The Art of the Wheel: Master Mechanics, Amateur Painters

hand-painted sign for TNT Monster Mechanic, Beaver Falls, PA
Who wouldn’t want the Tasmanian Devil fixing their timing belt? One of many examples of great auto repair artwork. TNT Monster Mechanic, Beaver Falls

The Tasmanian Devil—all sinister fangs, seething anger, and whirling destruction—seems an odd candidate for the kind of precision work required for automotive repair. But there he is—crazy eyes, giant jaw agape, and squeezed tube of toothpaste body—clutching a box socket in one hand and a crescent wrench in the other on the brick wall of TNT Monster Mechanic in Beaver Falls.

Taz, as the popular Looney Tunes character is sometimes known, has a well-documented following that way outreaches the limited run of his original short cartoons. He’s a famously popular pop icon who exists in a sweet spot between lovable cartoon character and hyper-masculine bad boy who acts first and thinks … never. The podcast Decoder Ring did a terrific episode on tattoos that talked about Taz’ stranglehold on the upper arms of young men. Some of those biceps work on cars.

mural of automobile shock absorbers on brick wall of garage
It’s shocking where you can find great art, but you mustache yourself if you’re really looking. North Side
mural for auto repair shop of two mechanics working on car engine
Blue period. Neal N Tony’s Automotive Repair, Larimer

Auto repair shops are, almost always, structures of pure utilitarian economy. Typically constructed of brick or cinder block and lit by big fluorescent shop lights, they often contain no windows aside from what comes through the office door, garage openings, and the occasional glass block. This leaves a lot of exterior wall space available for decoration.

Most garages are as down-to-basics on the street-facing walls as the buildings that house them are plain … but not all of them. There is a particular phenomenon where mechanics have set down the wrench and picked up the paintbrush (or found others to do so) to elaborately advertise their businesses in ways both humorous and boastful, triumphant and goofy. These murals, 3-D painted cut-outs, and custom airbrush jobs all make up The Art of the Wheel.

handmade artwork of car wheel with fire attached to masonry wall
This wheel’s on fire—even if it’s where birds nest. Hobbs Tire & Supply, Chester, WV
mural of dog's head fused onto speeding wheel
This dog’s rabid … and thankfully still on the chain. Big Dawg’s Performance, Vandergrift

Auto Repair artwork is a gift that just keeps giving. There seem to be piston-packing Picassos and revved-up Rembrandts just about everywhere people drive cars. If you’ve got a favorite we didn’t get to (this time), give us a holler and we’ll bag it for the inevitable sequel.

Until then, keep your foot on the gas and your eyes on the garage walls.

ghost sign of mechanic repairing flat tire
Back when mechanics wore bow ties. Mechanic on Duty/Tires (ghost sign), Homestead
auto tow truck painted with image of cartoon tow truck
(Big Daddy) Henry’s*, McKees Rocks
mural of auto engine on exterior wall of garage
Bernie’s Garage, Polish Hill
painting of large spark plug on cinderblock wall
Plugged-in. Bernie’s Garage, Polish Hill
logo for Transmission Magician of cartoon man in top hat, black suit, and magic wand
Hocus Ford Focus. Transmission Magician (before the building was repainted), Bloomfield
hand-painted sign for German Motor Werks including large gear
Sprockets. German Motor Werks, Strip District
hand-painted sign/mural for Halblieb Automotive
Give ’em the hook! Halbleib Automotive, Hazelwood
hand-painted mural of engine on cinderblock wall
… and the shaft! Halbleib Automotive, Hazelwood
mural on cinderblock wall of 1960s Ford Mustang for Auto Works repair shop
Stay chassis**. Auto Works, Munhall
brick building with advertisements for auto supply shop
(unknown) Auto Supply, Donora
"Auto Parts" sign painted on masonry walllll
Auto Parts, Hill District
mural for All American Transmission Company with company name in giant waving American flag
All American Transmission Co., Millvale
hand-painted sign for Uneeda Tire Co., Beaver Falls, PA
No, YOU need a tire! Uneeda Tire Co., Beaver Falls
"Hydraulic Hoses" sign painted on masonry walllll
Hoses simple. Hydraulic Hoses, Hill District
entrance to mechanic shop including wooden model car
Model Model-T, Sacco’s Automotive Services, Sharpsburg
hand-painted sign for Peck Auto Electric, Logan, Ohio
Peck Auto Electric, Logan, O.
graffiti-style sign reading "Window Tint" on garage
Window Tint, Ambridge
brick auto repair garage with name in painted brick
Zovko’s Garage, South Side
barely readable sign advertising bodyshop
Ghost bodyshop, Lincoln-Lemington

* The artwork for Henry’s feels like a clear homage to the over-the-top cartoon hot rod artwork of Ed “Big Daddy” “Rat Fink” Roth … but maybe it’s just coincidence.
** Yes, the mural for Auto Works, featuring the body of a 1960s Ford Mustang, does not include the chassis.

Attend Me: Collage Dropout in Deutschtown

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Detail from large collage installation on East Ohio Street, Deutschtown

Attend me, hold me in your muscular flowering arms,
protect me from throwing any part of myself away.

These words, from self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde, are printed and duplicated—silk-screened, most likely—in an ornate, curlicue typeface and accented by fronds of unknown origin.

The cut-out text is layered atop a riot of dozens, hundreds maybe, of other screen-printed elements. Torn paper with the same couplet printed over and over again; images of skulls and boxers, eyeballs and ghostly figures; photographs cut from magazines bedazzled with after-market patterns and paint jobs.

They’re all part of a new(ish) installation on the North Side that, by its very nature, won’t be around for too long. Just like Ms. Lorde, attend it while you can.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage (detail) including Audre Lorde quotes, Moravian Way
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Ghost boxer

The 400 block of East Ohio Street has seen its fair share of change, even in just the last few years. Google Streetview reminds us the retail storefront at 404 E. Ohio was Ike’s Barber Shop and then Mosley’s Barber Shop until going vacant in 2015. The larger building at the corner was the old Peanutz Bar & Grill, which closed by 2016. In between the two, Alex’s Ice Cream held on longer, but seems to have become a victim of the pandemic lockdown just two years ago.

The most recent time Google documented the street, in August, 2021, it included another interesting detail. 408-410 E. Ohio hosted a large, double-door-sized collage piece on the temporary plywood covering the entrance. This is unmistakably the work of the same artist(s).

two vacant retail storefronts in disrepair
406-410 East Ohio Street, most recently Alex’s Ice Cream and Peanutz, in August, 2021 [photo: Google Streetview]

As observers, curiosity-seekers, speculators, we naturally look for meaning and theme when a piece this elaborate is exhibited—and there is plenty to work with here, if that’s your bag. Black icons Jack Johnson and Audre Lorde are an obvious entry point as are reverent photos of everyday folks and revolutionaries, updated with kente cloth, polka dots, and leopard skin patterns.

There’s also plenty of grim, foreboding imagery here. The repeated use of skulls, a menacing monster-like figure with its giant jaw agape, what may or may not be a nuclear blast, and the Virgin Mary in a hostage-taker’s ski mask.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront

We’ll not make the mistake of assigning any specific message to the collection. The artist (or artists)—there is no attribution on any of the pieces that I could find—kept themselves anonymous (although, we have our suspicions). So there’s no one to go to for clarification, which is fine.

Update (March 19, 2022): Following initial publication of this story, Pittsburgh Orbit was informed that the artists involved are Quaishawn Whitlock, Bekezela Mguni, and Darrell Kinsel. The three have a current show called Alchemical, created as part of their residency at AIR: Artists Image Resource on nearby Foreland Street.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage (full), Moravian Way

Whether we’re supposed to think anything at all about a stirring work, heavy on the iconography, or just enjoy the blast of layered color from a voracious screen-printer cleaning out his or her workspace is missing the point.

Someone created this, and it’s beautiful. It’s also unexpected, fun, head-scratching and gets us out of our heads and into the world. It’ll also be gone before you know it. The wheatpasted paper is already peeling at the corners and between unpredictable Pittsburgh weather and a property manager trying to rent the spaces, the whole thing will disappear before you know it.

Protect me from throwing any part of myself away feels like it might be a way of life for whoever did this. Embrace the piece by holding its visage in your muscular flowering arms, err … thoughts, dreams, and travels.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
The noses know this
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Mind/blown
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Mary Maskstillon
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage installation at 406 East Ohio Street

Look Out Loretto, Part 3: Ovdje Počiva Zaboravljeno Groblje*

broken grave marker in untended cemetery
Crucified and cut in two. Marija Stosic’s grave marker is one of dozens in a no-longer-maintained section of Loretto Cemetery, Arlington

It’s a striking image. Marija Stosic’s grave marker has deep-chiseled text that casts stark shadows in the day’s bright sunlight. The minimal epitaph, Ovoi počiva u miru bozjem, is—if Google Translate is to be believed—Croatian for Rest in the peace of God. Above, we see the familiar empty oval cutout where a ceramic portrait of Ms. Stosic would have been inset when the stone marker was first installed.

The design of the monument features a carved cross at the top with an image of Jesus in relief. Sometime over the last 94 years, the top has broken off leaving the Beloved Son not only crucified but bisected at the waist. Marija Stosic’s tombstone rests with another couple dozen (at least) fellow graves in a plot that’s now overgrown with the kind of scrubby barbs that will make this place difficult to negotiate by the time spring returns.

grave marker covered by thick overgrowth
Elizabeth Floros

To be honest, we didn’t think Loretto Cemetery would produce another Orbit story. Our two-parter, from way back in 2016, on Loretto’s fine collection of pre-war photo graves and the ones that just about slipped away seemed like all we’d be able to squeeze out of such a small memorial park.

This time though, with a return trip on a lovely full sun midwinter day, we went all the way to the back and the bottom. The cemetery has an L-shaped extension that reaches down the hillside and runs out where the closely-clipped grass meets untamed snags and prickly bushes … but the cemetery doesn’t actually end there.

cemetery with clearly-defined sections where grounds are still tended vs. overgrown
Loretto’s lost cemetery below; still-tended cemetery above

Come springtime, it’s unlikely anyone would even have the sight lines into this extra, lost, forgotten—take your pick—section of the cemetery. We imagine the winter’s long grasses and denuded vinery will produce the same sort of thick greenery that envelopes every square inch of untended, asphalt-free Pittsburgh making this parcel all but invisible to Loretto’s visitors.

broken grave marker in untended cemetery
Mary Pavicič

The obvious question: why did this section of the cemetery—a plot maybe a few acres large, containing grave markers almost entirely with Croatian names, deceased in the 1920s and ’30s—stop receiving the care the rest of the park has? In lieu of any real journalism, we’re left to speculate.

grave marker knocked over by fallen tree
Mathilda Goralczyk

Theory 1: Cost savings for the cemetery. The geography of the hillside is just too severe and Loretto’s management decided they couldn’t justify the expense of sending their grounds crew into an untamable wild to tend a set of grave markers so old they rarely—if ever—receive family members.

Theory 2: This was never a part of Loretto and instead it was a separate, independent cemetery. We find these tiny cemeteries—often associated with a particular church, faith, or national origin—all over the place. They’re also often immediately adjacent to larger cemeteries. Perhaps the Hilltop’s Croatian community purchased or sub-leased this plot of land back in the 1920s with their own maintenance agreements that Loretto is not responsible for.

broken grave marker in untended cemetery
Matija Kalicanac

A wander through the cemetery—any cemetery—always brings up questions of permanence. Grave markers—cut from granite, weighing hundreds of pounds, placed on land with this specific purpose—carry the unrealistic expectation that they will exist in this state forever. But we know it ain’t going to play out like that.

In our previous story on Loretto’s photo graves we discuss the irony that some of the ceramic photos on grave markers have outlived the carved text, such that we don’t even know the names of people whose images we still have—and it’s been less than a hundred years.

Loretto’s forgotten cemetery takes that and says hold my beer. You’re not even guaranteed a reasonable way for visitors to access your plot—and it may have been that way for decades.

eroded grave marker in untended cemetery
Anna ? (Genz?)

You’re still reading this? The rambling rarely stops, but here we are.

If you do want to check out Loretto’s forgotten cemetery, we recommend doing it before the poison ivy, viney overgrowth, and legit jaggerbushes come back to life.

grave marker in untended cemetery
Otec Janko Sculac

* That should be something like Here rests the forgotten cemetery.

Twofer Two, Two Two, Two Tuesday: Daily Doubles for 2/22/22

two large round dormatories
Twin towers / double dormatories. Two times the fun on 2/22/22. Oakland

On the day the photo was taken—the burning sun high in a cloudless sky, light shimmering in the sweltering heat—twin pointed peaks glimmer on a horizon of mysterious black obelisks. In the haze of midsummer’s full, drenching humidity, it seems we must have been transported thousands of miles away and centuries back in time.

Of course, what’s really going here is far more prosaic. The vision of Egypt’s great pyramids is but a wishful hallucination in the blur of summer sun and the deceitful dual sheet metal roofline of General Tire Service’s big building on Smallman Street.

Double diamonds. The great pyramids of General Tire Service, Strip District

On this of all days, however—February twenty-two, twenty twenty-two (2/22/22)—the photograph takes on new life as a daily double. It’s not alone, this twofer, this double from another rubble: a couple memorialized in a ceramic grave photograph, two stencils of a cartoonish astronaut flashing us the OK sign, a pair of broken plastic Christmas candles left out as a matching set for someone … who doesn’t know it yet, but they’ve arrived at their daily double.

two lawn ornament geese dressed in Christmas costumes
The double gooses of 46th Street. Lawrenceville

The double gooses (not “geese”) of 46th Street have long donned their gay apparel—for Christmas, yes, but other prominent holidays too. On this day, however, what great fortune—as if God herself was dealing Jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs—to locate a second double goose up on Penn Avenue just as we’re headed to press. These (plastic) feathered fellows have already gone green in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day (we assume?), but the camo Army fatigues suggest they may be doing double-duty (ha!) serving up through Memorial Day, too.

pair of goose lawn ornaments decorated green St. Patrick's Day attire and Army fatigues
Entirely different double gooses of Penn Ave. (Yes, that’s *double* double gooses.) Lawrenceville

However you celebrate this very literal once in a lifetime occurrence of numerological planets in alignment, know that while a couple may give you trouble and twins may do you in, there’s still time to double down on a second chance. Don’t think twice, it’s alright.

ceramic photo inset from grave marker
Double portrait. The Riccitellos, Beaver Cemetery
repeated stencil of astronaut making "OK" hand sign
Double OK astronaut. Strip District
Russian orthodox church with two green onion domes
Double onion dome. Charleroi
sign on utility pole with arrows pointing to "Dirty Slag" and "Dirty Limestone"
Double dirty. Skunk Hollow
Two 2-car garages built together
Double two-car garage. Arlington
two ventriloquist dummies, both with sad facial expressions
Double sadness
pair of windows, each with a large Santa head
Double Santa. Lawrenceville
Christmas window decoration of two silver reindeer with red and green ornaments
Double reindeer. Lawrenceville
pair of broken plastic decorative Christmas candles
Double Christmas candle. Lawrenceville
window decorated with two Krampus ornaments
Double Krampus. Lawrenceville
pair of window flower boxes, each with a decorative grave marker
Double flower box burial. Lawrenceville
window decorated with two pictures of Frankenstein and message "Remeber to Love"
Double Frankenstein. Lawrenceville
large house with two front doors
In Pittsburgh, it’s a double-house (not duplex!) Hazelwood
directional arrow on asphalt layered with a second arrow on top
Double arrow. Monaca
street art of traffic cones with Campbell's Soup background and floating eyeballs
Double Warhol eye cones. Strip District
storefront with two mannequins wearing full-body hazard suits
Double danger. Arnold
pair of footprints embedded in concrete sidewalk
Double footprints. Monessen
glass block bar window with painted image of two beer glasses
Double convivial. Coraopolis
hand-written sign on door reading "Turn both knobs at the same time!!!"
No snickering! Double doorknobs. Carrick
pair of anti-Trump posters
Double dunce. Wilkinsburg
Chromos Eyewear sign of a large pair of glasses, with the Pittsburgh skyline in each lens
Double vision / double Downtown. Chromos Eyewear, Lawrenceville

P.S. Not enough doubles for you? Well, you’re in luck. Over at the Portland Orbit they’ve got their own take on this mother of all Twofer Tuesdays. Yes: that’s double the double-takes!

Love Anarchically: Valentine’s Day Hearts, 2022

Halloween jack-o-lantern carved with large heart
Love: you can’t always see your way through it, but sometimes there’s a fire that burns bright. Lawrenceville

Love, noted relationship counselor Patricia Benatar once informed us, is a battlefield. It’s a powerful metaphor whose cuts-to-the-bone directness is no doubt part of her 1983 chart-topping song’s lasting appeal. Other pop music pseudo-therapists have broken the news that Love Hurts and Love Scars, Love Bites and yes, Love Stinks.

These sentiments may or may not reflect each of our individual experiences but we know it can get wilder than even this. Sometimes love is pure anarchy.

graffiti heart with large letter "A" painted on concrete steps
Love isn’t always a battlefield—sometimes it’s anarchy. Polish Hill

The red heart spans three concrete treads of the Downing Street steps in Polish Hill. Its black outline is pretzel-curved into the verticals of a capital letter A. Sure, this may be a vigilante Valentine left for (or from?) an Anna or André, Alex or Audrey, but it sure resembles the circle-A symbol would-be anarchists leave all over the place. Perhaps not coincidentally, that call-to-arms also often shows up spray-painted on public infrastructure.

The anarchy heart image is not alone. Looking through this year’s street Valentines, a certain theme emerges—not of the joy and perhaps unrealistic Hallmark special expectations of love—but rather, as a certain Bunnyman called it, The Back of Love.

Valentine's Day heart decoration on front porch with caution tape
Love: proceed with caution. Etna

Big red hearts aglow against caution tape; hearts chaotically strewn across back alley walls; crumpled hearts in derelict windows. These—and plenty more where they came from—all seem to say, Yeah, love is out there, but be careful, buddy. Here, that advice is gifted to us from Pittsburgh’s Krylon Cupids, available wherever people take out the trash and tack tin cans to telephone poles. This year it’s more true than ever.

wall with much graffiti including large red heart
Sometimes love doesn’t quite know what’s going on. Bloomfield

That said, even without the pressures of a global coronavirus pandemic it’s always that kind of year when it comes to affaires d’amour. (That’s French for the love thing.)

So whether you’re in love, all out of love, or you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, whether love is like oxygen or love is the drug—heck, even if you give love a bad name—this Valentine’s Day, know that you’re not alone. There are lots of folks out there who are experiencing the same exact thing and it cut them deep enough to spray paint that feeling on some city steps.

Keep on, everyone, and happy Valentine’s Day.

homemade heart decoration in front window of house
Love ain’t always perfect, but we keep trying. Lincoln-Lemington
decorative skeleton wrapped in Christmas garland with Valentine's Day hearts
Love: it’s a killer. Etna
painting on abandoned building of woman with afro, green snake, and glowing yellow heart
If you’re falling in love, watch your asp. Garfield
side of house decorated with both Valentine's Day hearts and black bats
It’s great, but love is spooky too. Etna
mural of realistic human heart over stylized mountains
Your heart may float like a balloon, but watch out for those dangerous peaks. Lawrenceville
tin can lid painted with red hearts and figure on bicycle
Tin can pole (he)art. Garfield
large mural of many hands around a multicolored heart
Sometimes love takes a village and a helping hand. Strip District
heart painted on wooden fence slat
Good love can heal pain and peel paint. Uptown
sidewalk chalk drawing of a heart and a snail
Love can be slow … and messy. Sharpsburg
graffiti heart painted blue and red
There are no red hearts and there are no blue hearts—there are only American hearts! … and hearts from other places. Lawrenceville
fence with heart-shaped cutout in wooden slats
Sometimes we’ve got a heart-shaped hole in us. Lawrenceville
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Big heart, dead eyes, can’t lose. Greensburg
street art sticker in shape of heart with word "Crone"
Love is for us old people, too. Lawrenceville
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Love: it’s fine … until it’s not. Friendship
wheatpaste street art on dumpster of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Sometimes love can get you down in the dumpster. Garfield
truck trailer with graffiti heart and word "Luv"
You can’t fabricate luv. Bloomfield
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
It’s always decorative gourd season when your heart’s on the fence. Garfield
graffiti heart with name Paul painted on cinderblock wall
Paul may be gone, but he’s still in our heart. Lawrenceville
pair of cardboard hearts attached to utility pole
You can’t break a cardboard heart, but it may just get blown away. Garfield
shiny heart decoration attached to utility pole
Love may look great on the outside, but there’s often duct tape holding it together. Lawrenceville
cinderblock wall painted with many small hearts
Maybe there’s love right around the corner. Strip District
mural of flowers and words "with Love"
Happy Valentine’s Day, with Love, from us to you

No Dogs Wasted Here: Dog Police, Part Deux Deux

no dog poop message spray painted on wood covering garage door
Think of the children! No dog poop. Kids walk to school here. A warning message from The Dog Police, on patrol in Wilmerding

Stuck to the aluminum siding of a little house up the hill in Millvale, a set of peel-and-stick letters spells out a curious message: No dogs wasted here.

Is this a rehab clinic for hooched pooches? An embetterment program for down-on-their luck pups? A recycling center for man’s-best-friends at their wits-last-ends?

sticker letters on siding reading "no dogs wasted here"
No dogs wasted here. Millvale

Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous! Diligent Orbit staff know when The Dog Police are on patrol, keeping the streets, alleys, and—especially—residential trash receptacles safe from the terror of incoming canine caca. Foreign or domestic, but always unwanted, Fido’s doo-doo and Scout’s dishonor are a deeply divisive feature of the pedestrian experience.

Having neither a mutt to strut nor publicly-available trash can, your author—excuse the expression—doesn’t have a dog in this fight, so we’re but mere spectators from the cheap seats as the daily doggo drama plays itself out just about everywhere.

hand-written signs on garbage can to stop putting dog shit in cans
Stop asshole no shit in my cans / Dont put your dogs *shit* in my cans. Lawrenceville

What’s the right thing to do?

The responsible pet-owner takes their furry friends out for daily constitutionals, lets them sniff all the fire hydrants and boxwood hedges they care to, and picks up the droppings inevitably jettisoned from their mutts’ butts right there on the sidewalks and grassy patches along the way. Do we expect the human companions to carry the scat sachet all the way home? Or are public/city trash cans an acceptable end point for the excrement?

Alternately, the home owner doesn’t want to deal with that (quite literal) crap—either on the sidewalk or in their street-facing waste bins. It doesn’t make a lot of sense—it’s just trash, right?—but people feel a sense of violation when anyone uses their bins, and when that trash is dog shit—that’s where it gets ugly—and smelly.

hand-written sign on utility pole saying "Pick up after your pups poops"
Pick up after your pups poops. Dravosburg

Like certain other ages-old, inconsolable rifts, it’s unlikely the poop-scoop-and-scoot crowd will ever reach a peaceful accord with the all-volunteer dog police, but we can dream.

Until then, please curb your dog, no peeing on the plants, use the trash can across the street, and make sure none of your possessives or contractions include apostrophes.

"No dogs" sign in front of large garden
Forget the poop, some dog police go straight to the root of the problem. NO DOGS. Millvale
hand-written signs on garbage can to stop putting dog shit in cans
Stop!! Take your dog shit home!! Not a public can!! Lawrenceville
message to keep dog poop cleaned-up on parking sign
Semi-official-looking dog police. Keep you dog shit … cleaned up. Lawrenceville
"No animal waste" handmade sign in front garden
Not into species-shaming dog police. No animal waste. Lawrenceville
handmade sign in front yard to not let dogs do their business
Gender-inclusive dog police. Do not let your dog do their business ((here)). Highland Park
message hung from tree limb to not let dogs pee on grass
Think of the children! (again) Kids on the block play here, please do not let your dog go potty. Lawrenceville
handmade sign to clean up dog droppings
Clean up dog droppings. Bloomfield
hand-written sign on gate asking owners to stop their dogs from shitting
Please stop *your* dog from shitting on my property!!! Thats very inconsiderate of you. Stanton Heights
hand-painted stone with message "Please curb your dog"
Dog cop rock. Please curb your dog. Millvale
foam pad with message "no peeing on the plants" written
No peeing on the plants. Lawrenceville
message to clean up doog poop in stickers on side of house
Have a bag clean your dog — poop, Millvale
street sign with owner scooping dog poop
Drop cops, from the butts of mutts. Etna
pumpkin lawn sign with message to keep dogs off lawn
The dog police, all decorated for fall. Please keep dogs off my lawn. Munhall [photo: Lee Floyd]
cinderblock wall with "no dogs" stenciled
No dogs. (Just smile) Millvale
sign across row house airway reading "no dog poop"
The dog police at the end of the tunnel. No Dog Poop. Polish Hill
handmade sign to keep dogs out of yard
Keep dogs out of yard!! Thank you. East Liberty
egg carton with "no dogs please" written on it
If you bring your dog around, start carton their poop home with you. No dogs please. Lawrenceville
message to clean up dog poop taped to front door of house
Hey! Please use the trash can across the street instead of our storefront for your dog poop. Thx. Lawrenceville
message taped to garbage can saying "no poop bags"
No poop bags in my garbage cans. Thank you. Lawrenceville
message taped to garbage can saying "no poop bags"
Attention! Please do not put your dog’s poop bag in my garbage can. Thank you. Lawrenceville
message about dog poop bags use written on styrofoam plate
Please do not leave ‘green’ poop bags on trails or throw off trails. Dispose all poop bags properly. Thank You. Frick Park
hand-written signs in house front windows asking for owners to pick up their dogs' poop
Smile you’re on camera / Please pick up your dog’s poop. Free bags below. Lawrenceville
message to clean up dog poop on chain link fence
It is your job as the dog owner and not mine as the homeowner to clean up after you and your dog… Be respectful of other homes. Larimer
message to clean up dog poop on chain link fence
Attention dog owners and walkers: if your dog poops on our grass please have the courtesy to scoop it up so that we are not stepping in your dogs poop. Larimer

See also: “The Scoop on Poop or Hill Street Doo Doos: On Patrol with the Dog Police” (Pittsburgh Orbit, Sept. 22, 2019)

Skyline Times Nine, Part 2: Signs, Designs, and Outlines

sign for Pizza Burgh including logo with slice of pizza and Pittsburgh skyline
Pittsburgh: the city with gray skies and extra toppings. Pizza Burgh sign/logo including the skyline of downtown Pittsburgh, Munhall

Sweet Jesus! How much more can we say on the evergreen topic of Pittsburgh’s downtown skyline getting stylized, abstracted, and turned into commercial art? If we didn’t run out of things in last week’s post (about murals), then we most certainly did if you go back to the previous eight editions of skyline roundup preceding it.

Finding skylines out in the wild and collecting photographs of their many representations is still a labor of love slash limitless egg hunt. Writing about them—again—is like describing the contents of one’s sock drawer. There’s just not that much (more) to say.

So we’ll keep this extra short and get you onto what Orbit faithful have been pining for: graphic representations of downtown Pittsburgh on food trucks and banks, law offices and pizza boxes. Keep warm, be safe, and look up.

Strictly Pittsburgh board game box with illustration of downtown Pittsburgh
Empire City. Strictly Pittsburgh board game, c. 1979, Hoechstetter Printing Company, Inc.
decal on food truck including downtown Pittsburgh skyline with fork, knife, and spoon
A city ready to eat. PGH Halal Truck
window decal for Evo's Sports Bar featuring silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh
Black-and-gold city. Evo’s Sports Bar, Charleroi
sign for Gateway Cafe including silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh
Sunset City. Gateway Cafe, Downtown
window decal for law firm including stylized image of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Little big skyline against big little skyline. Shadyside
logo for 3 Rivers Brick Pointing including skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
The city with loose mortar and giant masons. 3 Rivers Brick Pointing
signage for food truck including densely-packed depiction of downtown Pittsburgh buildings
Dense City (not). Romeo’s Eat N’ Roll food truck
food truck painted with skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Southern City (not). Walter’s Southern Kitchen, Lawrenceville
van for Vintage Church featuring silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh
A God-loving City. Vintage Church, Mt. Washington
sign board featuring downtown Pittsburgh skyline
An over-the-hill city. Overhill Lane, Strip District
City Co. Federal Credit Union window decal featuring silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Block City. City Co. Federal Credit Union
box truck with background silhouette of the downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Garden City. Grounded/Neighborhood Allies PGH Mobile Toolbox, Larimer
window decal for Float featuring buildings from the downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Sensory Deprivation City. Float, Shadyside
door sign featuring digitized image of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
8-bit City. 1 Live Radio, Marshall-Shadeland
pizza box including logo of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
City of the original cheesy bread. Giovanni’s Pizza & Pasta
sign for apartment building including Pittsburgh skyline
City of the rising sun. Skyline Terrace, Hill District
logo for Pittsburgh Plumbing and Sewers including skyline of downtown Pittsburgh in a crescent wrench
The city with a leaky faucet. Pittsburgh Plumbing and Sewers
mobile performance stage with silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
All outlines, no filler. City mobile stage, Schenley Park
decal for Restoration City. Pittsburgh Restoration & Construction Services, Inc. on pickup truck door
Restoration City. Pittsburgh Restoration & Construction Services, Inc.
logo for Pittsburgh CitiParks including downtown skyline
Parks in the front; buildings in the back. Park/City. CitiParks logo
sticker for the Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books including stylized version of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
A downtown bookended by bridges … and books. Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books
logo for medical marijuana dispensary including downtown Pittsburgh in rainbow
Rainbow City—now with medical marijuana! Maitri Chevy
logo for City of Bridges High School featuring silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Black-and-gold city, City of Bridges High School, East Liberty
logo for Kerpec Management including downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Glowing City. Kerpec Management, Oakland

Skyline Nine Times, Part 1: Let’s Talk About Murals

detail of mural depicting stylized downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Bright lights, mid-sized city. Mural depicting downtown Pittsburgh … or, at least, PPG Tower is represented, Uptown

Tall towers thrust skyward into a night sky lit up in aurora borealis-like technicolor fantasia. The buildings, black in darkness but each lit from hundreds of glowing window insets, cant in wild directions with the hyperextended angularity of so much German expressionism.

The painting covers a full exterior wall on a little building on Gist Street, Uptown. Whether or not it’s supposed to represent downtown Pittsburgh is questionable, but with the spiky spires of PPG Tower clear in the foreground the mural must at least be inspired by its host city.

mural on brick wall with downtown Pittsburgh skyline and the Eiffel Tower
The Paris of Appalachia. Frenchi’s, Oakland

Like tribbles, vape shops, and yes, Omicron cases, art and design representations of downtown Pittsburgh’s skyline seem to mutate and regenerate at an exponential rate. Why this, our ninth story on the subject, had so many new skylines collected in just the last few months that we’re breaking the recent arrivals into two parts.

This then is Part 1: Let’s talk about murals where we get down with original artistic creations painted directly to brick, cinderblock, and plaster (plus one “outside art” painting). Next week, we’ll be back with Part 2: Designs, Signs, and Outlines.

Until then, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the skyline.

detail from mural featuring downtown Pittsburgh in shades of purple
Erotic City I. Strip District
Mural of downtown Pittsburgh with monkeys holding wrenches
Erotic City II (with monkey mechanics!). Apex Auto, South Side
Mural of Gulf Tower on rounded brick wall
If you have to pick just one skyline element… Gulf Tower, Strip District/Downtown
detail from mural featuring downtown Pittsburgh with jigsaw puzzle pieces
A puzzling city. Uptown
mural depicting yellow bridge and downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Revolution City! Spirit, Lawrenceville
mural of yellow bridge and downtown buildings
Roaming City … but parking is reserved for K-2 employees. K-2 Market, Garfield
mural of woman, farm, vegetables, and downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Earth Mother/Vegetable City. East End Food Co-op, North Point Breeze
painting of downtown Pittsburgh skyline on wood panel on front porch of small house
The city that makes a great impression…istic art subject. Outside art, North Side
detail from mural featuring tops of downtown Pittsburgh's tallest buildings
A Strip District view of the city. Strip District
detail of mural including section of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Green City. Uptown
mural including crude rendering of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Flood City. Beltzhoover
shipping container painted with mural including Pittsburgh skyline
The city aglow. Mobile stage, Three Rivers Arts Festival
detail from mural featuring downtown Pittsburgh skyline
A sketch of a city. Salem’s Market, Strip District
large mural including skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
The city with a little bit of everything. Manchester

Let’s Get Small: Bite-Sized Art at the Silver Apple Gallery

little free art gallery with sign reading "Silver Apple"
The newest, tiniest art space in town. Silver Apple Gallery, Main Street, Lawrenceville

“A gallery for all,” declares artist Kirsten Ervin. That mission, inspired by Mayor Gainey’s pledge to make Pittsburgh a city for all, is one of the guiding principals behind the city’s newest, tiniest, and Covid-accessible…est art spaces.

The Silver Apple Gallery, located on Main Street in Lawrenceville, is a project of Ms. Ervin (aka Ms. Orbit) and yours truly. It has but a few cubic feet of display space, parking may be scarce, and don’t count on filling up on hors d’oeuvres at openings, but there’s a lot we can do with this little addition to the art scene.

Inspired by the area’s first little free art gallery, in Sharpsburg, The Ms. asked her Mr. to construct something similar. That turned into a Christmas project/present executed by the most amateur of carpenters from (mostly) scrap wood and a recycled Window by way of Construction Junction. The name was inspired by some fake fruit found at the Center for Creative Reuse and an homage to the great Morton Subotnick. Mild New Year’s weekend weather let us install it right away.

side panel of little free art gallery featuring a cut out silver apple on a red background
How ’bout this apple?

We plan on running the gallery in two modes, alternating month-to-month—but don’t hold us to that; we’re still making this up as we go along.

On the odd-numbered months (January, March, etc.) the space will operate as a little free art gallery. It will remain unlocked and available for artists to drop off their work to show and give away. (Just, please, keep it community-friendly: nothing depicting violence, hate, or overly-sexual.) Like little free libraries, passers-by, collectors, and fellow artists are encouraged to take a piece of art if one speaks to them.

artwork of tiny monster in a dress inside glass display box, created by artist Kirsten Ervin
Kirsten Ervin’s tiny monster in a tiny dress inside a tiny box at the Silver Apple Gallery

On the even months, we’ll turn the space into a full-on tiny art gallery. These will have dedicated shows by individual artists, created for the unique environment. Silver Apple, uh, staff will assist in the hanging, presentation, and lighting the shows. During this time, the gallery will be locked and artists have the option to sell their work directly to those interested. In the Art All Night model, this exchange will be entirely between seller and buyer—The Silver Apple will neither charge a fee nor take a commission.

In February, we’ll be hosting the first individual two-week shows by artists Suzanne Werder (Feb. 1-14) and Ricardo Solis (Feb. 15-28). If you’re an artist who’d like to show at The Silver Apple in the future, either get in touch with us through our Instagram account (@silverapplegallery) or here at the Orbit. When it becomes virologically safe to do so, maybe we’ll even have some little openings on the front porch.

Artist John Lee with his art inside little free art gallery
We caught artist John Lee as he snuck by to drop off his painting “Super Flexible Birdman,” which became the first exhibited piece at the Silver Apple Gallery

“We want The Silver Apple to be accessible, fun, and delightful,” Ervin says, “Hopefully, for people that just stumble across it, the gallery will lift their days. This is our gift to the community and ourselves.”

So please, if you find yourself somewhere around Lawrenceville, stop by, take a peek at what’s in the gallery (it changes every day!), and bring a dog biscuit for Halo, the husky next door.

surrealist pen-and-ink drawing including long serpant and many animal figures with human faces
A Dan Ivec pen-and-ink drawing—likely with a fantastic title we’ll never know—showed-up in the gallery just yesterday.

Silver Apple Gallery is located at 255 Main Street, Central Lawrenceville. Hopefully it will contain something interesting every day of the year, but it may be a little hard to see after dark. To keep up with goings-on at The Silver Apple, we recommend following our Instagram account: @silverapplegallery.

Reading is Lit! A Year with Little Free Libraries

little free library by steps to large library and music hall in Homestead, PA
Little free library outside big free library, Homestead

Patrick Kenzie is tough private investigator from the mean streets of south Boston. He drinks too much, isn’t afraid to take a punch to the nose, and grew up with a “hero” fire fighter for a father who liked to knock him and his mother around.

Kensie and his partner have taken a case from some back room-dealing politicians that will lead them from fancy downtown Boston to cop bars, rundown mill towns, and burned-out ganglands in an action/suspense-filled journey that, you guessed it, will see more twists and turns than a shore-leave midshipman with a stack of dollar bills in his pocket.

little free library painted blue and red with large circular window holes
Designy little free library, Octopus Garden, Friendship
little free library with door made from mosaic glass
Blue hour/glass mosaic little free library, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Garfield

Shakespeare, it ain’t. Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War (1994) is full of clichés and develops its characters just enough for us to not really care about them. But its brutal honesty about the way race and class color greater Boston’s poorer boroughs was an impressive subtext to this otherwise standard-issue genre story.

Despite its dubious literary merits, the book was a completely enjoyable—if, I’m sure, ultimately forgettable—potboiler that read just fine with one’s feet up by the fire on a weekend retreat to the Laurel Highlands. Inside the paperback’s front cover, an after-market rubber stamp informs readers This book visited the Fisk Street Little Free Library.[1]

little free library attached to tree in residential neighborhood
Little free library and NARCAN dispensary, Highland Park
little free library in front of retail storefront
Little free library with Fred Rogers tribute and festive gourd, Garfield

At this time last year we were all neck-deep into coronavirus lockdown, mach I.[2] If you’ll recall, the entire Carnegie Library system was inaccessible for some time. When it opened again, it was with a phased approach that first included a strict no-browsing/request books online/contact-free pickup approach.

That all makes perfect sense and your author applauds everyone at CLP for everything they did to make the full catalog available as soon as possible … but it’s just not the same. One wants to go into the library, poke around, allow the displays of new titles and seasonal picks to catch the eye, let some kismet have a chance to drop something unexpected into our hands and inject it into the brain.

little free library in alley behind row houses
Back alley little free library, Lawrenceville
little free library made from former cabinets resting on cinderblocks
Up-on-blocks little free library, Lawrenceville

It was under these circumstances that the now-omnipresent little free libraries (LFLs) really started to make sense. I had seen them all over—everyone has seen them all over, they’re everywhere!—but never gave the libraries much time or deep catalog consideration.

And then suddenly, these same little free libraries were the only libraries available. At some point in 2020, this blogger found himself poking more, bringing a few titles home, and contributing already-consumed books to replace the ones borrowed.

As a new year’s resolution (for 2021), I decided to dedicate the year’s book-reading entirely to items found randomly at whatever little free libraries I happened to stumble upon.

little free library in front of small apartment building
Professional-grade little free library, Lawrenceville
little free library on decoupage'd pole
Party-on-the-pole, business-in-the-penthouse little free library, Friendship

The year started with bang—or maybe with dessert. The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King (2012) is Rich Cohen’s amazing history of how Sam Zemurray, a Russian immigrant to the American South, hussled his way into becoming the don of big fruit and transformed (physically, agriculturally, and politically) much of Central America in the process. This includes, among other things, inciting a war in Honduras.

Zemurray is an amazing (true life) character, but the history of how bananas came to, and took over, America (at least, where fruit is concerned) is truly riveting. I went from thinking of bananas as a pleasant enough year-round option for my morning yogurt to imagining them the way visitors to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair or immigrants arriving at Ellis Island first experienced them. Recommended … although I don’t think it’s still available at the 37th Street LFL where I both checked it out and returned it.

little free library with umbrella attached
Umbrella’d little free pantry, Lawrenceville
little free library painted with flower scene
Flowers in the snow little free library, Waldorf School, Bloomfield

If you could hang with A Visit from the Goon Squad‘s non-traditional narrative, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (2012) took the same unorthodox approach on the page, but wrapped it in an engrossing—and legit laugh-out-loud—tragi-comic skewering of modern tech yuppies slash pull-at-your-heartstrings family drama. Yes, it’s “now a major motion picture,” but trust me: read the book; skip the movie.

Harold Robbins’ The Betsy (1971) marries the ambitious world of automotive innovation with enough male fantasy soft-core sleaze to keep the motor running and the pages turning. Robbins’, it turns out, is still the highest-selling American author of all time[3]—a fact that’s hard to believe. Read The Betsy and the reality that those superlatives rarely match artistic merit is made all too clear, but this reader has no regrets.

little free library located by public steps
Only-accessible-by-steps little free library, Fineview [tip: Laura Zurowski]
little free library hand painted with sky and clouds
Painted sky little free library, Polish Hill

In-between, there was some British detective novel; one from Oprah’s Book Club; a suspense novel set in Weimar Berlin with a plot about ex-pats attempting to locate the last heir to the Romanov dynasty—I should have kept a list.

But this isn’t a book review site or even a book review post. Today, we’re just trying to appreciate the loving acts of community that are the creation of little free libraries … and little free pantries, community resource centers, art galleries, and everything else people offer up as gifts to their neighbors, visitors, and random passers-by.

inside free little art gallery with donated paintings, illustrations, and photographs
Getting all meta at the free little art gallery, Sharpsburg
little free library painted purple and green
Welcome to the ’80s little free library, Harmony

If you host a little free somethingorother, hats off to you [side note: we’d love to hear about the experience]; if you “check out” materials provided from them, hopefully they’ve brightened your days. They have mine—so much so that we’re installing one at Chez Orbit. More about that later.

Until then, keep (or start!) reading, visit your neighborhood little free library, and have a happy new year.

little free library painted black and white
Two-tone little free library, Polish Hill
tall and thin little free library with square windows in door
Phone box-style little free library, Verona
little free library painted aqua blue
The books aquatic little free library, Bloomfield
little free library with graffiti tag on front
Graffiti’d-upon little free library, Lawrenceville
little free library with cut-out hearts in windows
Little free library love, East Liberty
little free library with tar shingles on roof
Shingled little free library, Bellevue

[1] The history of where the books in little free libraries have been, and where they came from, would be really interesting. We encourage other LFL stewards to do something similar.

[2] The actual timeline is so foggy at this point, CLP may well have been fully open by January, 2021. Regardless, the experience of being without full access to the library during the first part of the pandemic was very real.

[3] Apparently this distinction is a toss-up between Robbins and Danielle Steele, so Robbins may be second on the list. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_fiction_authors