Lest We Forget: One Year On

large portrait of Holocaust survivor mounted on exterior display at the University of Pittsburgh campus as part of Luigi Toscano's "Lest We Forget" portrait series

Portrait of Bronia Weiner (b. Romania, 1919). One of 60 large-scale photographs of Holocaust survivors in Luigi Toscano’s “Lest We Forget” project, Oakland

It is almost what you might call a Mona Lisa smile. The face on the canvas is warm, but contains a hundred years of ups and downs, tragedy, triumph, and vigor—at least, that’s what we’re seeing. The woman’s emerald green eyes stare straight back at you. Her white hair is cut short and styled—or maybe it just goes this way naturally—in a loose wave that would look fashionable on a woman a quarter her age.

But it is the upturned curl at the corner of the woman’s mouth that gives her away. This cheshire grin suggests no matter how much heartache she may have experienced, there is an indomitable human spirit alive, well, and ready to release an outrageous tall tale with joyous laughter.

Bronia Weiner is a Holocaust survivor and it is no accident that her portrait is on public display here in Pittsburgh, now.

Robert (Bob) Behr (b. Berlin, Germany, 1922)

A partnership between The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh has brought German-Italian photographer Luigi Toscano’s project Lest We Forget (or Gegen das Vergessen in the original German) to Oakland.

The installation features 60 large-scale color photo portraits mounted on semi-translucent screen. Designed for outside exhibition, the photos, stretched on big wooden frames, line the broad walkways between The Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel. Additional portraits are indoors at The Carnegie Museum and Chatham University library.

large portrait of Holocaust survivor mounted on exterior display at the University of Pittsburgh campus as part of Luigi Toscano's "Lest We Forget" portrait series

Shulamit Bastacky (b. Vilnius, Lithuania, 1941)

Up close and in person, the photographs read as the kind of opaque, hiqh-quality prints that one might find on art gallery walls. From any distance, however—especially on a bright sunny day—the fine mesh of the media allows background elements to bleed through the images.

The lush green of the Cathedral lawn colors a sun-dappled face. Eyeballs pop out from university infrastructure. Cloud-like white hair disappears into arching tree limbs, autumn leaves, and blue sky.

large portrait of Holocaust survivor mounted on exterior display at the University of Pittsburgh campus as part of Luigi Toscano's "Lest We Forget" portrait series

Sofija Goljand (b. Perejaslaw-Chmelnyzkyj, Ukraine, 1924)

We have no idea if this was the intended artistic effect or just a simple accident of the medium. Either way, the result is a beautiful and haunting way to portray these elder survivors and simultaneously address the mortality all of us inevitably wrestle with.

Toscano’s subjects range in age from their late 70s to 100 years old. Their time here—like all of ours—is limited. As these rich, detailed photographs dissolve into the wider landscape, it’s impossible not to think of the dust-to-dust return to the earth that will claim us one way or another.

large portraits of Holocaust survivor mounted on exterior display at the University of Pittsburgh campus as part of Luigi Toscano's "Lest We Forget" portrait series

“Lest We Forget” portraits near Heinz Chapel

As of today, it’s been exactly one year since a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue and committed an act of hate-filled violence that will forever affect every Pittsburgher.

With the Lest We Forget portraits, it is impossible not to see the sad irony that the 60 individuals pictured here survived Nazi concentration camps—not to mention everything else life throws at a person over eight or nine decades—and yet eleven of our neighbors were murdered at a Shabbat prayer service in Squirrel Hill.

large portraits of Holocaust survivor mounted on exterior display at the University of Pittsburgh campus as part of Luigi Toscano's "Lest We Forget" portrait series

“Lest We Forget” portraits on Cathedral of Learning lawn

Whatever you end doing today—be it attending the Tree of Life vigil or just parked on the couch with a bowl of popcorn—please keep all of these folks in your mind. Better yet, take a walk over to the lovely Cathedral lawn to see the installation for yourself. This remarkable collection of faces, each containing more life experiences than we could possibly know, will help you remember just what you have—and what we all lost exactly one year ago.

large portrait of Holocaust survivor mounted on exterior display at the University of Pittsburgh campus as part of Luigi Toscano's "Lest We Forget" portrait series

Elena Anfimowa (b. Smolensk, Russia, 1923)

Q: Who Can Take a Rainbow and Make the World Taste Good? A: The Randyland Can

elaborately painted former storefront, now Randyland, in Pittsburgh, PA

All the colors, all the time: Randyland, Arch Street, North Side

Even on one’s second, third, or fourth visit, there is still a lot left to take in. Dangling fruit and topiary flora; psychedelic pattern-over-pattern detail and wooden animals spinning their wings in the breeze; funhouse mirrors elongate space and disembodied mannequin heads make sure someone’s looking out for you at all times.

With all these competing attention-grabbers, what will stay with you most are the colors. The phrase “every crayon in the box” comes to mind–but it’s not quite accurate here. You’ll find no dour grays or bland beiges, nor any ugly browns or heavy black. The colors are more like an exploded rainbow dipped in a dream: big, bright, and bold, fully saturated with no restrictions on theme or palette.

wooden backyard arbor decorated with plastic fruit at Randyland

Arbor fruit and psychedelic stairs

By now, Randyland needs (almost) no introduction. The North Side house of many murals, its open-to-the-public garden art environment, decorated fences, adjoining buildings, and extending-to-the-street pole art have been featured in travel sites, airline magazines, city visitor guides, and a zillion Instragram selfies.

That level of publicity usually takes a location out of our purview … usually. But Randyland is also such a special place–so individual, fun, giving, personal, positive, and, yes, colorful that we also can’t not include it in The Orbit‘s broader map of Pittsburgh’s you need to see this cultural high points. Plus, we’ve been negligent on including a Mexican War Streets story and it’s high time we right that wrong.

map of the North Side of Pittsburgh rendered as 3-D mural at Randyland

3-D Central North Side map (excerpt)

However it happened, Pittsburgh’s North Side ended up with an outsize share of the city’s big name cultural and tourist attractions. The Andy Warhol Museum, National Aviary, Children’s Museum, and Carnegie Science Center are all within (long) blocks of each other, as are the ball parks for both The Steelers and Pirates. The North Side also hosts slightly less name-brand amenities like The Mattress Factory, St. Anthony’s Reliquary, The Hazlett Theatre, Bicycle Heaven, and the newish (but terrificish) Alphabet City. It would be negligent to not mention that that the city’s only casino also ended up on the far “North Shore.” (Sigh.)

direction signs outside Randyland, Pittsburgh, PA

All roads lead to Randyland

So it is entirely fitting that Randyland is right here, on Arch Street, at the absolute geographical center of The North Side. This place–both visionary and as grass roots and down-to-earth as they come–seeks to be a welcome beacon to all of Pittsburgh’s disparate citizens, as well as all of her visitors. Those who come to our fair city and ignore the Land of Randy in favor of a roll on the slots or pre-game beers in a parking lot do so at their own peril. You’ve been warned.

handmade welcome signs in many different languages at Randyland, Pittsburgh, PA

Section of “The largest international welcome wall in America”

Whether The largest international welcome wall in America can really claim that honor is probably up for debate. Regardless, Randyland has the interior of the Arch Street fence fully decked out with hand-painted arrows that bienvenidosmurakaza nezaüdvözöljük, and haere-mai visitors from around the world into Randy’s little corner of it.

The property’s side shed is well-stocked with shelves full of blanks ready for visitors to decorate with new welcome messages. A sign by the project mentions the creator’s welcome message  “must be your ancestry,” suggesting a United Nations-like visitor count has already made Randyland a stop on their American adventure.

wooden painted cutout of a musician playing a horn at Randyland, Pittsburgh, PA

Play, baby, play … and then dream big

Around the east and south sides of Randyland, facing Arch and Jacksonia Streets, are big sections of wooden picket fence. It’s likely the first thing you’ll see after the Randyland pseudo-storefront right on the corner. Like everything else on the property, these are decorated in multiple layers of swirling psychedelic bubbles, little round fish eye mirrors, and spinning whirligigs on off-kilter poles.

Atop all this are a series of life-size, 2-D wooden cutouts of musicians and dancers. Wearing fabulously groovy patterns, caught mid-stride and in full blown-out jam mode, they seem to all be at a swinging good-time party no one would want to miss. Among all the eccentric oddball entries scattered about Randyland, these painted cutout figures are a really incredible collection of work that would stand on its own in any environment.

hand-painted cut-out of man playing long trumpet at Randyland, Pittsburgh, PA

Play, smile, laugh, dance, love, believe, grow

Messages painted directly on the figures’ body parts, clothes, and instruments are a not-too-subtle thesis for Randyland writ large. Dream Big, reads the bell of a saxophone; Believe U Can, the inscription on a dancer’s necktie. A cubist trumpeter with a punk rock hairdo implores us to Play, Smile, Laugh, Dance, Love, Believe, Grow. The message on a frenetic dancer’s long flowing dress is simply Be Happy.

metal letters spelling L-O-V-E in sand at Randyland

We IOVF Randyland! Love letters in the sand.

That kind of relentlessly earnest optimism and you-can-do-it positive encouragement is both a rare thing in this age of cynicism and easy to dismiss as hopelessly naive. It may also be a tough nut to swallow for those suffering from a blues that can make tossed-off statements like “be happy” feel like either an insufferably shallow temperature reading or an insurmountable obstacle to achieve in a real world outside the boundaries of Randyland.

art robot with outstretched arms

HUG-BOT 2.0

But…that’s why Randy created the HUG-BOT 2.0–and a garden’s worth of oversize art flowers, goofy takes on where to hang one’s lawn furniture, and how to look at the sky in its mirror opposite. If you can manage to visit Randyland, take your time speculating on the preposterous occasion of a suit of armor with a necktie, giant flies on telephone poles, mannequin heads in sunglasses and lip gloss and still not feel any better about the state of the world, well, you may just need to turn around, look at that wall of arrows one more time, and know that this is a place where you’re always welcome to try again.

collection of mannequin heads wearing sunglasses at Randyland

Here’s lookin’ at you! The future’s so bright, even the mannequins gotta wear shades.


Getting there: Randyland is located at 1501 Arch Street in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood of the North Side. It’s free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to dusk pretty much every day.

Ask the Dust: An Orbit Vacation Postcard from New Mexico’s Roadside Memorials

Taos

There is only one way to drive from El Rito to Abiquiu, in north-central New Mexico. You’ll take state road 554, a curlicued up-and-down route through wild and beautiful country that may as well be another planet for us “back East” folks. Gorgeous mountain views and scrubby desert vegetation join rugged canyons, dry river beds, and dramatic wind-scarred buttes.

What you won’t see much are signs of human existence. Sure, we’re on a two-lane blacktop that someone had to build, but there aren’t any other vehicles on it, nor will you find gas stations, billboards, graffiti, guard rails, or reflectors. You may come across the occasional stand-alone house, a stretch of elevated power line, or barbed wire fencing marking a property boundary, but often, that’s about it.

Pilar

So the memorials that appear with alarming regularity–some dozen or more on the short, sixteen-mile stretch between El Rito and Abiquiu alone–pop from the roadside as the most tender of touches in a landscape otherwise devoid of human intervention. The shapes–vertical and angled in a world of broad horizontals, colored in eye-popping reds, pinks, yellows, and purples found nowhere else around these parts–make the tributes jump from the scraggly earth.

There are some simple wooden crosses, sure, but most of the memorials are unique elaborate displays that include custom ironwork, closely arranged stone formations, photographs, religious dioramas, plastic funeral flowers, garlands, flags, and treasured personal mementos of the departed.

Fabian Lawrence Mata, Ojo Caliente

A little Googling proves that, surprise surprise, Pittsburgh Orbit wasn’t the first to take notice of New Mexico’s descansos, the Spanish term for this tradition. New Mexico Explorer, a kind of NM Orbit, has a nice intro with some good photos and the Albuquerque Journal ran a 2015 piece about Pam and Doug Rietz’ documentation of descansos (but no links to see the pictures!) There are plenty of photo collections out there.

So why cover it here? Well, for one thing, we’ve written about roadside memorials back home a couple of times [see our Memorial Day 2018 and 2019 stories], so the subject is near and dear. Also, we’re jealous–with all due respect to the loving displays on Pennsylvania’s rural routes, New Mexico’s descansos are just so much more–excuse the apparent contradiction–full of life*.  Each one is unique, glorious, heartbreaking, and beautiful in its own way.

And yes, it’s a good way to squeeze vacation for an Orbit story.

El Rito

Abiquiu

Jeffrey Zamora, Ohkay Owingeh

Abiquiu

El Rito

Phil Snow, La Madera

Dylan Romero, Abiquiu

Abiquiu

D.D.H., Rio Grande gorge

Jamie, Hernandez

Juan Mariscal, Abiquiu

Gilberto “Beto” Maestas, La Chauchia

Baldino Elizardo Gomez, Ojo Caliente

El Rito

El Rito

Hernandez

El Rito

Abiquiu

Kenneth and Elmer Martinez, El Rito


* In fairness, though, the relentlessly dry sunny weather in New Mexico naturally elongates the lifetime of a descanso. Pennsylvania’s omnipresent rain and thick humidity, plus winter snow and ice, make all SW PA memorials de facto temporary installations. For what it’s worth, it is also true that New Mexicans die in motor vehicle accidents at greater than twice the rate of Pennsylvanians. [Source: https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/state-by-state]

Flag Post: A Very Orbit Independence Day 2019

Stars and bars for cars and, uh … more cars. Parking garage flag, Sharon.

No tanks. No flyovers from the Blue Angels. No fireworks, baseball games, or charcoal-grilled hot dogs. Not even a damn sparkler!

No, when it comes to Independence Day, The Orbit is all about the American flag—and flag-like red, white, and blue things—hopefully created by human hands and not too picky with its star count.

We’ll not blah, blah, blahbiddy, blah about the strange folk craft of shipping pallet flags or the ethical paradoxes of letting one’s most patriotic symbol peel paint or get covered in mold. Instead, it’s just wall-to-wall flags. Happy birthday, America!

patriotic dresses, J. Jones Evening Wear, Weirton, WV

pallet flag, Lawrenceville

pallet flag, Oakdale

flag/football, Steubenville, O.

porch flag, Oakdale

porch flag, Charleroi

yard flag, Follansbee, WV

yard flag, Buena Vista

play set flag, Buena Vista

wall flag, Blawnox

window flag, State Farm Insurance, Bloomfield

Uncle Sam: patriot/grill master, State Farm Insurance, Bloomfield

flag window, Bloomfield

Oakdale: America’s Home Town

Fourth of July Savings painted poster, Giant Eagle

flag, row houses, Lawrenceville

patriotic fountain, Follansbee, WV

Thi$ i$ American street art, Garfield

Let’s Get Small: Big Ideas, Tiny Doors

tiny candy shop by Anne Mundell

If you arrived in Pittsburgh in the 1980s or ’90s, the narrow storefront at the corner of Liberty Ave. and Tito Way (neé 8th Street) held a second downtown outpost of The Original Oyster House. Such was the popularity of their fried fish sandwich, breaded oysters, and buttermilk chaser that the business could sustain multiple restaurants mere blocks from each other. The Oyster House left Liberty Ave. some time in the early oughts; the space is a Crazy Mocha coffee shop today.

A generation earlier, 801 Liberty Ave. was a sweets shop. The Internet offers very little information on Dimling’s Candy, but it appears the local company was big enough in the 1950s to purchase competitor Reymer Brothers[1], whose massive 1906 Romanesque factory building still stands Uptown. A ghost sign in the back alley, complete with the “It’s Fresher” tag line, shows us that the Liberty and 8th retail space previously held one of Dimling’s stores. The company was out of business by 1969. Candyrama, the multi-location heir to the downtown sugar market, is gone now too. Sigh.

All that said, for a very limited time you can relive the magic as a little–and I mean tiny–candy shop has opened its single door right on the backside of the former Dimling’s space, directly under the old painted sign. Technicolor lollipops and psychedelic swirling goodies are literally spilling out of the entrance, down the steps, and into the street below. They’re yours to enjoy … just don’t handle the merchandise.

in context: ghost sign for former Dimling’s Candy Shop with Anne Mundell’s tiny candy shop door at bottom right

“My door is a tribute to the different kinds of candy, real and metaphorical, that have passed through that alley,” writes Anne Mundell, CMU Professor of Scenic Design and the artist who created the candy shop for Tiny Doors PGH.

“There’s also a tribute to the theater and to how all things coexist on that corner. The candy spilling out hopefully suggests that the whole building behind it is filled with candy and we’re only seeing a tiny corner of it. The rats making off with candy are there to imply a darker side.”[2]

Mundell’s little candy shop is one of three “tiny doors” created for this year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (on whose property all three doors are attached). The others, created by artists Sarah Zeffiro and Sasha Schwartz, are just around the corner at the Trust Arts Education Center (805-807 Liberty Ave.) and on the Theater Square Parking Garage (655 Penn Ave.).

“Pittsburgh is Color” technicolor dream door by Sarah Zeffiro, Liberty Ave.

Tiny Doors PGH was conceived by Stephen Santa; this is its first installation. “I come from a theater background as I’m a theater director. I’ve always been obsessed with the set models that designers create for me,” writes Santa, “It’s like being a kid again, moving the small parts around in the model. I also love playing with scale and this project does just that.”

“There is a tiny door revolution happening as many doors are popping up in cities around the country, most notably in Atlanta. I saw the success these doors were having in other cities and being born and raised in Pittsburgh, I’m always brainstorming ways to make our city a better place, and I knew this project could bring happiness and curiosity to our residents. I pitched the idea to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, they loved it and were on board.”

tiny house entrance by Sasha Schwartz, Penn Ave.

The tiny doors are a great project satisfying all manner of urbano-curiosa: art and architecture, history and exploration, humor and little things. Longtime Orbit readers know we also love an egg hunt. Our only greedy wish is that Santa had been able to sign up another dozen artists for more doors.[3]

Whether or not we’d have gotten all of Anne Mundell’s references to ghosts of the theater, the evolution of downtown Pittsburgh, and Liberty Avenue’s red light past is questionable. But if a piece of public art can make you stop in your tracks, get down on your knees, and squint through a tiny window door into a (literal) candy-colored dreamscape, someone’s doing something right.

The three tiny doors will be up through the end of July; get yourself down there to see them while you can.


[1] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reymer_Brothers_Candy_Factory
[2] That darker side is legit: by the time we got there, it seems someone had already made off with the rats. A subsequent report is that the door itself was stolen. This is why we can’t have tiny things!
[3] He wants to! Per Santa: “I’m certainly open to people, businesses, or artists reaching out with their concepts or location ideas for doors. To connect please write to me on Instagram @tinydoorspgh.”

Going Postal: The Cap Man Returneth

Cap Man #13, East Liberty

It’s all there: the non-plussed selfie stare, the upturned ball cap, the all-contrast Sharpie-on-postal label execution. Super fans already know where this is going, but for everyone else, these are the tell-tale traits and hallmark style of one of the city’s more mysterious and elusive serial street artists.

Cap Man #14, Friendship [photo: Lee Floyd]

When last we reported on the mysterious Cap Man, in the fall of 2017, it was with the strong accusation that “he’s likely left Pittsburgh entirely.” That may have been true–the backsides of the East End’s street signage and utility poles remained remarkably free of the behatted one’s visage through all of last year.

Well, he’s back, emerging some time in the late winter/early spring–slapping his little original sticker artworks on city infrastructure throughout a contiguous swath of East Liberty, Friendship, and Bloomfield. And this time…well, he’s fooling around just as much as he ever did.

Cap Man #15, Bloomfield

One of the assumptions made in prior stories was that Cap Man (the artist) was the author of both the Cap Man (the subject) (self) portraits and the similarly-styled “rogue’s gallery” drawings of (in)famous celebrities, media notables, and true crime figures.

This theory is only bolstered by the simultaneous re-emergence of these types of drawings, inevitably committed by the same hand and distributed within the same vicinity as the Cap Man portraits. This time around, we can only positively ID slain rapper The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls, who arrived on a Bloomfield utility pole some time in the late winter or early spring. The recent offerings also include a dripping skull, a message of peace and love, and a couple renditions of one “Fro Bro.”

The Mysterious C.A.P. meets The Notorious B.I.G., Bloomfield

Bloomfield

Peace, Love, and a bunch of other stuff, Bloomfield

Fro Bro 1, East Liberty

Fro Bro 2, East Liberty

Finally, a legit street art miracle. Co-assistant to the mail room intern Lee Floyd spotted this loose, perhaps unfinished, drawing of a young woman on a Liberty Ave. pole after we’d snuck in one last Lenten fish fry on Good Friday. (See below.)

The figure’s head is turned to the right, her long hair unruly and wind-blown across her face. One eye is obscured, but the other stares with steely unease right back at you. It ain’t the Mona Lisa, but as much could be supposed on that head position, that glare as anything people read into Da Vinci’s masterpiece.

unknown woman, Bloomfield [photo: Lee Floyd]

So, imagine our surprise when mere days later the crew is on a rainy day stroll down Baum Blvd.–nearly a mile from the original light pole–and there she is again. Divorced from the steel pole and lying on a soaking wet sidewalk is … the same woman! Not just the same subject, but the same drawing!

unknown woman, East Liberty [photo: Lee Floyd]

Now, how that sticker came off one light pole completely undamaged and worked it’s way a mile down the road just to find the only two pair of people in the world who would care about it is something we have no explanation for–but it’s a doggone miracle!

If that’s not enough positive juju, coincidental mojo, and lightening striking twice for you, I don’t know what is. Most people have to steal their parent’s HBO password to get that kind of drama, but Cap Man is offering it to you for free, right here on the street.


Background on the continuing saga of Cap Man:

Art Walk: The Pipe Cleaner Fern Frames of Lawrenceville

pipe cleaner fern frame

Consider it a wild weekend with woebegone weeds or First Fridays for forgotten ferns. Heck, this may even qualify as the Make a Wish Foundation for misunderstood moss. Whatever you call it, there’s a new street-level contemporary art walk on exhibit now–for what may be a very limited run–in Central Lawrenceville.

pipe cleaner fern and moss frame

Someone has taken the fascinating step of constructing simple colorful rectangular frames from mismatched pipe cleaners and attached them to an old stone retaining wall along 45th Street, bordering St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery.

Their placement on the soot-blackened stones is no haphazard act of vandalism or careless littering–no, they’ve been very precisely curated to frame and highlight the kind of the minute nature dioramas that appear around us everywhere, all the time, but usually go unnoticed. In lieu of anything more witty, we’re calling these fern frames.

popsicle stick fern frame

Nature is an absolutely amazing thing–and one that we can reasonably trust to outlive and survive the appetite-for-extinction behavior of the human race. In every sidewalk crack, a burst of life; on each block of pavement, itty-bitty creatures scurrying around, just doing their thing. And yes, in the thin vertical spaces between wall stones and mortar joints there exist tiny blasts of green in the form of soft fuzzy moss, delicate miniature weeds, the spindly leaves of little ferns.

pipe cleaner moss frame

We have no idea what motivated the person or persons responsible to construct and place the fern frames–they come with neither attribution nor artist statement. So we’re left to speculate on what’s going on with these simple displays. Are they a goofy stunt with leftover crafting materials? Psychological experiment? Candid Camera-style prank where The Orbit is the butt of the joke?

Anything’s possible, but to the imaginative mind what these little pieces seem to say echoes Alfred Joyce Kilmer’s famous couplet I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree. You can put a lot of effort into painting a picture, singing a song, or–gulp–writing a blog post, but you’re not going to top Mother Nature. Look around! Keep those peepers open! The world is a wonderful and mystifying place.

It can be really hard given the news of the day–you name the day–and, yes, people have all kinds of heaviness they’re dealing with. But what these little fern frames seem to say is, don’t just stop and smell the roses–those sell-outs already get enough attention!–put your schnoz right down in between the cracks in the sidewalk and up against the stones in the wall. There is so much beauty all around us, but sometimes it takes an anonymous stranger with a couple pipe cleaners to point it out to us.

pipe cleaner weed and moss frame