Portfolio has launched an occasional feature: "I Picked Pittsburgh," stories about newcomers who came here purely on purpose.
They came from Down Under looking for life's brass ring -- and what they found was the Golden Triangle.
"We were looking for a new home, a place we felt welcome," explains Tanya Andrea Stadelmann, one half of the duo The Jilted Brides. She and Nicole Skeltys, her singing partner, left Australia and their struggles behind in May 2008.
"We just wanted to do something dramatic and exciting to break free of our situation in Australia," explains Nicole. They had reached a creative dead end and made the decision to leave to start their lives all over again. To be clear, they weren't actually jilted brides left at the altar -- although the name does have something to do with those feelings.
"The name for us represents wanting to do songs about deep feelings and emotions, heartache and those journeys through the dark night of the soul," says Nicole. At the same time they see the humor in the name. "We are sort of reclaiming the idea of the jilted bride."
Nicole and Tanya were invited for residencies at five different art colonies throughout the United States. Plus, they had lined up gigs at some festivals and various venues.
Unknown to them at the time, the stars were aligning for a date with destiny and a poet from Pittsburgh. ...
But before that lucky accident they had to roam -- something they were familiar with. Both women had spent time in the United States growing up and had seen a lot of the country already.
Tanya spent six years here as a child when her father worked in Chicago and Detroit. Nicole, who is from Melbourne and spent time in Europe, had done a road trip with an American boyfriend across the United States when she was in her teens. Tanya came back in her 20s to live in San Francisco, where she studied photography for five years.
The first stop on this new adventure was Vancouver, Canada. From there they headed to the United States. They spent several months traveling to the various artists' residencies.
It was during a stay in Montana that fate would intervene: They met a poet from Pittsburgh, Scott Reagan. "He said if we were ever on the East Coast side of the country that we should come and visit," says Nicole. They didn't take him up on the suggestion right away. The duo played some spots in New York City and did a residency in Woodstock, N.Y. "After that we decided to come and pay Scott a visit in Pittsburgh," she remembers. That was toward the end of 2008.
"We were completely blown away by Pittsburgh," reports Nicole. "Pittsburgh, even among Americans who should know better, carries this Rust Belt town image. People would ask us: Why are you going to Pittsburgh? Few people probably know that it's now America's most livable city!"
"We certainly realized that almost as soon as we got here," says Tanya.
"I guess in our hearts and minds we were looking for a place to settle down," says Nicole. "It's only when we got to Pittsburgh that we realized we had probably found it.
"We were looking for a city that was supportive of the arts and a good place for us to live that was affordable and green. Unlike New York, we wanted a place full of green spaces and fresh air. Also it had to have a really kind of friendly and welcoming vibe." Pittsburgh and the neighborhood they chose to live in, Lawrenceville, met all their criteria and more.
They've played several gigs around town, including at the Andy Warhol Museum, and have already recorded and released a CD while in Pittsburgh: "Larceny of Love."
Tanya, who is primarily a filmmaker and a photographer, just finished teaching her first semester of a course in film production at Point Park University. She also got involved with the Squonk Opera, doing video projection for them. She and Nicole just finished a commissioned commercial reel for Pittsburgh Citiparks. "I don't think we could have had this kind of involvement or activity in another city," she says.
Nicole has set herself up as a sort of gun for hire, writing custom love songs for weddings or anniversaries or birthdays or other occasions where the right song can make the moment forever memorable. "The service is called 'Pittsburgh In Love,' " she says. "That's my specialty."
Tanya sums up their attraction to Pittsburgh: "There is room here to expand and build your dream."
The Jilted Brides are at www.myspace.com/thejiltedbrides and 425-495-9262.