially inspired by Orville and Wilbur Wright's early attempts to fly.

"These are the attempts that led to the success," said Mr. Bajandas. He is one of 14 regional artists whose site-specific artwork goes on view today during a reception from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Carrie Furnaces. The artworks will remain on exhibit through Oct. 26.

Artist Will Schlough installed colorful beach balls in the gas washing alley, where the blast and iron dust were washed out of methane and carbon monoxide so those gases could be reused. Around the wires of a nearby substation, Edith Abeyta twisted old T-shirts and other clothing. Inside an office near the stationary dumper car, Laurie Barnes busily painted a white picket fence around a bed. The mattress will be made of found domestic objects, such as old lamps. This last work recalls how the domestic lives of women were distinctly separated from the men who worked in the mills.

Starting last June, these emerging artists participated in Alloy Pittsburgh, an initiative to reimagine the former mill site by creating temporary artwork inside its buildings and on its grounds.

Other artists who worked in the blowing engine house recently were Anika Hirt, 32, of Lawrenceville, and her 31-year-old husband, Dan Wilcox, who will do a performance he calls "The Spirit of Molten Iron."

Mr. Wilcox will wear an inflatable silver Mylar suit his wife made for him and emerge, accompanied by music, from a torpedo car at the Carrie Furnaces. (Torpedo cars once carried molten iron over to the Homestead Works.)

Ms. Hirt made solar-powered, gold Mylar inflatables that visitors will see tucked into spaces between the hot stoves, which heated the air that fueled the blast for the furnaces. She chose the color gold because it mimicked the yellowy orange color of molten iron.

Kyla Groat, a 26-year-old graduate student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has welded a shark out of steel in an empty pump house. The shark is under a gigantic deer head that Tim Kaulen and a team of artists created in 1997 and 1998.

Ryan Keene, a 37-year-old Bloomfield artist, has created small white figures he cut out of Plexiglas with a laser and installed them in 13 spots on the site. Some are human; others are wolves.

Pittsburgh artists Sean Derry and Chris McGinnis started Alloy Pittsburgh in partnership with Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area and the Kipp Gallery at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Derry heads the sculpture department at IUP while Mr. McGinnis runs the Kipp Gallery.

With financial support from the Sprout Fund and the United Steelworkers Union, Alloy Pittsburgh began June 10 with a free public lecture series. The 14 artists explored the Carrie Furnaces and its grounds with Ron Baraff, who leads tours at the property for Rivers of Steel, which owns the national historic landmark.

During the lectures, artists heard advice from Ann Hamilton, an internationally known installation artist who spoke this past summer in Braddock.

At Concept Gallery in Edgewood, the artists listened as Mr. Kaulen related his artistic adventures at the Carrie Furnaces. Mr. Kaulen and several other artists built a 45-foot-tall deer head with materials found on the grounds of the former mill. Rick Darke, a Philadelphia photographer and landscape designer who has served as a consultant to Rivers of Steel, talked with the artists about the ways nature has reclaimed the land at the former mill during the past 31 years.

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Marylynne Pitz: or 412-263-1648.


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