Andy Warhol Bridge becomes work of art tomorrow

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Many months, more than 1,847 artists and more than 600 blankets later, the time finally has arrived for the Andy Warhol Bridge to be yarn bombed.

Yarn bombing is a public art project that covers unconventional objects, like trees, cars, or buses, in colorful knitted or crocheted material. This project, which is being attempted by a group of Pittsburghers called Knit the Bridge, will be the largest yarn bomb in the United States.

The artwork that has sparked conversation across Pittsburgh will at last be put in place this weekend, starting on Saturday morning when sleepy-eyed Knit the Bridge volunteers wake at the crack of dawn to begin draping their craft across one of Pittsburgh's famous bridges.

"Everybody is jubilant," said Jenny Tabrum, the technical adviser for Knit the Bridge. "The excitement is palpable in the air because everybody is thrilled that it's finally happening."

Ms. Tabrum and the rest of the core team at Knit the Bridge spent from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day this week preparing for the event, she said. Last-minute knitting, organizing and rounding up supplies put those at the Knit the Bridge workshop in East Liberty in a frenzy, pushing toward the much-anticipated weekend event.

Funds for this weekend's installation, which were questionable at one point, have been secured. The team was able to raise $20,000 from indiegogo, an international crowdfunding site; $5,000 from individual donations; and $76,000 from foundations, for a total $101,000. Combined with in-kind contributions, that's enough to cover Knit the Bridge's funding goal.

The money for police surveillance, portable toilets and water bottles, which will be needed this weekend, has been raised. Any additional fundraising may go toward the Community Celebration Art Party on Aug. 25.

As for the installation itself, each part of the process has been planned with military-like precision.

"The county made it clear very early on that we had to plan the entire operation [including removal] in minute detail to make sure the rigging would be strong and safe, and that the installation procedure would be efficient, with as little impact as possible on pedestrian and vehicular traffic," said Norman Beck, who is advising the Fiberarts Guild on technical matters pertaining to the installation. "Because nobody has ever done anything like this, we had to build the procedure from scratch."

This means that volunteers were preparing for the event long before this week. Each volunteer was required to attend a training session to practice securing blankets to a life-size model of a segment of the bridge. In all, approximately 250 volunteers are expected to arrive on Saturday and Sunday.

Today, yarn bombing eve, hundreds of blankets prepared by individuals and community groups will be loaded onto moving trucks to ensure that they are at the bridge by Saturday morning.

At 7 a.m. on Saturday, while most of Pittsburgh lies in bed, volunteers will arrive. By the time they finish working on the bridge on Sunday, the entire structure, from one side of the Allegheny River to the other, will be engulfed in colorful yarn.

Teams of five or six will work in shifts to hang 34-by-72-inch blankets from the bridge. Volunteers will tie blankets to the bridge with industrial-strength cables. Each segment is expected to take 40 minutes to an hour to complete.

"It is rather hard to imagine, but it is going to work," Ms. Tabrum said. After all, every volunteer already has practiced.

The task of covering the towers of the bridge will be left to six professionals. Two will be in JLG "boom lifts," large construction machines that are capable of reaching the top of the suspension towers. One foreman will be on the ground and one will periodically walk along the structure of the bridge. The rigger scaling the side of the bridge will look something like Spider-Man, Mr. Beck said.

The tower closest to the North Shore is expected to be completed on Saturday and the tower closer to Downtown will be completed by Sunday evening.

By 9 p.m. on Sunday, the entire project should be finished.

"It better be," Ms. Tabrum said.

The art is expected to hang on the bridge until Sept. 7, when the blankets will be removed and distributed to homeless shelters, nursing homes and animal shelters.

Pittsburghers are invited to watch the event unfold, in all of its colorful fabric art glory, from one of the Warhol sister bridges: Roberto Clemente and Rachel Carson.

And bring binoculars -- it is going to be a sight to see.

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Monica Disare: First Published August 9, 2013 4:00 AM


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