Movable mural, sunflower garden brighten Carnegie

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What is the eye-catching, useful and inspirational attraction that is drawing people, birds and bees to Carnegie?

It's a triple combination of a sunflower garden, a movable mural and a water recovery system, all on the westerly side of the Historical Society of Carnegie near Chartiers Creek on the West Mall Plaza.

Most people's attention is drawn first to the movable mural, a five-panel display bolted to the 116-year-old building's exterior wall. Four of the murals are of bright sunflowers and the fifth is a dove and baby dove.

Each panel is a different size and shape, and each has a three-dimensional appearance, thanks to the technique and talent of artist Harry "Hawkeye" Demel.

"That mural is wonderful," said Marcella McGrogan, president of the historical society. "It did an awful lot for the building."

"It's such a unique addition to the community," added Mayor Jack Kobistek, who said the mural came about after the subject of sunflowers arose during a Carnegie Arts Initiative meeting.

Mr. Demel, 58, a lifelong freelance artist who lives in Coraopolis, explained the panels, which are painted with weather-resistant paint, are constructed of masonite and polyurethane plaster.

"I'm the first to do this 3-D thing with the polyurethane. I'm still experimenting with it," he said, adding that he hopes to try some wildlife in the future.

"It's pretty neat. I've gotten a lot of compliments," he said.

Mr. Demel previously has exhibited his works at International Images Gallery in Sewickley and at banks. He will have a two-week show beginning Aug. 26 at Phil Salvato's Third Street Gallery in Carnegie.

He had help with the murals' framework from contractor Dennis Greene of Stowe. Although there are no plans to move the framework, it could be moved to another building, if needed.

The individual paintings within the frames could be changed, too.

Mr. Greene also designed and built the water recovery system that uses rainfall from the historical society's roof to irrigate the sunflower garden as well as water the planters on the nearby Main Street Bridge.

Borough leaders are interested in finding more environmentally friendly solutions for controlling stormwater runoff in the community, Mr. Kobistek said, adding that other ideas being examined include permeable pavement for parking lots and planting saw grass on creek banks to better manage runoff.

Bob Podurgiel of Carnegie, who has long been interested in environmental issues, said the water recovery system at the historical society so far has recycled about 1,000 gallons of water and helped keep the garden watered during this summer's hot, dry weather.

He noted that sunflowers are very good at absorbing water.

The sunflower garden also has resulted in an unexpected benefit -- an increase in bees, especially honey and bumblebees, Mr. Podurgiel said.

"The flowers are so big they provide an easily accessible source of nectar for the bees, and we noticed an increase in the local bee population after we planted the garden," he said.

"We were happy to see bees in an area where you wouldn't expect to see a lot."

Lots of birds have been drawn to the site, too, he said.

Pennsylvania American Water Co. provided a $6,000 watershed improvement grant for the project.

The funds were divided equally for the mural, the sunflower plantings and the water recovery system.

Mr. Podurgiel, who will turn in a report about the project to the water company in October, believes it has been a success.

"It's become like a little tourist attraction there," he said, adding that he has seen people smiling at the paintings and garden.

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Carole Gilbert Brown, freelance writer: First Published August 9, 2012 9:00 AM


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