Among the losses suffered by our nation and the wider world of arts and culture this past summer was the death of renowned pianist Leon Fleisher at the age of 92. A brilliant pedagogue as well as performer, Fleisher began studying at age 9 with Artur Schnabel, who himself had been a student of a student of Ludwig van Beethoven! Fleisher’s virtuoso career was tragically interrupted by a neurological illness that disabled his right hand, but he went on to build a second career focused on works for the left hand.
Some years ago I heard Fleisher speak at a retirement dinner for a renowned medical scientist. He recounted how many of his physician friends had told him that, after a long day of surgery, they liked nothing better than to spend an evening playing the piano. Fleisher’s reply was that he liked nothing better, after a long day of playing piano, than to spend an evening performing “a little brain surgery.”
Humor aside, Fleisher’s remarks highlight a view of art that persists to this day. According to that view, science is relevant to life’s most important issues and questions, whereas art is essentially a leisure activity that at best provides a respite from more serious concerns. At Carnegie Museums, we reject that narrow view of art and science and enjoy a history that combines both fields in rich and compelling ways. In this issue, we begin a survey of 125 objects—in honor of the 125 years since our founding—that amply illustrate that history.
At Carnegie Museums, we reject that narrow view of art and science and enjoy a history that combines both fields in rich and compelling ways.
Among the items in the initial group of 25 is the 1953 volume Wild Flowers of Western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Basin. It was a collaborative product of two scientists who served successively as directors of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. One of them, Russian immigrant Andrey Avinoff, was an accomplished painter as well as the distinguished lepidopterist whose vast collection of butterflies is another of this issue’s featured items.
As the beauty and precision of his illustrations show, Avinoff personally embodied the integration of science and art. But the book he co-created with Otto Jennings is significant in another way: it exemplifies Carnegie Museums’ deep and fruitful embeddedness in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region.
We’ll encounter many examples in the course of this anniversary year, but it will be hard for any of them to surpass the more than 70,000 photographs in the Teenie Harris Archive, acquired by Carnegie Museum of Art in 2001 and aptly described in this issue as “one of the country’s most detailed and intimate photographic records of the Black urban experience.”
The scope of our collections and the breadth of their relevance are beyond exaggerating. Our quasquicentennial year is as good a time as any to remember and resolve to continue serving the mission that was entrusted to us all those many years ago.
President & Chief Executive Officer,
Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
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