You May Also Like125 Years: A History in Objects Continues Notes from the Front Lines 125 Years: A History in Objects
Dinosaur Hall’s T. rex Mural
For decades, visitors flocked to Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s original Dinosaur Hall to see its resident VIPs—Diplodocus carnegii, Apatosaurus louisae, and Tyrannosaurus rex. They left with a dark and foreboding image baked into their brains, painted in 1950 by the museum’s chief artist, Ottmar von Fuehrer. The floor-to-ceiling mural took the Carnegie Tech-trained artist months to complete, and museum visitors got to watch as the depiction of the fierce creature took shape. Part T. rex, part Godzilla, the lumbering dinosaur was based on the science of the day. Later that century, scientists learned that T. rex moved with its back held almost horizontal, with its powerful jaws just a few feet above eye level and its tail raised well off the ground. So, von Fuehrer’s mural had to go. But his work is still on view today—from the painting of Mt. Rainier in the Hall of Botany to the murals in the Hall of North American Wildlife’s dioramas.
The Tesla Coil
Lightning strikes a few times nearly every day at Carnegie Science Center, thanks to the fan-favorite Tesla coil, named after inventor Nikola Tesla. Visitors to Works Theater learn how Tesla’s invention, built in 1891, would go on to find applications in early radio-transmission antennae, television picture tubes, and sodium street lamps. But they also learn that the Science Center’s 10-foot-high creation is one of the country’s largest and oldest amateur-made Tesla coils still in operation today. Pittsburgh teenager George Kaufman constructed it in 1911 in the attic of his family’s Ben Avon home. It took him a year and $125 of his own money, not to mention the ire of neighbors who suffered power-grid failures due to the 1 million volts of ungrounded electricity it generated. Kaufman went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from what’s now Carnegie Mellon University, and became chief electrical engineer for J&L Steel, where he earned more than 100 patents. In 1950, he donated his Tesla coil to Buhl Planetarium, where its special brand of homemade lightning wowed visitors for decades before finding a new home at the Science Center in 1994.
The Women’s Suffrage Parade, in Miniature
On May 2, 1914, courageous women took to the streets of Pittsburgh in support of the era’s most controversial topic—a woman’s right to vote. Eighty-one years later, in 1995, Carnegie Science Center honored them by making their parade part of the Miniature Railroad & Village’s® magical world. Model makers drew their inspiration from newspaper accounts and parade handouts, making dozens of tiny figures dressed in colorful period clothing. Leading the way is Julian “Boss of the Road” Kennedy, followed by Jennie “Liberty Bell” Bradley Roessing, driving the same car she drove to each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, lobbying for the cause. According to the Pittsburgh Daily Post, “Race, creed and social standing were eliminated in the common cause,” as representatives from the National Association of Colored Women, Chatham University, and the Boy Scouts, among other groups, joined the march.
Andy Warhol collected everything from Fiestaware to dental molds to art deco. His 610 Time Capsules are his largest collecting project, in which he stored source material for his artwork as well as odds and ends from his daily life. In this spirit, The Warhol’s education team, in partnership with local immigrant families, developed Community Time Capsules to celebrate Pittsburgh’s rich cultural heritage. Each is an online collection of personal and historical objects that captures the culture and stories of some of the region’s immigrant communities. The Warhol photographed hundreds of items for each Community Time Capsule, and the compilations are part of the museum’s online curriculum that uses Warhol’s life and practice to teach lessons across the humanities. This wood and leather wardrobe trunk puts a spotlight on three generations of the Cavaliere family, who used it to pack their previous lives for their transatlantic travels between Italy and the United States.
A Dinosaur for Pittsburgh
Andrew Carnegie’s intense interest in prehistoric buried treasure began in 1898 when he spied an article in a New York newspaper about a University of Wyoming fossil collector who had stumbled across the ancient remains of the “most colossal animal ever on Earth.” Legend has it that Carnegie sent the clipping with a $10,000 check to museum director William Holland with the directive to “buy this for Pittsburgh.” The reality is that the check came later. First came a tussle between the university and Holland’s team to remove the fossils. After no additional bones were discovered at the site, Carnegie’s bone hunters moved some 20 miles away to Sheep Creek, Wyoming, where, in July 1899, they found a nearly complete skeleton of a gigantic, long-necked sauropod dinosaur. It would take all of 130 crates to transport the bones of the 85-foot-long giant Diplodocus carnegii—named after its financier—to Pittsburgh via boxcar. Once assembled, Dippy, as the behemoth is now affectionately known, was the star of Pittsburgh’s newly built 1907 Dinosaur Hall.
While we don’t know its exact location, this pastoral scene caught Robert S. Duncanson’s eye shortly after the artist visited Pittsburgh in July 1852. It was still early in his career, before he became the first African American artist to garner an international reputation and the title of “the greatest landscape painter in the West.” He was in Pittsburgh during a tour of his first historical landscape, The Garden of Eden. He would eventually give that monumental painting to the Reverend Charles Avery, a white minister and philanthropist who was a member of Pittsburgh’s Underground Railroad, “for his generosity and friendship” towards African Americans. Duncanson’s gift was in recognition of Avery’s 1849 founding of the Allegheny Institute, the first college for African Americans in Allegheny County. Acquired by Carnegie Museum of Art in 2018, American Landscape is currently on view in A Pittsburgh Anthology.
Robert S. Duncanson, American Landscape, 1852, Carnegie Museum of Art; Heinz Family Fund
Victory, from the Lakota’s Perspective
On June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer and his troops confronted the Northern Plains Indians, who were defending their right to their land, in the Battle of the Little Bighorn—known to the Lakota and other Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Custer and more than 200 soldiers died in the conflict now known as Custer’s Last Stand. This beaded antelope hide illustrates the victory of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors over U.S. federal troops, as told from a Lakota perspective. An unknown artist made it in the early 1990s in the style of 19th-century ledger art. At the time, it was uncommon for commercial work to depict the indigenous point of view. In the lower right quadrant, there’s a figure in a maroon top with white dots (representing elk teeth/hunting prowess) believed to be a woman warrior, a respected individual within Plains tribes. Installed in the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians in 2018, the hide was donated to the Museum of Natural History by Lester Becker in memory of his late wife, Joan Becker, a retired librarian and friend of the museum who volunteered in the anthropology department for 13 years.
USS Requin (SS-481)
The USS Requin has been moored on Carnegie Science Center’s Ohio River shoreline since 1990, a floating technology and history lesson. In active service from 1945 to 1968, it once carried a crew of up to 80 sailors and supported both defensive and scientific missions, some of them still classified. Launched on January 1, 1945, from Portsmouth Navy Shipyard in New Hampshire, it quickly earned the nickname Galloping Ghost of the East Coast for its Cold War adventures policing the Eastern Seaboard. Its first commander was Slade Deville Cutter, a 6-foot-4-inch captain with four Navy Crosses. Cutter and crew sailed for Guam in August 1945, with orders to support the planned invasion of Japan. Three days later, the war was over, and the sub pivoted to non-combat missions. Daily life among Requin’s crewmen included “hot bunking”—taking a shift in one of about 30 shared berths—and 24/7 meals in the sub’s mess, which visitors can see in person or through a newly created virtual tour.
Winslow Homer’s The Wreck
Andrew Carnegie was a man not to be outdone. A year after the first Venice Biennale opened in Italy, his new museum-library hub in Pittsburgh hosted the first Carnegie International, then called the Annual Exhibition. Among the artists who exhibited in the 1896 International was 60-year-old American artist Winslow Homer. His oil painting, The Wreck, so impressed the judges that they awarded him the Chronological Medal and $5,000 in prize money. Soon after, the museum acquired it—marking one of the first paintings to enter the museum’s collection and one of more than 300 works acquired from 57 Carnegie Internationals. Homer is said to have based the work on a sketch he made of a disaster he witnessed from the dunes of Higgins Beach at Prout’s Neck, Maine. Instead of the wreck itself, the focus is on the rescue team struggling to drag a lifeboat across the beach’s sand hills.
Winslow Homer, The Wreck, 1896, Carnegie Museum of Art
Tactile Female Fashion Figure
Andy Warhol famously said, “Pop art is for everyone.” Following his lead, in 2014 The Warhol introduced the first of more than a dozen tactile reproductions of Andy Warhol artworks—think Campbell’s Soup I: Cream of Mushroom, Marilyn, and Female Fashion Figure. These three-dimensional representations give visitors a sense of the texture, shape, and composition of Warhol’s artwork through touch. The museum pairs each one with audio recordings by way of its Out Loud audio guide, which walks visitors through the experience of visualizing the original artworks by touching them. While they’re designed for visitors who are blind or have low vision, they give everyone a closer look—a closer feel— of what a Warhol artwork is all about.
Andy Warhol, Female Fashion Figure, 1950s, The Andy Warhol Museum © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Brewster Medal (times two)
The Museum of Natural History began collecting birds before bird guides existed, at a time when identification took place through the barrel of a shotgun filled with “dust” to reduce damage to the specimens. In 1899, the museum hired W.E. Clyde Todd as an assistant in charge of all recent vertebrates, though he was shamelessly devoted to birds. He built that collection from the ground up, accessioning 136,295 specimens—a remarkable 66 percent of today’s holdings. Todd described 397 holotypes, or birds new to the world. He produced two major works, Birds of Western Pennsylvania (1940) and Birds of the Labrador Peninsula and Adjacent Areas (1963), the latter of which focused on an area of eastern Canada and earned him the distinction of being the only ornithologist to date to win a pair of Brewster Medals, in recognition of exceptional body of work on birds of the Western Hemisphere. The prestigious honor from the American Ornithological Society dates to 1921 and was bestowed on Todd for the first time in 1925 for his co-work on the birds of Santa Marta, Colombia.
The Science Fair Project
Does insulating beehives aid overwintering honeybees? What are the effects of rapamycin and metformin on exosome secretion in cancer cells? Does screen time affect sleep? A regional institution since 1939, today’s Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair is not your grandfather’s science fair. It’s a place where science is cool, optimism runs high, and scores of young scientists want nothing more than to change their world. Nearly 1,000 students in grades six through 12 compete from western Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. Hundreds of regional professionals weigh in as judges for the event that, all told, awards hundreds of prizes and scholarships. It’s a win-win for aspiring changemakers and our region.
Founder’s Day Program
The Founder’s Day celebrations of the early Carnegie Institute were no small affairs. The 14th annual event should have occurred on April 29, 1910, but was postponed to May 2 to oblige the schedule of the celebration’s keynote speaker, President William Howard Taft. Every seat of Carnegie Music Hall was filled and the streets outside the building were packed with thousands of people gathered to catch a glance of the president and other dignitaries. In his remarks, Taft hailed the grand building, expanded three years earlier, as a “great temple of art, of music, and of learning.”
Andrey Avinoff’s Butterflies
Legend has it that Andrey Avinoff fell in love at first sight—with butterflies—at age 5, while roaming the grounds of his family’s expansive estate in Ukraine. At 7 years old, he discovered a future mentor in William J. Holland, the first director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, when he immersed himself in Holland’s The Butterfly Book. By adulthood, Avinoff—also an accomplished artist—had become laser-focused on the study of the geographical variation in moths and butterflies across Asia, amassing a huge collection of specimens that would eventually be appropriated by the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. After fleeing his homeland during the Russian Revolution, he was recruited by Holland to bring his passion for butterflies to Pittsburgh, where he was able to more than replace his lost collection. Avinoff served as the museum’s director from 1926 to 1945, and the beauty and diversity of his collection is treasured to this day.
Wild flowers of Western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Basin
Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been—and still is!—home to many accomplished scientists, and two stand out for their combined work on an amazing research and artistic feat: Wild Flowers of Western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Basin, printed in 1953. It was 12 years earlier that museum director Andrey Avinoff, a renowned entomologist and an accomplished painter, began an ambitious project with friend and curator of botany Otto E. Jennings, who would succeed Avinoff as museum director. They wanted to describe and illustrate the flora of western Pennsylvania, based on Jennings’ lifelong study of the region. So, Jennings and his colleagues would bring living plants into the museum, and Avinoff worked quickly to paint each specimen, many of which were then dried, pressed, and placed in the museum’s herbarium. Jennings collected this squarrose goldenrod (Solidago squarrosa) on September 21, 1944, on a ledge along the river bluffs near Bell’s Landing, Pennsylvania. Volume I of the duo’s historic publication is focused on descriptive content—including maps, the botany of the region, and descriptive text of the flora. In volume II, Avinoff’s 200 color drawings take center stage. It’s a singular accomplishment still greatly admired nearly 70 years later.
As a newspaper man, Charles “Teenie” Harris lovingly captured his community’s everyday—its vibrant cultural, economic, and political life—through more than 70,000 photographs, earning him the distinction of being one of the most prolific photographers of the 20th century. He took most of his images in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and surrounding communities while on assignment for the country’s widest-selling Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, and they tell more than a local story. Acquired by Carnegie Museum of Art in 2001, the Teenie Harris Archive is considered one of the country’s most detailed and intimate photographic records of the Black urban experience.
Charles “Teenie” Harris, Young women eating caramel apples, including Helen Ruth Daniels in center, possibly Schenley High School, ca. 1940–1946, Carnegie Museum of Art; Heinz Family Fund
Pseudomorph of Hemimorphite after Calcite
On certain days, it’s easy to figure out which are the stars of Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems: at closing time, just check out the number of fingerprints on the specimens’ glass cases. Without question, the megastar of the group—for well over a century—is the yellowish-gold pseudomorph of hemimorphite after calcite, unearthed from the ore fields near Joplin, Missouri, and gifted to the museum by A.L. Means in 1897. With only a handful in existence, it remains the signature piece of the collection, and can be found encased behind plexiglass—nearly glowing—in the hall’s Masterpiece Gallery.
Prince of Swords
Known primarily for her painting, Nicole Eisenman came to prominence in the 1990s with her darkly funny, almost cartoonish canvases that satirize everything from politics to the nuclear family, art, and gender stereotypes, sometimes all in a single work. During the 2013 Carnegie International, she was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Prize for her career-spanning survey of painting paired with new sculpture in the museum’s Hall of Sculpture, where one of her figures remains today, playing with its distant cousins, the Greek and Roman casts. Prince of Swords sits with its feet dangling over the balcony, hunched over a smartphone. With a crystal lodged in its throat chakra, the figure personifies communication: “how we are drawn together, and also not, through ways we communicate,” says Eisenman. “I don’t really feel like it’s possible to be alone in this world. But here’s the way we have of being alone in the crowd.”
Nicole Eisenman, Prince of Swords, 2013, Carnegie Museum of Art; The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Julia Warhola’s Naturalization Certificate
When Julia Warhola, mother of Andy Warhol, received her naturalization document at the age of 49, she never could have imagined it would one day be exhibited in a museum. Now displayed on The Andy Warhol Museum’s top floor, it’s an artifact of hands-down the most important person in the Pop artist’s life. She was born Julia Zavacky in Mikova, Czechoslovakia, on November 17, 1892. Hers was hardly an exceptional immigrant story, except she loved to draw and she passed that love of drawing on to her children, including her youngest, Andy. After Andy moved away from Pittsburgh, he and his mother would live together in New York from 1952 until a year before her death in 1972. Her decorative handwriting, which Andy admired, often found its way into his illustrations, as did her drawings of her favorite subjects—angels and cats.
In 2005, while welcoming guests to Works Theater at Carnegie Science Center, educator Mike Hennessy met a young visitor with autism who was captivated by an old pedestal fan in a staff hallway, barely visible near the theater entrance. As it turned out, during the boy’s subsequent trips to the museum, he grew enamored with the fan, even giving short tours of it to other children. After visits, he would spend hours drawing it. Hennessy learned this one day when he discovered the boy and his family searching for the fan. Staff, it seems, had unwittingly moved it. So, the Science Center team sprang into action, searching the building until they located the fan, returning it to its place of honor. The child and his family continued to visit the Science Center—and the fan—for several years, until one day staff surprised the now-teenager with the fan as a Christmas gift, cleaned and dressed in a bow. Not long after, the young man’s mother sent a collage of photos showing the boy growing up at the Science Center—visiting the fan, searching for it, and finally observing it proudly as a permanent exhibit in his home. “It speaks to how we don’t know what will inspire our guests, and we don’t always know—in the moment—the kind of impact we’re having,” notes Steve Kovac, the Science Center’s senior director of service and engagement.
Andrew, by Andy
With Richard Mellon Scaife’s support, in 1981 Carnegie Museum of Art commissioned Pittsburgh’s most famous artist to create a portrait of Carnegie Museums’ founder. It’s only fitting that it be Andy Warhol, who attended Saturday Art Classes at Carnegie Museum of Art and studied painting and design at what’s now Carnegie Mellon University—both established by Andrew Carnegie. The artist based his silkscreen of the complex figure on a photograph taken in 1896 by celebrated Pittsburgh photographer B.L.H. Dabbs. Warhol created two versions and both are in the museum’s collection. This one was a gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts following Warhol’s death. Screened in vibrant complementary colors, the works give the buttoned-down look of the steel magnate something akin to an electric charge.
Andy Warhol, Andrew Carnegie, 1981, Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Warhol: Resources & Lessons English-Russian Workbook
Over 25 years, the keepers of the Andy Warhol flame have brought his art to more than 40 countries, reaching some 12 million people. In a particularly remarkable exchange, The Warhol traveled the exhibition Andy Warhol: Artist of Modern Life to three major Russian cities in 2005. With support from the Alcoa Foundation, the museum established an educational partnership with the host institutions in Russia, which included the translation of educational resources, like this workbook, and a collaboration between students in Moscow and Pittsburgh. The project galvanized nearly a decade’s worth of work by The Warhol’s education department to create a free, and still evolving, online curriculum using Warhol’s life, art, and practice to teach lessons across the humanities.
The Hopi, an Educational Kit
For nearly 125 years, the Museum of Natural History’s Educator Loan Collection, the brainchild of early museum director William J. Holland, has introduced area teachers and students to real, touchable artifacts and specimens of the natural world—from minerals and skulls to feathers, furs, and taxidermy. Themed by topic into tool kits—think dinosaurs, minerals, and Pennsylvania botany—additions to the now 8,000-plus collection are often donated by the museum’s scientific sections because they’re lacking sufficient data for scientific study. They’re no less valuable, though, as educational tools for K–12 learners. Included in this kit about the cultural heritage of the Hopi, a Native American tribe who primarily live in northeastern Arizona, is a letter from a Hopi carver. “I began carving when I was about 8 years old. I learned by sitting and watching my uncles and fathers carve beautiful figures of Katsinas,” writes Patrick Joshevama, who considers his carved works to be “my footprints upon this Earth.”
A Patch of Pittsburgh Past
On November 5, 1895, when Andrew Carnegie dedicated his “palace of culture,” the grand building was a glistening reminder of the value the steel baron placed on learning. Decades later, that same building, now blackened by layers of industrial soot, was an ominous reminder of the once unchecked environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels to power Carnegie’s steel mills and other industrial polluters. In the fall of 1989, library and museum leaders took on the task of cleaning the building’s Berea sandstone exterior—all but a small corner left black as a reminder of what once was. The public was invited to sponsor patches of the building, and the $1.3 million face-lift finally began after years of study to determine the safest way to clean the façade of the 104-year-old historic landmark. By the end of 1990, the building was returned to its onetime glory.
The School Bus
On most spring days and just before the annual holiday break, the school bus is an ever-present part of the Carnegie Museums landscape. But unfortunately, not in the age of COVID-19. The first time most young visitors meet up with Dippy, strike a pose mid-stride with the Walking Man sculpture at the Museum of Art, get lost in the Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village®, and learn to silkscreen at The Warhol is usually on a school field trip, delivered on a yellow school bus. Each year, some 100,000 schoolchildren find unique sources of inspiration, knowledge, and fun at the museums. We can’t wait to welcome them back!
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