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“Gift of Art” to Pittsburgh Public Schools

Kristine Sorensen
May10/ 2017

You only have a few weeks left to see an exhibit at the Heinz History Center that’s been in the making for 100 years.  The impressive collection of art from regional artists now graces the museum’s walls, so to learn that all of the art came from, and is going back to, the Pittsburgh Public Schools is surprising.

For the past 100 years, an organization called “Friends of Art” has been gifting fine art from regional artists to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, but many of the pieces were neglected or even lost until some local artists set out to display them in the schools and, now, a museum.

Children across the district are touring the exhibit and learning how lucky they are to have this art at their schools.  A group of fourth graders from Wolslair Elementary School in Bloomfield recently came to the History Center show with resident artist, Maritza Mosquera.

The art is engaging the children.  “I learned that art is a beautiful thing,” said Javon Toliver.  “That was amazing to see how, back in the day, what they drew,” said Khier Bey.

Maritza guides these students, teaching them how to appreciate art.  “Remember we can’t be right or wrong about these things,” she says, asking for their impressions about a large painting with a boy on a bicycle. She asks them questions like, ” What does this wire symbolize?  What is it about?  Why did (the artist) choose that?”

The art wasn’t always seen as the valuable asset that it is.   “We were really amazed to find works behind file cabinets, in basements, in attics,” says Dr. Patricia Sheahan.  Seven years ago, Dr. Sheahan and her colleague sought out to find all of the works of art donated from the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s annual exhibition over the past 100 years.

325 pieces of art were found all throughout the schools, but almost as many are missing.  An amnesty program started a year ago brought back 5 pieces, but the hope is that people will come to the Heinz History Center, look at the images of the missing artwork and return any they recognize.   It’s known that some of the artwork was destroyed in a fire and some, the artists asked to have back, but it’s believed that many were taken home by people who felt like the artwork was their own, possibly after having it in their office for so many years and not realizing it’s part of a special collection.  If someone has a piece, he can give it to the Concept Gallery in Regent Square or Borelli-Edwards Gallery in Lawrenceville, no questions asked.

School children across the district are working with local artists, including Mosquera and Robert Qualters, discussing, drawing and then making their own art at school to be displayed or performed at the History Center on June 11.

Fourth grader Oliver Fitzpatrick was impressed by the art he saw at the exhibit.  “All of the pictures were really creative,” he said.  “I could never draw like that. They were so detailed.”

The goal is that when this artwork goes back to the school hallways, the teachers will continue to use it as a teaching tool.   Dr. Sheahan explains, “We’ve always encouraged teachers to integrate the collection with all disciplines – to math, social studies, even physical education, music, language arts, poetry.”

The artwork is valued from several thousand dollars for a piece to up to possibly 100-thousand for one painting. After the exhibit comes down June 12-th, the art will be displayed in 14 schools in what have been set up as “hallway galleries”.

The Gift of Art: 100 Years of Art from the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Collection

Kristine Sorensen

I am proud to work at KDKA-TV -- anchoring the news, hosting Pittsburgh Today Live and doing special reports. I am married to KDKA reporter Marty Griffin and we have 3 children. I first moved to Pittsburgh in 1999 but I’ve lived in Dallas, Johnson City, Tenn., Chicago, Williamsburg, Va., Milwaukee and Winter Park, Fla. Pittsburgh is now the place I call home.