Tin Can Pole Art, Part 2: A Date with Some Little Devils

tin can lid painted with sad devil and the words "She's gone", Pittsburgh, PA

Hell & Oates[1]: “She’s Gone”, Bloomfield

Farewell to all these smiling angels….I’ve got a date with some little devils.

That auspicious message, artfully paint-penned to the cut lid of a large-size steel can, is nailed to a wooden utility pole on South Aiken Ave. in Friendship. Immediately above it appears one half of another can lid, cocked upright, suggesting a single bunny ear–its mate either removed after-the-fact or just never made it to the pole the first time.

However nutty this inscription might seem, little devils are absolutely on the loose in the greater East End. And while pious Christians worry about getting right with God or facing Lucifer’s pitchfork in the keister for all eternity, the city’s devils clearly have their own concerns to stress over. Indeed, the red one appears on a couple different poles both broken-hearted and teary-eyed.

steel can metal painted and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“Farewell to all these smiling angels….I’ve got a date with some little devils,” Friendship

She’s gone were the only two words Messrs. Oates and Hall really needed as shorthand to heartbreak–that, and close falsetto harmony over a slinky Fender Rhodes groove. Here, the simple message is a clue to the devil’s distress (above).

A cat-like devil has an inverted pink heart for a nose and a topsy-turvy screwed-up mouth (below, top). Those sad eyes may say just as much with no words at all. There’s one more teary-eyed devil, this time with cupid’s arrows literally piercing his visible heart (below, middle).

steel can painted with sad devil and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

sad devil, Friendship

painting of devil with arrows piercing his chest, nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Friendship [photo: Susan Peake]

steel can metal painted and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“I try momma…”, Friendship

I try momma… implores a blue devil, rendered in stark silhouette and levitating an electric martini with one hand, the other raised in salutation (above). A different pole devil clutches the circle-A anarchy flag while waving to friends (below)–no doubt shopping for bargain Clancy’s chips at the nearby Aldi.

This same common imagery of devils, hearts, anarchy, and martini glasses showed up a couple times in our first story on tin can pole art earlier this year. These were clearly no coincidence as the themes get even more of a workout this time around.

metal can lid painted with devil holding anarchy flag nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

anarchy devil, Friendship

tin can lids painted and nailed to a utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“So lost … pray for me, I’m down,” Garfield

Somebody needs to get this guy into therapy! Or maybe we all just need to be better friends to the devils we know. Whatever it is, she’s gone and the plea to appease momma aren’t the only cries for help on the city’s telephone poles.

So lost…pray for me, Mom, I’m down reads a Garfield alley two-fer (above); the simple message Struggle, along with a fire-dancing, heart-balancing devil, turns up on a nice, rust patina’d single-color piece in Shadyside (below).

small painting of devil with heart on tin can nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Struggle, Shadyside [photo: Lee Floyd]

While that’s a lot of devils clinging to East End telephone poles, they’re far from the only specimens in this tin can pole art roundup. We also spotted a number of other pieces with the same stylistic DNA as the devil-doer dealt–we’re talking about the tell-tale cryptic calligraphy, hearts, flowers, martinis, and anarchy.

BUT…[yes, there’s always a big but] there are some outliers in the collection, too. We’ve seen the swirling, psychedelic television/VCR combo scrawled on all sorts of walls and dumpsters, as well as turned into back-of-sign decals. But this nice, two-color paint can lid outside The Glitterbox Theater (below) feels like a giant leap forward–even if the perpetrator still can’t get his or her mind off the TV.

tin can lid painted with TV and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

North Oakland

steel can with painting nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“I try to stop…and smell the flowers (in life too),” East Liberty

steel can metal painted and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“My worst enemy has always been time, 2001,” Friendship

tin can lid painted with abstract face and nailed to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Garfield

can lid painting of flower with crying face, Pittsburgh, PA

sad flower face, Bloomfield

tin can lid painted with the message "It's all I know", Pittsburgh, PA

“It’s all I know,” Bloomfield

tin can lid painted with indecipherable image and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Shadyside [photo: Lee Floyd]

tin can painted and nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Shadyside (partial) [photo: Lee Floyd]

While asking one’s mother for her prayers may or may not be common practice, doing so via painted kitchen tool on side-street telephone pole seems an especially unlikely way to share one’s feelings.

As if parenting weren’t difficult enough, kids are always coming up with new ways to communicate. First SnapChat, now GreatChee. “How’s our youth doing, honey?” We imagine a clueless Dad asking, “Why, not so good,” the response from Mom, “Haven’t you checked East Liberty for cheese graters?”

painted cheese grater nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

cheese grater pole art! “Mom – pray for me”, East Liberty

There are also a couple more of these giant, five-gallon driveway sealant drum lids, tagged-up and screwed-into poles/trees along Spring Hill city steps. The pair clearly begs for a deeper investigation of the neighborhood’s walkways as we’re guessing these aren’t the only two out there[2].

steel can lid painted and attached to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“I am home 16” / “free Rakan” / “R.I.P. Syzer”, Spring Hill

large metal can lid painted and nailed to a tree, Pittsburgh, PA

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Basin Street steps, Spring Garden/Troy Hill

Finally, a couple pieces that are absolutely metal and pole art, but don’t have their material origin in discarded soup cans. They’re a little off-topic, but we’re not going to sit on these waiting for a collection of stray non-tin can-but-still-metal pole art.

The triptych of embossed blank verse into sheet metal that hangs on a Harriet Street utility pole (below, top) gets high marks for its innovation in the genre, but the execution feels a little, you know, “smoke a little dope, skip a little rope”… but maybe this blogger just doesn’t get it, man.

Similarly, A boy from Frankford… (below, bottom) really feels like somebody who doesn’t know what he’s trying to do. Then again, I guess he says it right there: like anyone in the tin can pole art game, this “boy” is just trying to find his way.

metal sheets stamped with words and painted, nailed to utility pole in Pittsburgh, PA

Friendship

metal sheet painted, lettered, and screwed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“a boy from Frankford … trying to find his way,” Spring Hill

Thanks to Susan Peake for tipping us off to a number of the Friendship pieces and co-assistant cub reporter Lee Floyd for his work in Shadyside.


[1] Thank you, Chris Caldwell.
[2] Greater Spring Hill: if you spot more of these, let us know!

Something Fishy: Angling for the East End Dangler

boy with tree twig and strand of toy fish

The littlest Dangler angler with another clue from the trail, East Liberty

It started, as these things do, with just a single incident. Back in the early fall, out on an afternoon constitutional, the crew came across a curious sight. Tangled in the mid-level branches of a street tree on Centre Avenue was a six-inch plastic tiger shark, hanging by a length of rough twine tied around her tail fin. Following the string led to a purple dolphin, then a starfish, and so forth. Six miniature sea creatures in all, very much out of water, and awkwardly tossed into the leafy undergrowth just above head level.

strand of plastic toy fish tied together with twine and hanging from tree branches, Pittsburgh, PA

exhibit #1 aka “two sharks,” as found in East Liberty, Sept. 2017

As we’ve mentioned before, Orbit staff maintain a strict do-not-disturb policy when it comes to street art, pranks, and other happenstance findings in the public sphere. Our interns do not always abide by the same code of conduct.

Such was the case on this day, as cub reporter Lee extracted the string of toys from the overhead branches and brought it back home for further examination. While that felt very much like disturbing the scene of a crime way back in September, it would prove eerily prescient. It was only just recently that we became aware this was no isolated incident.

That’s right: Pittsburgh has a repeat offender on a loose and he, she, or they have struck enough times to warrant serial status. The East End Dangler walks among us, covertly decorating the city’s flora with strange garlands of (mostly) plastic fish.

6 plastic sea creature toys connected by twine

exhibit #1 aka “two sharks,” found on Centre Ave., East Liberty

Nearly seven months after that initial encounter, we were certainly in for a surprise. Walking back to the office on a chilly early spring afternoon–the belly still reeling from a lunch of huevos con chorizo con tortillas con frijoles con arroz y unlimited chips–to see a tiny die-cast aeroplane poking its propeller schnoz out of the newly-cut grass. On retrieval, we found the same tell-tale twine knotted around the plane’s tiny tail and rudder. It wasn’t until just this moment that the connection between aircraft design and sea life anatomy became so perfectly clear–but let’s stay on topic.

Our very same cub reporter not only identified the toy as “Dusty Crophopper” from Disney’s Planes but also spotted a tiny rubber fish nearby. The squishy little fellow was dislodged from the strand when its tail broke off, but in an unlikely and gruesome turn of events, the dismembered body part was still caught in the twine to confirm the relationship.

toy airplane on string of twine

exhibit #3 aka “Dusty Crophopper,” (partial) found on Centre Ave., East Liberty

The revelation that the string of sharks was not a one-time deal would have–should have–been enough, but we were in for a couple more shocks. Mere feet away–O.K., maybe one or two hundred of them–was another bare tree with another set of dangling fish. In this case, two bug-eyed, cartoonish blue fish and one tiny red-orange fellow. Unlike the previous two marks of The Dangler, this trio was connected by wire (not twine) and thrown way up high, out of arm’s reach, but well within eyesight.

plastic fish toys strung together with wire and hanging from tree limb, Pittsburgh, PA

exhibit #4 aka “blue fish,” as found in East Liberty, April, 2018

Attentive readers are already yelling at their mobile devices, hopefully not in public restrooms. How did you jump from exhibit #1 to exhibits #3 and #4? What kind of amateur-hour investigation are your running around here?

Ah–that’s where the plot thickens! Lee had already bagged exhibit #2 (aka “orange fish”) and just never filed his paperwork. Way out of the relatively-small perimeter we were working, this yang to “blue fish’s” yin [three fish, the little one in the middle, single color scheme, wire connector–orange and blue are even opposites on the color wheel!] hung from a tree along Browns Hill Road, miles from Centre Avenue.

three plastic fish hanging from wire in a bare tree

exhibit #2 aka “orange fish,” as found on Browns Hill Road, April, 2018 [photo: Lee Floyd]

Like Ed Gein and Ted Kaczynski, Rudy Giuliani and Pauly Shore, we may never know what motivates The East End Dangler to do what they do. In lieu of any hard evidence on the person behind the dangling, we’re left with just the physical items: toys–specifically fish toys–and location.

On that first point, one popular theory holds that the perp is a parent, the child or children having aged out of their fish phase and into teenage alienation. What to do with those leftover sharks, goldfish, and neon tetras but string them up and throw them in city trees? A little goofy, but more unlikely events happen around us every day.

3 toy fish connected by wire

exhibit #4 aka “blue fish”, found on Centre Ave., East Liberty

These may also be the work of a prankster or frustrated conceptual artist. The nearby Goodwill on Centre likely offers an ample supply of second-hand toys at by-the-pound prices. If decorating trees with Happy Meal castoffs is your thing, it can be done easily and at bargain rates. As art? Well, it beats spray paint tagging.

A third opinion holds that we’ve got deeper symbolism here–something very specifically fish-related. All three of the Centre Ave. finds are within rock-tossing distance of the East Liberty Whole Foods; “orange fish” was spotted adjacent to the Hokkaido Seafood Buffet restaurant. It doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to connect these particular dots. Whether the Dangler might be addressing mercury in the food chain or the Pacific Ocean’s plastic vortex is unclear, but lines can certainly be drawn.

3 toy fish connected by wire

exhibit #2 aka “orange fish,” found on Browns Hill Road

We may never know…or this may just be the beginning of the conversation. If you’ve noticed the work of The East End Dangler (literally) hanging around a tree you frequent, please let us know. Until then, to paraphrase Casey Kasem, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the fish in the trees.


BREAKING NEWS: On the eve of going to press, The Dangler dropped another bombshell on us. There, in those same Centre Avenue street trees hangs yet another dangled concoction. This one appears to be just two toy airplanes, one a bulbous, cartoonish propeller; the other, a second Dusty Crophopper. As of this writing, the dangled bits remain tree-side.

toy airplane hanging from wire in tree limbs

exhibit #5 as found in East Liberty, May, 2018

Stamp Collecting: Even More City Sidewalk Stamps

sidewalk stamp for Sam Nicoletti, Pittsburgh, PA

Sam Nicoletti, Perry Hilltop

Who doesn’t like an egg hunt? The literal ones are hard to come by, but luckily we’ve got an inexhaustible supply of figurative eggs to bag.

If you’re The Orbit, one of these hunts puts you on your hands and knees, on someone else’s sidewalk, whisking the effluvia of the streets from the shallow impressions made by the city’s long-gone concrete masons and parsing out their disappearing names.

For Easter this year, we’re going to keep it real simple. The next (perhaps final?) installment in our continuing series on sidewalk stamps is almost all pictures with none of the boring blah blah blah to wade through. Honestly, there’s just not that more to say on this subject and we know our busy readers have bunnies to rustle and glazed hams to consume.

Happy Easter, y’all!

sidewalk stamp for Tory Baiano, Pittsburgh, PA

Tory Baiano, Greenfield

sidewalk stamp for E. Putch, Pittsburgh, PA

E. Putch, Oakland

sidewalk stamp for Edward W. Putch, Pittsburgh, PA

Edward W. Putch, Concrete Construction, Oakland

sidewalk stamp for Guy Orlando, Pittsburgh, PA

Guy Orlando, Oakland

sidewalk stamp for Jos. Crimeni Paving, Pittsburgh, PA

Jos. Crimeni Paving, Oakland

sidewalk stamp for mason John Ferrante, Pittsburgh, PA

John Ferrante, Shadyside

sidewalk stamp for "Jerry", Pittsburgh, PA

Jerry, Friendship

sidewalk stamp for August Didiano, Pittsburgh, PA

August Didiano Construction Inc., Friendship [photo: Paul Schifino]

sidewalk stamp for Sal Berardi Construction, Pittsburgh, PA

Sal Berardi Construction, Friendship

sidewalk stamp for Benito Moscatiello, Pittsburgh, PA

Benito Moscatiello, Greenfield

Sci-Fi Sidewalks and Apparitions in the Alley: Fantasy Stencils

stencil image of Frankenstein's monster painted on steel door, Pittsburgh, PA

Frankenstein, South Side Slopes

There he is: deep-set eyes shaded under the world’s most famous supraorbital ridge. The giant cranial dome, smashed-flat schnoz, and lifeless mouth could only be one…humanoid. Yeah, it’s ol’ bolts-for-brains, Frankenstein–or Frankenstein’s monster, if you must–but we’re all friends here, right?

Mary Shelley’s enduring science project-run-amok turns up here in Pittsburgh at least a couple times–on the South Side Slopes and back-alley Bloomfield. It’s nice to fantasize this is a bicentennial tribute–Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was first published in 1818[1]. We’re pretty sure that’s merely a coincidence, though–these spray paint portraits go back at least a couple years.

Regardless, Frankenstein finds himself in good company. He’s but one member of an impressive rogue’s gallery of desperate monsters, enormous insects, gun-toting pandas, faeries, robots, and one flaming Eye of Providence.

stencil image of Frankenstein's monster painted on concrete wall, Pittsburgh, PA

Frankenstein, Bloomfield

stencil image of monster's head painted on brick wall, Pittsburgh, PA

monster, Garfield

stencil image of man's face painted on brick wall, Pittsburgh, PA

refugee from the planet Krylon (or maybe Lou Reed?), Garfield

Someone in greater Bloomfield/Garfield–maybe a whole gang of people–is real handy with an X-Acto knife, stiff card stock, and enough shook-up cans of Rust-Oleum to color most of the spectrum. There are a ton of little stenciled artworks decorating or defacing (your pick) the East End’s alleyways, retaining walls, street signs, and retail backsides.

The majority of these pieces are a single layer, allowing the underlying surface to provide random background color–red brick, silver aluminum, and whatever color the utilitarian cinderblock wall happened to get painted. There are also some really impressive two- and three-color jobs that show a real deft of craft in both preparation and execution in the medium.

stencil image of a flea painted to the back of a street sign, Pittsburgh, PA

“Flea Apparitions”, Bloomfield

stencil image of pink tyrannosaurus rex painted on concrete wall, Pittsburgh, PA

hot pink T-Rex, Oakland

graffiti stencil of bear standing up with a pistol in each paw, Pittsburgh, PA

“This is a stickup, give me all your honey.” Panda bear with pistols and Hawaiian shirt, Strip District

… but is it art or public menace? One the world’s most un-answerable perennial questions! How I’d love it if some street-wise Séraphine dressed-up our alley fence with a long-locked faerie or ambivalent robot. At the same time, if some stupid spray paint smear were to cross the front of the house, I’d be irate–what a hypocrite! Decorate every alley, sheet metal warehouse, and fast food restaurant and I’ll be happy man, but keep your nozzle off the nice brickwork of private homes and old institutions.

They’re not listening to The Orbit–that’s for damn sure–but stencilers seem to have pretty sound judgement in what subjects are fair game, and where to lay off. The targets here are almost all vacant, unseen spaces and discarded infrastructure. That may be as self-serving as it is respectful–people are just a lot less-likely to take action on a trash-strewn alley behind Family Dollar or the former entrance to a condemned building.

stencil image of fairy painted on cinderblock wall, Pittsburgh, PA

faerie, Strip District

stencil image of cartoon robot painted on bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

robot, Millvale Street Bridge

graffiti stencil of astronaut giving "OK" hand signal, Pittsburgh, PA

astronaut OK, Strip District

stencil image of pyramid with eyeball on fire painted on cinderblock wall, Pittsburgh, PA

flaming Eye of Providence, Strip District

The Eye of Providence–the mystical cyclops pyramid image that shows up on the dollar bill–supposedly represents God watching over humanity[2]. We don’t know what it means when it’s on fire. Regardless, God seems to give passes to all these back-street Basquiats and cinderblock Cézannes who ply the paint and stencil the swine right under his or her watchful eye.

If it were up to The Orbit [it is not] the lord or lady who tattooed the anonymous wall behind an electrical transformer with an out-of-control, Hawaiian shirt-wearing panda bear–two pistols raised in a threatening display of firepower–would get the bee line straight to heaven, no judgement from above. Whether these particular stenciled artifacts do that for their creators, we don’t know–but we’re cheering for you.

graffiti stencils of skull and crossbones and pig heads on cinderblock wall, Pittsburgh, PA

skull & crossbones/pig heads, Bloomfield

stencil image of person cradling a bomb painted on cinderblock wall, Pittsburgh, PA

stop worrying and love the bomb, Bloomfield


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_Providence

Photo Grab Bag: Sad Toy Edition

baby doll laying face down on street, Pittsburgh, PA

face down in the gutter, Shadeland

How much pathos in such a tiny scene! There, at the mud- and gravel-encrusted edge of a North Side residential street, among the weeds, cigarette butts, and one tire-flattened Coca-Cola can, lies the smallest infant–literally face down in the gutter.

Lucky for us, this particular baby is of the plastic toy shop variety–no human beings suffered any more than the loss of a plaything, however beloved it may have been. Still, stripped to its sewn-on undergarments, dirtied by rain and road debris, and abandoned at the curb, it looks like this little fellow has done a lot of living in his or her short lifetime.

large stuffed animal made to look like a sock monkey laying in business doorway, Pittsburgh, PA

sock monkey / Slush Puppy, Bloomfield

stuffed teddy bear in front of demolished house, Clairton, PA

the last living bear on Lincoln Way, Clairton

Any dropped picture book or punctured basketball, lost action figure or tree-snared kite may legitimately count as a sad toy, but let’s get serious. Sifting through the driftwood washed up on the great beaches of urban life, what we really want to see comes down to just two things: baby dolls and stuffed animals.

Nothing else comes close to pure sadness invoked by these iconic ambassadors of cute. Loosed from their human companions, fallen Teddy bears and jettisoned sock monkeys all too often assume the body positions and street corner verisimilitude of so many cop show victims and nightly news drug overdose casualties. It’s almost too much to take.

two stuffed animal dogs laying on cement street, Pittsburgh, PA

double dog down, Oakland

stuffed animal dog wedged in between tree limbs, Pittsburgh, PA

dog in tree, Lawrenceville

… almost.

The contrast between the high-drama of actual children losing some of the few precious possessions of their young lives and the undeniably absurd way it plays out in real world makes for a chaotic set of emotions. We know someone’s youth is crying uncontrollably in a rear car seat right now, his or her woobie never to return. And still, stumbling across a yin-yang pair of dirty doggie Beanie Babies on an Oakland street corner is just plain weird…and wonderful…and kind of funny.

I know, I know. Some little tyke lost her or his pink monkey! Whose son or daughter will never see their doe-eyed fluffy puppy again? You’re laughing about it?!? It’s quandary of epic proportions, but that old Borscht Belt equation has yet to be unproven: tragedy + time = comedy.

stuffed animal bear laying on brick street, Millvale, PA

cuddle bear clip job, Millvale

stuffed animal dog laying in grass, Pittsburgh, PA

dog in grass

torso from a plastic doll on a window ledge, Pittsburgh, PA

doll torso, Lawrenceville

pink stuffed animal monkey on street pavement, Pittsburgh, PA

pink monkey, Oakland

A note on the final couple photographs included here:

It’s true. Mere paragraphs above, this blogger made the bold statement that all sad toy hunters really care about are lost dolls and dirty fur. We stand by that. However, we’ve included a couple of outliers just because they’re filled with their own unique forms of misery–and we believe that should be rewarded and documented.

paddle ball laying in grass with fall leaves, Millvale, PA

paddle ball, Millvale

The dime-store paddle ball set is surely the saddest of all solitary play activities. It’s what uncles give as presents to the nieces and nephews they have no real relationship with–and they only have to spend a couple bucks to do it.

The very image of the cheap, decorated paddle, its little red rubber ball, and thin elastic that connects them (above) immediately sent this only child/latch key kid swirling back into a pre-adolescence of lonely games, played by himself, ultimately satisfying to no one. I couldn’t ever get the damn ball to bounce back more than once or twice before the elastic would inevitably break free from the flimsy staple that held it to the wooden paddle.

This particular find, in Millvale’s tiny downtown parklet, doesn’t feel like it was accidentally lost by its owner, but rather the kid likely just dumped it out of boredom and/or frustration. Aside from the act of littering, I don’t blame him or her one bit.

Pittsburgh Penguins hockey toy on street

Penguins hockey…thing, Oakland

Finally, the weird little scrunchy Pittsburgh Penguins hockey…thing (above) only counts as a “toy” in the most liberal of applications. We don’t know what this thing is or why anyone would want it in the first place, so leaving it in the gutter doesn’t actually seem like that bad a choice of actions.

Who knows, though? It may still have been the next future Sidney Crosby’s favorite squishy friend–prompting the youth into a dedicated ritual of dump-and-chase finish-your-checks discipline. Instead, like all of its sad colleagues above, the loss may have caused irreparable damage. Whether it was enough for this young’un to give up all future thoughts of greatness on the ice we’ll never know. Sigh.


See also:

Tin Can Pole Art

tin can lid painted with heart and text "I love you Pittsburgh. Goodbye." nailed to telephone pole. Pittsburgh, PA

“I love you Pittsburgh. Goodbye.” Lawrenceville

Such a lovely farewell kiss. The severed lid from a steel can–it looks like it was from one of the big 28-ouncers like you get tomatoes in–tacked into the rough wood of a Lawrenceville telephone pole. Painted onto the flat surface is a decorative white heart with the simple, touching message I love you Pittsburgh, Goodbye.

Less romantic, hypochondriac Orbit readers may get hung up on the totem as a sharp-edged breeding ground for tetanus–but don’t fall for it. The anonymous artist has left this Easter egg high enough off the street and applied it securely to the pole in a way that no one will be injured, unless they’re really trying. On the contrary, this little rusting love letter may just save a life.

abstract painting on unrolled steel can with message "We gave this place our best shot and no matter what happens now ... it was worth it & we made this work.", Pittsburgh, PA

“We gave this place our best shot and no matter what happens now … it was worth it & we made this work.” Shadyside

rusted tin can with painting of a skull, nailed to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

skull can, Oakland

Someone’s out there, taking those most lethal occupants of the recycling bin and having a fine time dismantling the component parts, flattening them into two-dimensional work surfaces, and turning the little pieces into cryptic pictograms and coded messages, hidden-in-plain-sight curios and tiny objects d’art.

You may have walked by some of these a hundred times and never noticed. At just a couple inches wide, the little artworks are especially well-camouflaged against the deep brown tarred wood of the telephone poles they’re displayed upon, quite often out of eye level at the peak of arms’ reach.

tin can flattened and painted, nailed to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

A Friday night “to-do” list: love, anarchy, the devil, and a martini, Bloomfield

Cut tin can painted with text and nailed to telephone pole. Text reads "Back then, if it exploded, we laughed", Pittsburgh, PA

“Back then, if it exploded, we laughed”, Shadyside

Whether we’re talking about one lone assailant or a whole gang of tin candidates is anyone’s guess. Besides a few name-like tags [J.A.K.; KYT; Nick (damn); Leroy…are these real people?] there is no attribution here to work from.

That said, many of these specimens have common elements. First, let’s just start with the genre. It’s a niche market, for sure–ex-food container nailed to telephone pole. Second, there’s proximity–all the ones we’ve encountered are in the same one or two square miles between East End neighborhoods Shadyside, Bloomfield, Garfield, and Lawrenceville.

Most importantly, though, the apparent paint pens, handwriting, style of dotted lines, arrows, and indecipherable messages is even more precise. Several of the tiny artworks contain the same iconography of a glowing martini glass, heart, anarchy circle-A, and devil figure.

small painting on steel can of devil with the text "I choose...", Pittsburgh, PA

“I choose…”, Shadyside

small painting on steel can with text "to follow my heart...up the mountain, or...", Pittsburgh, PA

“to follow my heart…up the mountain, or…”, Shadyside

There are some definite outliers in the field. Another large can lid spotted in Shadyside is painted with a night scene featuring a blue river valley between green fields and trees (below). The original pastoral feel has now been accidentally transformed into a scarier, menacing landscape as seasons of rust creep through to the surface. It’s also worth noting that this lid was attached with a pair of Phillips-head screws rather than the full-perimeter flat tacks we found on the other pieces.

painting on steel can lid of night landscape, Pittsburgh, PA

night scene with river, trees, and green grass, Shadyside

tin can lid painted with text "Me vs. Time, KYT, '02" nailed to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“Me vs. Time”, Garfield

Lastly, there’s even a sub-genre to this already arch form. In a couple places, we came across the big steel can lids with their flared attachment edges and gaping mouth holes that make them look like absurd anthropomorphized flowers. We imagine these come from five- or ten-gallon bulk-size containers of asphalt sealant or roofing tar–but haven’t actually ID’d them yet.

It’s a considerably larger canvas to work from. The wider-than-the-pole size likewise shouts out at the passer-by, where a soup can is more of a whisper. I’m not sure these two examples (below) tell us much about the form, other than we like the possibilities and we’d love to see more of them in action, out in the wild.

round metal lid painted with long string of text nailed to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“You spin me right round…”, Duck Hollow

cardboard "Clarence the Bird ... Make the World Beautiful" artwork stapled to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

big lid painting [plus Clarence], Friendship

Stamp Collecting: Getting Down to Brass Plaques

brass plate embedded in sidewalk concrete advertising Wadsworth Stone & Paving company, Pittsburgh, PA

Wadsworth Stone & Paving Co., Friendship*

Friendship. The little neighborhood–surely one of the smallest in the city by acreage–is full of stately turn-of-the-century homes and an enviable location adjacent to Bloomfield, Garfield, and East Liberty. It’s also home to nice, walkable sidewalks on quiet, tree-lined blocks that are–by Pittsburgh standards–relatively easy on the feet. Bargain grocery shoppers in the East End know Friendship as the neighborhood with two Aldi stores. But to The Orbit, it’s sidewalk stamp Nirvana.

You’ll find all the regular players here: DiBucci, Pucciarelli Brothers, Spano, Baleno–heck, one of the folks from A. Ciriello parks a branded red work truck right out front on Friendship Ave. There’s also a bunch of one-offs, old and new, including the inimitable, no-last-name-needed Jerry [more on these, later]. All this said, where Friendship really walks the walk is in the ultra-rare field of brass sidewalk plaques.

brass plaque for the Wadsworth Stone & Paving Company, Pittsburgh, PA

Wadsworth Stone & Paving Co., Friendship [photo: Paul Schifino]

The computer Internet contains very little information regarding the history of The Wadsworth Stone & Paving Co. In fact, all this Googler could locate was a single historical photo taken on a winter day in 1911 showing the company’s big industrial building on Hamilton Ave. in Larimer.

Regardless, Wadsworth literally left their mark around town in the form of several different designs of brass sidewalk plaques. Friendship is fortunate enough to have no less than three different variants–the most glorious containing the company’s name emanating from a rising sun over rugged mountains, now appearing green from the oxidation of the copper (above). These two markers are of a generation before the term concrete appears to be in common use–the designs are just-the-facts basic, but contain the alluring details describing “silica-barytic stone” in one and “artificial stone” in the other.

brass sidewalk stamp for The Wadsworth Stone & Paving Co., Pittsburgh, PA

The Wadsworth Stone & Paving Co., Friendship

brass plate embedded in sidewalk concrete advertising Rhodes-King & Company, Pittsburgh, PA

Rhodes-King & Co., Friendship

Friendship, of course, does not hold exclusive rights to anything–even in the superlative quaintness of its name. That is, at least, not while Fairywood is still on the map. So we see brass plaques throughout town, just not with the same block-for-block density we get between Baum Blvd. and Penn Ave.

Millvale and Lawrenceville both turn in paired sets of great old-school sidewalk markers. E. Martina’s can be roughly dated with the 1950s-era named telephone exchange Everglade (EV) 1-8022 in the embedded phone number of the plaque’s triumphant shield shape.

brass sidewalk plaque for E. Martina, Contractor, Millvale, PA

E. Martina, Millvale

brass sidewalk plaque for J.A. Hotnich, Millvale, PA

J. A. Hotnich, Millvale [photo: Paul Schifino]

Speaking of dating these plaques (and the sidewalk jobs around them), several of the designs here contain the apparent misprinted city name Pittsburg (sic.)–without the H. That’s no error, though. For a little over twenty years (officially, 1890-1911) the city’s name was changed to this shortened, streamlined spelling.

That would seem to be a pretty clear approximate date for these sidewalks but every source seems to suggest the alternate spelling was used both before 1890 (leading to the initial confusion that required official action) and for several decades after repeal (people can be obstinate). It’s hard to imagine any piece of pavement could last through more than a hundred Pittsburgh winter freeze-thaw cycles…and these may not actually have done so.

brass sidewalk plaque for J.K. Wymard, Pittsburgh, PA

J.K. Wymard Paving, Lawrenceville [photo: Paul Schifino]

round steel sidewalk plaque with letter "G", Pittsburgh, PA

G, Lawrenceville

The mysterious G! This example is such an outlier–it’s steel, not brass and it doesn’t contain any identifiable name or contact info–one almost wonders if it’s actually a marker for a gas line or other underground infrastructure. With that thought in mind, it’s clearly a single embedded piece with no valve opening or other obvious utile function. Maybe someone just wanted to mark a gas line, or maybe “G” just liked to keep things simple.

brass sidewalk plaque for Nick Scotti, Concrete Contr., Pittsburgh, PA

Nick Scotti, Concrete Contr., Oakland

brass sidewalk plaque for Jendoco, Pittsburgh, PA

Jendoco, East Liberty

On the new end of the spectrum come two from Nick Scotti–who we first saw in Larry Kramer’s original sidewalk stamp piece [“Stamp Collecting: More Pittsburgh Easter Eggs, Set in Concrete“, Pittsburgh Orbit, May 5, 2017]–and a much more modern-looking one from a corporate parking lot poured by Jendoco. While these aren’t quite as exciting as a weathered Wadsworth, it’s great to see current contractors keeping up the tradition.

sidewalk mason engraved stone plaque for R. Albright, Pittsburgh, PA

R. Albright, The Run

A few other interesting tidbits. Mason R. Albright created a unique piece the likes of which we’ve not encountered elsewhere. Albright has apparently had his name, phone number, and an installation date etched into stone which was then set into the poured concrete of a sidewalk on Saline Street in The Run (above). It ain’t brass, but it’s still very much of the calling-card plaque variety, so we’re including it here.

Alternately, just one sleepy intersection–the corner of Lytton and Parkman Aves. in the Schenley Farms section of Oakland–has these embedded brass street names oriented for pedestrians. They’re neat, but seem like they would have been part of a larger strategy of infrastructure design that either was never adopted on the wider neighborhood, or (more likely) are the last remnants after other sections of sidewalk were replaced due to damage or the installation of accessible curb cuts, etc. Sadly, we may never know.

brass letters spelling street name Lytton Ave., Pittsburgh, PA

Lytton Ave., Schenley Farms/Oakland

brass letters spelling street name Parkman Ave., Pittsburgh, PA

Parkman Ave., Schenley Farms/Oakland

Many thanks to ace sidewalk-stepper and detail-procurer Paul Schifino with his contributions to this story.


* This same terrific Wadsworth rising-sun-over-mountains plaque has also been spotted in East Liberty and Millvale.