Obituary: Sid Kweller / Commercial interior designer and artist

July 7, 1917 - July 10, 2014

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Sid Kweller had a long career using his artistic skills designing the interiors of numerous local businesses, including many along Walnut Street in Shadyside and others in Squirrel Hill and Downtown.

He followed that with a second career in the later decades of his life, producing collections of paintings that were parodies of Bible passages, famous works of art and nature, some of which were displayed at Panza Gallery in Millvale.

"He was extremely bright and an extremely confident, creative and innovative person with great imagination, a great sense of humor and a wonderful sense of design," said Mr. Kweller's nephew, Steve Hankin, also a local artist.

Mr. Kweller, 97, died Saturday at UPMC Shadyside of pneumonia. He had been active, with the use of a motorized wheelchair, until several days before his death, meeting friends for lunch along Craig Street in Oakland, near where he and his wife, Dorothy, lived, and going out to dinner, family members said.

Mr. Kweller grew up in South Oakland in a family of six children, raised by a widowed mother. After graduating from Schenley High School, he attended Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, and studied painting, design and sculpture for two years before leaving in 1942 to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was a captain in the 14th Armored Division and his service included seven months of combat in France and Germany for which he was awarded a Silver Star.

After returning from the war in 1946, Mr. Kweller and a partner founded Spearhead Cabinet Company, which built furniture and interior fixtures for commercial buildings. He later became an independent designer of interior space and created the interiors of the former Gazebo restaurant and The Balcony restaurant in Shadyside, the London Dock boys and men's clothing store in Squirrel Hill and Gimbels and Saks Fifth Avenue stores in Downtown.

"The interior of the Gazebo was made from discarded porches and woodwork from East Liberty homes that were being torn down. He recycled all of that into the Gazebo," Mr. Hankin said.

Mr. Kweller's second career grew from sketches he drew on napkins at the former More restaurant in Oakland. There, a waiter noticed that Mr. Kweller created doodles with silly captions on napkins. The waiter collected the napkins and took them to Mark Panza, owner of Panza Gallery, who assembled them into a flip book for Mr. Kweller to view.

From there, Mr. Kweller developed his Green Dog series in which he placed a mischievous green dog into his own reproductions of famous paintings such as Degas' ballerinas, Boticelli's nudes, Van Gogh's bedroom and Matisse's red dancing figures. Mr. Kweller gave each painting a caption in which the green dog often has an irreverent voice or thought.

When the Green Dog collection was unveiled in 2008 at the Panza Gallery, it marked the first public showing of Mr. Kweller's art. He was 91.

Another series was a set of cartoons called the "The Dead Sea Scrawls." He also produced a series of comical cartoons of birds called "Odd-U-Bon," which was bound into a book. He celebrated his 95th birthday with an opening reception for a showing of the Odd-U-Bon collection at Panza Gallery.

Besides his shows at the Panza Gallery, Mr. Kweller also had shows in Florida, his granddaughter Jennifer Tinker of Lake Worth, Fla., said.

Family members said Mr. Kweller was generous and kind.

"He never judged a person by their socioeconomic status," Ms. Tinker said.

Mr. Kweller also loved to travel with his wife and had visited Russia, China and much of Europe.

He was a loyal fan of all Pittsburgh sports teams, keeping track of the Pirates until his death and asking family members to gather around his bed to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," during one of their last gatherings in his hospital room, his nephew Larry Grumet said.

In addition to his wife and granddaughter, Mr. Kweller is survived by a grandson, Ben Tinker, of California, and sister, Millie of Pittsburgh.

There is no visitation.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, 301 Grant Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.


Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.

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