PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
Sad to be leaving Pittsburgh.
As you can see, I had another night with Brigitte and we went to the Pittsburgh institution, Sarris, where we had the most gigantic banana splits I've ever seen. Delicious! I'm not really sure why I look so glum in that shot, but I'll put it down to being sad about leaving what has become a favourite city where I've made a lot of friends.
Sarris is a remarkable place in the suburbs of Pittsburgh which sells not only very fine ice-cream but also fantastic chocolate-covered salty pretzels and any chocolate you can imagine. It is somewhere between Wonka's chocolate factory, the soda-bar in "Happy Days" and a trashy mall It houses a neon rainbow, a chocolate castle and sells a menagerie of soft toys...
One of the brilliant things about Pittsburgh is the interconnectedness of the craft scene there. It is a very big and dynamic city with a tiny population; it has frequently been voted "the most liveable city in the USA" and part of this is down to the presence of several major universities, the availability of relatively inexpensive property and the presence of several very important museums, such as the Carnegie and Frick museums. The more recent additions of places such as The Warhol, The Mattress Factory and The Society for Contemporary Craft have given cutting-edge artists places to show their work and all of these institutions have very active education programmes, many of which are available on reduced-price or free scholarships.
Brigitte is, of course, one of the movers and shakers in this interconnected group and when I was introduced to James Thurman and his new wife, Umut Demirguc Thurman, it was unsurprising to hear that they would be having breakfast with her the next day! In a strange turn of coincidences, James was at school with Julie, who is the landlady of the rooming-house in which I was staying in Bloomfield, one of the more arts-based suburbs of the city. We went out for a meal to the excellent Church Brewhouse restaurant, a restaurant and micro-brewery in an old church.
My last class at the SCC was also this week. It was a class for people between school and university who were wanting to build up their jewellery skills. Yet again, I was amazed at how much these people wanted to learn and we covered loads of skills, from soldering tricks and tips to accurate pattern transfer on the first day, then stone-setting with various techniques on the second.
During the time that this class was running, I had a chance to finish the piece I started last week, my Pittsburgh Piece made from screws, washers and white-metal wire picked up in the city. It needs a bit more of a polish, which I will do when I get back to my own workshop.
On the very last day - the day after the banana splits with Brigitte - I went to visit a disused blast-furnace with the husband of my non-metalsmithing friend, Elizabeth, the esteemed historian Kirk Savage. Carrie Furnaces are now preserved as a national landmark but have been left much as they were when they were shut down in the 1980s and although the visit was an organised tour, there is nothing tarted up about the decaying buildings and it is possible to wander about fairly freely within the tour route. The great thing about the tour was that we were taken round by someone who had worked most of his adult life in the place until it shut, which gave an immediacy to the place, a real feel for what the factory had been like when operational:
Gary, our tour guide.
Our urban explorations should have continued in the afternoon with a visit to the now-disused Westinghouse particle accelerator, the first particle accelerator ever built but a monumental thunderstorm which lasted several hours - and allowed me my first chance to hear, see and smell lightning striking at close quarters as it struck the garden fence opposite my house - put a stop to that.
Fortunately, I'll be back again next year.
Home again! Back to Brighton and the usual rubbish I photograph...