Places: Late sculptor's 'Hunky' was basis for debate

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The death of sculptor Luiz Jimenez last week following an accident in his New Mexico studio was a tragic ending for a man whose boldly colored, provocative, larger-than-life public sculptures stand as a testament to his willingness to make waves in the art world and beyond.

Post-Gazette
Luis Jimenez's sculpture that was on loan for the 1990 Three Rivers Arts Festival stirred controversy with its name, "Hunky -- Steel Worker."
Click photo for larger image.

In the 1960s and '70s, when most American male artists were making content-free or ambiguous work, Jimenez tapped a different aesthetic and political tradition: the social realism of Mexican murals of the early 20th century. That influence, combined with metal-working and spray-painting skills learned in his father's El Paso, Texas, sign shop, led him to create fiberglass sculptures that celebrated Hispanic, American Indian and working-class culture, Western pioneers, firefighters (long before 9/11), horses, alligators and, you may recall if you were in Pittsburgh in 1990, the "Hunky -- Steel Worker," exhibited that year in the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

The steelworker was big and buff, but that wasn't the kind of hunky Jimenez was channeling. He meant no offense, believing "hunky" was a term of admiration and respect used among steelworkers. Pittsburgh erupted. Press conferences were called, ethnic outrage was expressed, letters to the editor were written. Soon the word was ground off the base of the sculpture, saving the steelworker formerly known as Hunky from being floated down the river, a scenario predicted by a United Steel Workers' union spokesman if the situation wasn't resolved.

Jimenez's sculpture was just doing its job, sparking dialogue about language, ethnicity and the proper way to honor steelworkers as it stirred up a big batch of brouhaha. Originally commissioned by Buffalo's Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, "Steel Worker" now lives a more tranquil life on the University of Massachusetts campus in Boston, the Buffalo deal having fallen through. He was just visiting here in 1990, but Pittsburgh should never have let him go.

Historic Review adieu

And while we're on the topic of letting go, Mayor Bob O'Connor's selection of three new members for the Historic Review Commission brings to a close the service of two longtime members, lawyer and former Fallingwater director Thomas M. Schmidt and architect Howard Graves, as well of that of a newcomer, arts administrator Linda Metropulos.

While Schmidt and Graves both made the difficult (and wrong, I believe) decision to support demolition of a third of the Market Square historic district for Mayor Tom Murphy's defunct Market Place at Fifth and Forbes redevelopment plan, they far more often favored preservation, significantly increasing the number of individual landmarks and districts and protecting their integrity. Schmidt especially is to be commended for his two decades of service, during which his knowledge and understanding of historic and contemporary architecture and his ability to persuade others with quiet determination have been important assets to the commission.

The new appointees are architects Paul Tellers of Mount Washington, Jill Flannery Joyce of Lawrenceville and Earl Onque of Squirrel Hill.

Awards-R-Us

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh executive director Jane Werner and four other Pittsburghers picked up the museum's national American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Architecture on June 8 in Los Angeles. The museum expansion by Koning Eizenberg Architects of Santa Monica, Calif., partnering with the Pittsburgh office of Perkins Eastman Architects, is one of only 11 projects honored nationally this year by the AIA. The jury called it "an important new civic building for the city."

Werner will serve on next year's national AIA Honor Awards jury. She was joined in L.A. by project manager Chris Siefert, former board president Anne Lewis, who led the fund raising, and Perkins Eastman architects Richard Northway and Steve Quick.

Other winners this year include Bohlin Cywinski Jackson for Seattle's Ballard Library and Neighborhood Service Center (which also was named one of the AIA's Top Ten Green Projects, showcasing energy-efficient design on a modest budget) and the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., by Polshek Partnership Architects.

EDGE Studio architects and The Sextant Group, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting and design firm specializing in audiovisual technologies, information technologies and acoustics, won top honors in Archi-Tech magazine's AV Awards for their renovation of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland. It won in the "Best Project Under $1 Million" category.

Three Western Pennsylvania projects are among 15 winning Commonwealth Design Awards this month from 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania. They are the Bausman Street Independent Living project (South Side Local Development Co.); the Barn at Fallingwater (Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy); and the Mental Health Consumer Center (Hancock Architecture and Mental Health Association of Beaver County) in Rochester. The awards honor projects that demonstrate sound land-use principles.

Dispatches from all over

The Whole Foods market at 5880 Centre Ave., East Liberty, will donate 5 percent of its sales today to the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh; store hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Helen Hanna Casey, president of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, will present the history of the company and comment on the current local real estate market at the July 17 meeting of the Squirrel Hill Historical Society. The free event begins at 7:30 p.m. at Sixth Presbyterian Church, corner of Forbes and Murray avenues. Information: orgsites.com/pa/shhs.

Architect and planner Donald K. Carter, principal at UDA Architects, and former Pittsburgh city planner W. Paul Farmer, now director and CEO of the American Planning Association, have been elected Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners.


Architecture critic Patricia Lowry can be reached at plowry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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