Walkabout: Steamroller gives a different look to neighborhoods
Jim Rugg's woodcut print shows his interpretation of Downtown as "a city forged by natural and man-made wonders."
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If I could interpret my North Side neighborhood by carving images into birch wood, I would carve 19th-century chimney pots on rooftops in a stepped-down pattern to show the slope of the streets from a view above them. I'm inspired to try this after seeing an exhibition of wood-cut prints at the Carnegie Library in Oakland.
Printed interpretations of eight neighborhoods hang just outside the large-print room and will remain through the end of this year. Afterward, they will be displayed at each neighborhood's library branch through the spring.
Construction Junction, the North Point Breeze nonprofit that sells used construction materials, turned a steamroller into a printing press to produce "Steamrolled Pittsburgh," a live-art performance and exhibition with support from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and $5,000 from the Sprout Fund.
It features the work of June Edwards, Jim Rugg, Maria Mangano, Steve Cup, Cory Bonnet, Monika Gibson, Deanna Mance, Bec Young and Katy DeMent.
Each artist was given a 2-foot-by-2-foot board of birch plywood, carving tools and a neighborhood to depict. Each did the requisite research to find his muse.
Ms. Young interviewed visible and committed activists in Homewood. Mr. Bonnet visited Hazelwood numerous times to see it from numerous angles and found the right image on a platform of an old barge dock on the other side of the Monongahela River.
Ms. Edwards, a fine artist and art instructor, read up on East Liberty and found references to a slew of associated celebrities to create her homage. Ms. Gibson, a native of Poland who is both an architect and a fashion designer, played tourist in the South Side Slopes, where the hillside steps inform her work as a charming series of floating notches.
The other neighborhoods are Downtown, the Hill District, Squirrel Hill and Oakland.
The wood was inked and steamrolled at Construction Junction's Steel City Big Pour -- a beer-tasting fund-raising extravaganza held every September. Tirzah DeCaria, the project manager of Steamrolled, used what looked like a large rolling pin to apply ink to the wood. The print paper was laid on top of the wood and a protective rug on the paper. The steamroller applied the pressure.
Mr. Cup, a print-maker and graphic designer, said he answered the call for artists on Craigslist earlier this year and was assigned to depict Oakland.
"I had lived in Oakland and knew I didn't want to do another drawing of the Cathedral of Learning," he said.
In his statement, he wrote that Oakland is "a cacophony of sounds and sights. My piece aims to capture the true dizzying essence."
The center of his print is a tight circle of empty space surrounded by towering people and buildings.
Ms. Young, a printmaker from Detroit, found her inspiration in Homewood among elders and youngsters. She carved depictions of both in a swirl of joyful activity.
"Much of the conversation about Homewood involves a fair amount of racism," she wrote in her artist's statement. "I can't change that with a simple wood cut, but I can claim the space that I have to bring forth a different conversation."
Mr. Bonnet, a fine artist and graphic designer, investigated Hazelwood and talked to people there. He wrote that he "was nudging them to get the scrap of Steel City nostalgia I needed to satisfy my artistic musing," but the people "were looking ahead."
Mike Gable, executive director of Construction Junction, said the project "became the best art-related event we've done around the Big Pour. Every year we do live art so people can watch art being produced. We've done a hot metal pour, chainsaw art, glass pouring."
He said he had never heard of steamroll printing. "When I saw it [online], I said, 'Whoa! We're going to do this.' We were super tickled at the way it came out," he said. "I think we took it to another level."
A limited number of Steamrolled Pittsburgh prints are for sale for $75 each at Construction Junction and through Steamrolled Pittsburgh's shop at www.etsy.com/shop/ConstructionJunction.
First Published December 18, 2012 12:00 am