Thursday, June 11, 2009

Must Read:

Photo was on the front page in the newspaper and it is so small on the web.

South Side artist creates unusual tribute to industrial heritage of city

Lorraine Vullo (right) and guest artist Michael Picarsic
Keith Hodan/Tribune-Review

By Bonnie Pfister TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, June 11, 2009

Near the site of a notorious July 1892 clash between hired guns and locked-out steel workers, a local artist has created a space for meditation and spiritual reflection.

Lorraine Vullo of the South Side is putting the final touches on an 11-ring medieval labyrinth of bricks set into the ground on the site of Andrew Carnegie's storied Homestead steel mill. The Belgian-block and concrete stones are etched with the names of foundries and furnaces that once operated along Pittsburgh's three rivers.

Vullo hopes visitors will reflect upon the joys and struggles of workers who came from around the world to fuel the industrial boom.

"This location is a huge part of history," Vullo, 50, said Wednesday. "I wanted to honor the men and women who worked here, and who lost their lives here. This is a sacred area to a lot of people."

The 68-foot diameter labyrinth is built on land owned by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area at 880 E. Waterfront Drive, at the eastern edge of The Waterfront shopping area. Rivers of Steel, which operates a small museum nearby, is hosting a dedication ceremony and reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. Afterward, the labyrinth will be open without charge around the clock.

At the site of the former mill's pumphouse, workers protesting wage cuts 107 years ago battled armed Pinkerton detectives hired by Carnegie Steel Co. executive Henry Clay Frick. Three workers and seven Pinkertons died in the confrontation, which was quelled when Pennsylvania militia, at Frick's request, marched in and imposed martial law.

When Vullo first described the labyrinth to Rivers of Steel president and CEO Augie Carlino, "my reaction was, 'A what?' " recalled Carlino. "But having worked with Lorraine before, I knew the quality of her work and the emotion and thought that she brings to her work."

Raised in Buffalo, Vullo moved to Pittsburgh in the late 1970s. She founded the Blatent Image Gallery, a cooperatively-run gallery of fine art photography that later grew into the South Side's Silver Eye Center for Photography. With fellow artist Michael Picarsic III, she mounted the 2005 show "Recrudescence" at Rivers of Steel, featuring photos and sculptural installations made from the remnants of the former J&L Steel mill in what is now SouthSide Works.

"It's gone beyond what I expected it to be," Carlino said about the Homestead Labyrinth. "It's breathtaking. It has this regenerative, spiritual element. ... It's almost like an offering back to nature. It's something you'd never expect to see in an industrial area."

The work is supported by combined donations of about $90,000 from The Heinz Endowments' Small Arts Initiative, The Pittsburgh Foundation's A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Weisshouse, Pixel River Photo + Art, and private donors, Vullo said.

The land may eventually be developed for other use, but Vullo said the labyrinth should remain in place for at least a few years.

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