B. Foster II By
roots in the community are a big part of Lee Foster’s
life. As chairman of L.B. Foster Company, a Pittsburgh-based
manufacturer and distributor of rail and construction
products, he’s carrying out a legacy left him by
his grandfather, who founded the company more than a
century ago. He’s also part of a family legacy
at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, as a second-generation
board member of the Museum of Natural History. And now,
as vice chair of Carnegie Museums’ Board of Trustees
and chair of the recently announced Building the
Future campaign, he wants to make everyone in the region feel
a sense of pride and ownership in their museums. “These
tremendous resources are ultimately owned by all of us,” he
notes, “and it’s our responsibility to support
How did your scientific and cultural interests evolve?
I have a hobbyist’s interest in archaeology and an
undergraduate degree in anthropology. I went to school
at Cornell for three years, and lived in South America
before finishing my last year at the University of Pittsburgh.
visited various archaeological sites in Central and South
America, spending the longest period of time in Colombia,
where I worked on a project about the effects of mass
media on indigenous populations. In my travels I became
of various things, notably pre-Colombian and Latin American
art, and glass. My interest in pre-Colombian art flourished
during my time there and expanded when I met my wife,
Issie, who is Colombian. We go back from time to time.
What did Carnegie Museums mean to you as a child growing
up in Pittsburgh?
My uncle, Mike Porter, was a board member, and my aunt,
Adrienne Porter, was a member of the Women’s Committee
and also volunteered in the gift shop. From third or fourth
grade on I was a regular visitor. I grew up in Squirrel
Hill, within bike-riding distance, and I used to spend
countless days in the Museum of Natural History among the
dinosaurs. They are etched into my brain.
What is it like being involved
in the campaign effort to revamp the dinosaurs—an
exhibit so near and dear to you?
It’s very exciting to me. The new exhibits will showcase
the dinosaurs in engaging new ways—surrounded by
flora and fauna that were contemporaneous with them, and
posed in ways that are more scientifically accurate and
that introduce a new element of interactivity.
everyone who grew up in Western Pennsylvania rode school
buses to the old exhibit in ritual fashion
and has a connection with the dinosaurs—it’s
almost a kind of genetic memory. But this is exciting for
everyone—not just Pittsburghers. I think the new
Dinosaurs in Their World exhibit will be a huge economic
driver as people from all over the world come to see it.
How do you think the continued growth of Carnegie Museums
contributes to the progress of the region?
Certainly The Warhol has been a very important addition
to Carnegie Museums and the region. Almost immediately,
it became more than a museum, the work of an icon of modern
contemporary art, but it’s part of a broader discourse—through
its performing arts and exhibitions—that has become
a catalyst for imaginative thinking in the region.
Science Center is a phenomenal gift to the region, too.
More than half a million people pass through there
annually and it’s greatly enriching the science programs
of the public schools. The Museum of Art continues to bring
cutting-edge exhibitions to the region—Fierce
Light, the International, to name a few—that continue
to stimulate the imagination of not just those in the region
but beyond. And the Museum of Natural History, through
the truly magnanimous gift of Dick Simmons, will continue
to accommodate blockbuster exhibits in the Special Exhibits
Gallery, and of course deliver the much-anticipated reopening
of Dinosaurs in Their World. All told, the museums haven’t
rested on their laurels. They continue to recognize that
they must constantly be innovative and engaging to serve
Why is it critical that Carnegie Museums build its endowment
through this campaign?
It is absolutely essential that the endowment grows for
a variety of reasons. We need to provide flexibility in
spending. The Oakland campus is more than 110 years old,
and the maintenance of the buildings is very expensive.
The Carnegie International, as another example, has brought
tremendous prestige to the museum and to Pittsburgh, but
every four years it puts a strain on the Museum of Art
to make it possible. This is an area where an endowment
can make a big difference, and each museum has such a need.
In one form or another, additional needs arise, and it’s
preferable and wise to have a healthy endowment because
it takes the burden off of the annual fundraising effort,
and it also decreases the volatility of the budgeting process.
What do you find most rewarding
about your involvement in Pittsburgh’s cultural
It’s truly been a labor of love. And getting to know
the people at the museums—the directors, the curators,
and all of the staff—adds great value and richness
to my life. I find the people there to be the brightest,
the most stimulating, and the hardest-working people that
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. And I’ve
truly enjoyed the exposure to the four museums. I always
try to get to meetings a few minutes early or stay a few
minutes late, just to spend a little extra time walking
around. I love exploring something new—that’s
rewarding in and of itself.
Have you discovered anything surprising in your exploration?
The first time I visited Powdermill Nature Reserve, the
Museum of Natural History’s research and educational
facility in the Laurel Highlands, I spent a morning with
Director Dave Smith and was blown away by what they do
there. I think it’s somewhat of a hidden gem that
a lot of people in this region just don’t appreciate.
The campaign renovation project to expand Powdermill
is itself very interesting because of the cutting-edge
green technologies they’re using in its construction.
One of the challenges is going to be to draw people there—not
just people who live in the immediate area, but also
people from around the region. It’s a very unique
resource, and one that has a tremendous amount to contribute.