Exhibits help expand the experience of world's fairs
The Ferris wheel, which debuted at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was designed by Pittsburgh engineer George Ferris. A replica model of this world's fair marvel is at the Heinz History Center.
Two train engines from the 1939 New York World's Fair are used to power Olde Kennywood Railroad at Kennywood Amusement Park in West Mifflin. The engines first went to Gimbels department store, Downtown, where they were known as the Gimbels Flyer, before being sent to Kennywood in 1945. Visitors may ride the train during the park's Holiday Lights exhibit, 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 30, plus Dec. 26 and 27.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Oakland opened in 1893, in time to receive many of its original plantings from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago after it closed. The Garden Railroad display in the Winter Flower Show at Phipps depicts plants arriving by train, as they did in the late 19th century, and making their final trip into the glass house in a horse-drawn cart.
The robot Electro and his dog, Sparko, were on display at the 1939 New York World's Fair as the first robots powered by electric motors. Electro could walk, smoke a cigarette and talk. Sparko could bark, sit and beg. Replicas of Electro and Sparko are part of the exhibition "Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation" at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
The diorama, "Arab Courier Attacked by Lions," a high point of countless school tours at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, was created by renowned taxidermist and naturalist Jules Verreaux for the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it won the gold medal for excellence. It depicts a man in North African dress atop a camel and fighting an attacking Barbary lion, now an extinct species.
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg has specially labeled works by more than 20 artists who represented the United States at world's fairs between 1851 and 1939. Ernest Fiene's 1936 oil painting, "Night Shift -- Aliquippa (Entrance to the J&L Works)," was exhibited at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Visitors may follow a self-guided tour, "Go Back in Time: American Artists at the World's Fairs," through Feb. 24, or join museum docent Joanne Highberger for a tour at noon Wednesday.
Old Economy Village in Ambridge was founded by a religious group, the Harmony Society, which began silk production in the 1820s. Children and elder women would feed white mulberry leaves from trees that lined 14th Street in Ambridge to the silk worms that lived in a cocoonery. The historic site has a display of vintage silks -- some one of a kind -- that was exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The textiles include a George Rapp signature scarf, reproductions of which are sold in the gift shop.
The Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze offers a new tour of Clayton, the Frick family home, that emphasizes the importance of world's fairs in the Gilded Age and explores details of the Frick family trip to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Among objects on display are the Official Catalogue of Exhibits and a porcelain basket stamped "Chicago Exposition 1893" that Henry Clay Frick's wife, Adelaide, brought back from the exposition.
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World's fairs still attract crowds but, in an age of ubiquitous media, innovations no longer need to wait for a debut at such grand expositions, which dazzled visitors in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Carnegie Museum of Art drew from fair heydays for its current exhibition, "Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs, 1851-1939," and its galleries overflow with elegant objects. But the fairs always reached beyond art and design to technological and industrial invention.
When Carnegie curators researched their show, they discovered many connections to world's fairs at local museums and other sites throughout the region. The Carnegie published a brochure highlighting some of those discoveries, from robots to locally manufactured silk to the Ferris wheel. Some are shown in the photos above (mouse over the Ferris wheel photo and click on the arrows to see other pictures).
There also are world's fair displays at three other local sites but not included in the above photo display:
• The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side exhibits fair memorabilia collected by the late artist, who was a world's fair fan, in "It Happened at the World's Fairs: Andy Warhol & World's Fairs," through Jan. 8. Information: www.warhol.org.
• Carnegie Mellon University's exhibit, "Pittsburgh Architects Design for the Fairs," comprises archival records related to Henry Hornbostel's Pennsylvania Building for the 1915 San Francisco fair and Edward B. Lee's Pittsburgh pavilion for the 1926 Philadelphia fair. The free exhibit continues through Feb. 24 in the Arts Library on the fourth floor of the Hunt Library on the Oakland campus.
• The University of Pittsburgh displays a rich array of journals, rare materials and photographs in a free exhibit titled "Eyes on the Future: World's Fairs Images in the Collections of the University Library System" through Feb. 24 in the Frick Fine Arts Library in the Frick Fine Arts Building and on the second floor of Hillman Library, both on the Oakland campus.
First Published November 29, 2012 12:00 am