Live, Worship, Eye-Pop: In Bellevue, Anonymous Welcome Art

colorful public art piece of town made with scrap wood, Bellevue, PA

Bellevue’s *other* welcome sign, Ohio River Boulevard

A quick blast of psychedelic color might be all you get. From the corner of the eye, a riot of blue and purple swirls, orange and yellow stripes, irregular, jagged boxes. Maybe you don’t see it at all, but just sense something alien and alive at the side of the road. Blink and you’ll miss it, the tired phrase goes–but it’s absolutely true in this case.

Bellevue. The old, down-river trolley suburb prides itself on its community, faith, and bargain retail. So much so, the borough’s most salient feature is a giant, glowing, boomerang modern entrance sign proudly announcing these civic strengths.

So it was no small surprise to discover Bellevue’s other, more humble, and completely anonymous welcome marker.

colorful public art piece of town made with scrap wood, Bellevue, PA

Bellevue welcome art [detail]: windmill, church, apartments

The piece appears to be entirely created from recycled parts. A section of fencing forms the supporting backdrop. It is painted like an impressionist aurora borealis the good citizens of Bellevue are unlikely to witness in real life. Attached to the wooden slats are a haphazard collection of scrap wood, snipped tin, and other assorted bits and bobs. Some have been spray painted through crude stencils; others are just rough, raw lumber.

It’s loose, for sure, but there’s no mistaking the composition as a street-level view of a small town. The specifics are really up to the beholder, but it’s safe to say the artwork could easily represent Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue’s main street, just a couple blocks up the hill.

The town’s live / worship / shop principles are represented in multi-story apartment buildings, a pair of cross-and-steeple churches–even a taco shop. A factory-looking structure, well off the main drag, down by the river, might be ALCOSAN. I don’t know that Bellevue actually has a windmill, but there’s one of those here, too.

colorful public art piece of town made with scrap wood, Bellevue, PA

Bellevue welcome art [detail]: apartment buildings, taco shop, church

Heading outbound/westward on Ohio River Boulevard, one leaves the city as s/he crosses the little unnamed bridge over Jack’s Run. Within the length of a couple blocks, the Bellevue sprawl–a collection of fast food joints, no-tell motels, and oddball old-school holdouts–comes into view.

It is exactly at this point–when one is least expecting it, but perhaps most in need of it–where the colorful blitz of this alternate, wordless Welcome to Bellevue flashes by through the passenger-side window. I’m telling you now: you might encounter it this way–but you won’t actually experience it at 40 miles an hour.

Park the car. Better yet, get to it Orbit style: it’s a terrific, easy bicycle ride from anywhere in Pittsburgh. [Just don’t try to ride on the highway!] Get up close, sit on a stump, and let the passing big rigs rustle your hair, Bellevue-style.

colorful public art piece of town made with scrap wood, Bellevue, PA

Water’s edge: ALCOSAN possibly?

There’s no information provided with Bellevue’s welcome art, no signature to decipher on the back. It exists on an improbable tiny dirt lot right along busy Rt. 65. So we don’t know who created and placed the artwork or what the motivation was. It’s unlikely borough elders would commission something this folksy–and they’d probably have installed it in a more central spot if they had–but that’s just a guess.

So here, in a total void of facts, is where we lean on pure speculation. It feels very much like the work of someone who just loves his or her borough. Enough to take the time to create a heavy, wall-sized tribute to the town, truck it down to a miniature vacant lot, and hoist the piece up on a set of tree stumps for passing motorists to glimpse as they whiz by.

colorful public art piece of town made with scrap wood, Bellevue, PA

In context: Bellevue’s welcome art along Ohio River Boulevard

The artist may want to supply townsfolk with a pleasant image as they arrive home from work in the city. Perhaps it was actually a commissioned job from the owner of one of the nearby houses or businesses. Maybe someone just had a spousal ultimatum to get the damn thing off the porch.

Regardless, we like to think the artist was hoping some visitor might actually slow down and take a deeper look–maybe even bicycle all the way out just to see it. It’s not every day you run across a terrific little public objet d’art installed in a dirt lot next to Discount Tire Center, but it should be, and it can be. That is, if you take the time to live, worship, and/or eye-pop in Bellevue.

Valentine’s Day Hearts

graffiti on brick wall of dozens of small hearts above a row of commercial trash bins, Pittsburgh, PA

Flying hearts (or maybe just flying flies) and trash bins, Oakland

Hearts. They’re just about everywhere this time of year, right? In shop windows, taped to cubicle nameplates, iced into bakery desserts, crocheted in red yarn and pinned on comfy sweaters. But try to find a real one–O.K., not a real real one, but an un-store bought/handmade/interesting representation of a heart–it ain’t so easy. There are some of them out on the street, though.

Neon sign of a red heart with green bands surrounding from a tattoo parlour, Pittsburgh, PA

Tattoo parlour neon sign, South Side

Love is a great thing, right? If so, why is Valentine’s Day such a loathsome event? [To call this a “holiday” is a major stretch.] It’s contrived from no clear history, crassly commercial, and oozes sickeningly forced sentimentality. No major shopping event between Christmas and Easter? Let’s sell some candy in February! Oh, and pink is just the worst, most nauseating color. This open-to-all-other-hues blogger shudders just thinking about it.

Valentine’s Day seems almost diabolically created to make single people feel bad and puts a lot of couples into a weird state of obligatory self-congratulation. Dear, I don’t subscribe to the man’s holiday, but I also don’t want you to think I don’t care. Being in a good relationship can be terrific, but it ain’t great every single day, and maybe it doesn’t just happen to be firing on February 14 each year–but you wouldn’t know it from the full tables at fancy restaurants and stacks of Whitman’s samplers at Rite-Aid.

Mural of human heart on cinderblock wall by Jeremy Raymer, Pittsburgh, PA

Mural by Jeremy Raymer, Lawrenceville

The heart is a strange symbol for love–although maybe not any more peculiar than anything else we (humans) might have selected. A heaving, involuntary muscle that looks terrifyingly freaky when we actually see a real one going at it. O.R. nurses and surgeons must get used to the sight, but I doubt this blogger ever would. The simplified, symmetric, cartoon representation we’ve adopted doesn’t look anything like a real human heart. If it did, we’d have to find another symbol for the emotion.

spray painted heart stencil

Spray paint/stencil, Bigelow Blvd. pedestrian overpass, Polish Hill

All this belly-aching, but valentines (the physical tokens of affection, not the day) can be pretty darn swell. Fold some paper, cut out some letters, whip out the glue stick.They’re probably one of the few ways (some) people still keep up their craft chops post-elementary school. Mrs. The Orbit never fails to deliver particularly creative, wonderful, and wacky inventions. [She could teach a class!] At least, we hope some other people still hand make theirs, or does everybody just buy a card at the drug store now? Well, if you do, don’t–it’s fun to make your own, it’s a really terrific gesture, and everyone likes to have something, uh, from the heart.

Heart-shaped gravestone, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

They called him “Teddy Bear” (maybe). Heart-shaped gravestone, Highwood Cemetery

Un-Graffiti: No Parking! (Part 1)

white brick wall with "NO PARKING" painted in red, Pittsburgh, PA

NO PARKING, Oakland

Parking, man. People get so damn worked-up about it.

When first The Orbit introduced the notion of “un-graffiti” some most-of-a-year-ago, it wasn’t clear there’d be much more to that particular story. How wrong we were! As it turned out, over and over again we were seeing not just more examples of the form, but the very particular one of business owners taking the law into their own hands with D.I.Y. graffiti-style No Parking signs. We have so many of these that our hard drive overfloweth with this particular bounty. Here we bring you just the cream of this particular crop…so far.

brick wall with message "Theatre. Quiet please. No parking." painted, Downtown Pittsburgh

THEATRE QUIET PLEASE *NO PARKING*, Downtown

In our digital-age interpretation of ALL CAPS as text-based shouting, the QUIET PLEASE portion of this particular message comes as a humorous incongruity. I believe the “theatre” location is actually still valid (either Harris or Arcade Comedy? It’s somewhere near the back/alley side of those two) though I imagine this sign predates the modern use of the space. The different color paint, elongated verticals, and general sloppiness of the NO PARKING half of the message suggest it was appended at some point after the initial job.

corrugated metal doors with hand-painted no parking message

DOORWAY DON’T BLOCK! No parking, Strip District

This blogger is sitting on a ton of pictures taken around the set of corrugated metal warehouses in the 3100 block of Penn and Liberty in The Strip. They just always look great and get such terrific weird light sneaking in over The Hill and down through the canyon between the tight buildings on either side of the Spring Way alley. What we’ll do with those, who knows? But there happens to be one qualifying no parking entry here, this with the re-phrase DOORWAY DON’T BLOCK–the no parking a mere afterthought.

no-parking-arrow

NO PARKING, Lawrenceville

Why is the NO only one brick high, but PARKING gets two? The directness (literally) of the arrow is so great…and specific. “Is it just right here? Is it OK if I park over there?” Whatever the explanation, it’s clear the owner of this property on Cabinet Way in Lawrenceville (a church school, rather than a home, if memory serves) doesn’t want to ask too much. Give the lord this one spot; do what you want anywhere else.

garage door spray painted with "Please. No parking in front of garage. Thank you."

Please. No parking in front of garage. Thank you. Lawrenceville

The most courteous no parking sign you’ll likely find. The message is written in a friendly cursive, includes an abstracted flower (?) decoration, and is bookended with both “Please” and “Thank you.” It makes this blogger almost want to abandon a car here, just to meet these nice folks.

brick walk with no parking message painted

NO PARKING ON SIDEWALK, North Side

Found on an alley in central North Side, this example is so perfect it looks like a film set. The worn red brick wall, the steel bars on the blocked-out windows, and the perfectly-painted (stenciled?) NO PARKING ON SIDEWALK that’s likely fifty or sixty years old (?) are all…just so. You could line up the Sharks and Jets or Pink Ladies and greasers in front of this backdrop and have a right proper switchblade-slinging bubblegum-popping sing-and-dance off. Cue: Vinnie Barbarino–this time we’re racing for pinks. Wop-de-wop, shoo-bop de-doobie-do.

faded painting on brick wall reading "No Parking at any time", Glassport, PA

*NO* PARKING at any time, Glassport

Another old sign so quaintly precious it’s hard to believe. This one has the bonus keystone-shaped Official [unreadable] ghost sign above it (probably a former Pennsylvania state inspection station?). The no-nonsense *NO PARKING* followed by the sweet lower-case at any time have a nice good cop/bad cop duality that seems to come from another time–don’t park here, but we still like you. Come back for an inspection and maybe an oil change…at any time.

Painting on brick wall of pizza restaurant reading "NO Parking Pizza Only ... -- or Towed at your own risk!", Homestead, PA

NO PARKING PIZZA ONLY … — OR TOWED at your own risk! Homestead

An embarrassment of riches…or at least messages. Is it “no parking” or “parking pizza only”? Why is there both an ellipsis and an m-dash? How can you be “towed at your own risk!”?Regardless of any lapses in pre-paint proof-reading (err…proof-thinking-through), it’s pretty obvious Di Sallas Pizza in Homestead would like you to pick up your pie and get the hell out–you can leave the motor running. The glowing online testimonials suggest the Di Sallas spent more time in the kitchen than either art or English class and we should come back to cover this place for The Pizza Chase–we’ll just watch where we park.

hand-painted sign on cement wall reading "Parking only Dollar Store and More"

PARKING ONLY DOLLAR STORE AND MORE, Forest Hills

Post No Bills

brick wall painted with "Post No Bills" message plus print-outs of famous Bills taped to the wall, Pittsburgh, PA

It’s a cheap visual joke. The self-consciously retro POST NO BILLS painted in big white block letters on the black brick wall of the former Joe Mama’s Italian restaurant in Oakland. Right next to it, jokesters have taped–nay, “posted”–a slew of pictures of famous people named Bill. There’s Bill Murray and Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Bill Maher, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and the wall’s most arcane inclusion, Buffalo Bill Cody. Bill Cosby makes a de rigueur appearance begging the question: is it bad taste or mockery to include a disgraced Bill in one’s (relatively benign) act of prankdom?

It’s a sad state of affairs when one gets a nice chuckle out of some college kids’ first nights back jape and then we jump immediately to skepticism. This is probably a thing–maybe it counts as a “meme,” I think to myself, something somebody thought of and now folks do as a cliche, like adding love locks to the nearest bridge, or “this gum tastes like rubber,” or flossing.

So off to the Internet I went, and sure enough, Google Images was stocked with variants on this joke. Color copies clipped to a chain link fence; Xeroxes stapled to plywood; Clinton, Gates, and Murray as Run-DMC; and nice, spray-painted stencils on plywood of the same group (plus Cosby) at various urban construction sites. A template clearly exists and the canon established.

So, what would it take to make this bit more interesting? If this prank-loving blogger was going to have at it (and he’s not) he would at minimum throw out all the obvious candidates. Pittsburgh young people: make it your own! Here then, for anyone considering a future rendition, are a handful of Orbit suggestions for great Pittsburgh “Bill”s that you could use, without getting into the Post No Bills rut. Make us proud.

William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham

William “Bill” Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham

William Pitt: A guy who liked Pittsburgh so much he named himself after the city. Hold it. No, it was the other way around. And maybe the city didn’t get any choice in the matter. Whatever. “Ol’ Bill” is the namesake of both Pittsburgh and Chatham College/Chatham Village and a host of other places all over the country. Tell me the image of William Pitt’s ridiculous powdered white wig wouldn’t look great wheat-pasted to the side of Joe Mama’s.

Two photos of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto: one in a suit, one in disguise for the television show "Undercover Boss"

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in both mayoral and “Undercover Boss” guises

Mayor Bill Peduto: This one is pretty obvious. Even if you’re a student here in your first semester, you should be aware of your mayor. You’ll likely even have the opportunity to vote in the next mayoral election, so you should pay attention. Though Mayor Peduto probably would not condone vandalism (even if it’s only committed with photocopies and packing tape), I’ll bet even he would get a little kick out of being in the Order of the Bills.

Bill Mazeroski's 1960 World Series-winning home run over the New York Yankees

Bill Mazeroski, 1960 World Series

Bill Mazeroski: “Maz” gets credit for one of the most dramatic moments in Pittsburgh sports history: a walk-off home run to win the 1960 World Series over the New York Yankees. You might not be able to pick his face out of a Post No Bills line-up, but this iconic photo of the ecstatic game-winning stride around the bases will resonate with even the casual Pirates fan–there’s even a bronze statue of it at PNC Park. Oh yeah: and this all happened at Forbes Field, which is now Schenley Plaza/Pitt campus.

Pittsburgh television/radio personality "Chilly" Bill Cardille, from his time hosting "Chiller Theatre"

Chilly Billy Cardille in the “Chiller Theatre” days

Bill Cardille: This blogger didn’t move to Pittsburgh until the 1990s, so I missed out on Chiller Theatre, Pittsburgh’s entry in the bygone era of local hosts introducing late-night B-movie features on broadcast television. But I still know of it, so you should too. Cardille is equally famous both for his role as a TV news reporter in Night of the Living Dead and as a longtime radio host on (former) “music of your life” station WJAS (R.I.P.). I don’t know how many dozens of times I heard him spin “Theme From a Summer Place” or “Close to You” while I patched plaster and sanded floors. Those tunes, just like Cardille’s bedroom baritone, never got old. The patching and sanding, on the other hand…

A poem titled "Lynn Cullen" from the newspaper classified ads by Billie Nardozzi

One of Billie Nardozzi’s weekly classified ad poems

Billie Nardozzi: As Pittsburgh’s (unofficial) poet-laureate, Nardozzi published his verse weekly in the Post-Gazette classified ads for at least a decade. Every Tuesday, you’d get the same photo of himself with some rhyming, quoted “words” of “wisdom” on subjects like kindness, true love, loneliness, home cooking, etc. You make yourself a spray paint stencil of that mug with that mullet and the people of Pittsburgh will “lose” their “minds.” Guaranteed.


Honorable Mentions. Other great Pittsburgh Bills:

  • Billy Conn: Professional boxer, mostly known for the oxymoronic title of World’s Light-Heavyweight Champion (1939-1941) and for taking on (and, yes, losing to) Joe Louis, who was a weight class above him. There’s a Billy Conn Boulevard in Oakland (actually just a ceremonial section of Craig Street) and a line of photos up at Hambone’s, some of them with googly eyes stuck on the glass. Make it happen.
  • Billy Strayhorn: Jazz composer, arranger, lyricist and Duke Ellington’s right-hand man. Just try taking an ‘A’ train or living a lush life in some small dive without him.
  • Bill Bored: Drummer for the late great new wave weirdos The Cardboards and star of Stephanie Beros’ Debt Begins at 20. That movie contains a ton of great shots in Oakland and Bloomfield of places that don’t exist anymore. I’m dying for an Orbit interview with Mr. Bored!
  • Bill Cowher: He of the most-noteworthy mustache, beard, and flying saliva–oh, and he coached a football team, too. Another person with features so strong they scream out to be abstracted into two-tone.
  • Billy Buck Hill: Obscure sub-neighborhood of the South Side Slopes. Yes, this counts as a “Bill.”

brick wall painted with "Post No Bills" message and retro Coca-Cola advertisement, plus print-outs of famous Bills taped to the wall, Pittsburgh, PA

The Meadville PennDOT Road Sign Sculptures, Part 2: The Flower Garden

flower sculpture made from one way and stop roadsigns, Meadville, PA

Back in July, we ran a piece on the PennDOT road sign sculptures in Meadville, just up the highway from Pittsburgh. That post detailed the quarter-mile-long fence/mural that stretches down Route 322 and forms the majority of the immense sculptural project on the property of the local highway maintenance yard.

But not all of it. There is so much art in the PennDOT project that we decided to break the story in two parts, with this second post dedicated to the gorgeous flower garden that sits at the corner of Rt. 322 and Mercer Pike/Rt. 102.

flower sculpture made from highway roadsigns, Meadville, PA

It’s interesting that with all its financial backing and oversight, the brand new Whitney Museum was not sited at a location with Sheetz and Dairy Queen franchises on opposing corners. Worry not: no such oversight was committed in Meadville. Why, if the Crawford County art connoisseur and gastronomist wanted both an order of Sheetz’ Pretzel Meltz or Shnack Wrapz paired with a DQ Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Smash Blizzard Treat, well, she’d be all set, wouldn’t she? And what if her old man had a hankering for one of Sheetz Cold Subz or Saladz, washed down with an original Orange Julius? You know he could find that too–hopefully with room for a Peanut Buster Parfait.

flower sculpture made from highway roadsigns, Meadville, PA

In their present form the flowers look like the work of some combination between Dr. Seuss and Dr. Jekyll. All fantasy shapes and riveted steel; eye-popping iridescent reflectors and crudely cut welded metal. These photos may or may not accurately represent the scale of these pieces, so let’s just say this tall blogger was dwarfed by even the shortest of the flowers which easily topped-out at ceiling height.

silhouette of the underside of flower sculpture made from highway roadsigns, Meadville, PA

Trying to figure out which particular specimins the sculptures may represent–or even if they’re modeled on reality–led this blogger down the rabbit hole of Pennsylvania flower identification. Where’s cub reporter Tim when you need him? I won’t claim we came away with any clear IDs, but we’ve got our suspicions.

flower sculpture made from highway detour roadsigns, Meadville, PA

We’re pretty sure we located sweet wakerobin (Trillium vaseyi) in the garden, [note to self: consider “Sweet Wakerobin” for next band name] maybe a sunflower, but, we realized pretty quick that trying to match bent steel that reads Boy Scout Troup 254 to a nature guide is a fool’s errand. Maybe we could put some real scouts to work, you know, scouting actual local flora against these art flowers. Or maybe we should just sit back back with our M.T.O. Chicken Stripz and enjoy the scenery.

flower sculpture made from highway speed limit and direction roadsigns, Meadville, PA

Like the best art, the Meadville PennDOT sculptures are equal parts wonder and inspiration. How did they do that? at the same time as I want to do that! And I truly would love to do that. Maybe all it would take is a pair of tin snips, a couple trips to Construction Junction, and box of Band-Aids. Oh, and that pesky basement cleanout.

flower sculpture made from highway roadsigns, Meadville, PA

 

An Orbit Obit: The Myrtle Booth Tanning Salon (Storefront)

Window for former Myrtle Booth Tanning Salon, Pittsburgh, PA

Myrtle Booth Tanning Salon (storefront), R.I.P.

Very recently, the long-vacant storefront at 4116 Main Street in Lawrenceville/Bloomfield finally turned over. By chance, I was lucky enough to have ganked this photo of the most recent business a few months before it disappeared.

Why do I care about an ex-tanning salon? I don’t even like real sun that much! Well, there were just so many little things to love about the Myrtle Booth windows.

I’ve been to Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Booth is clearly a riff on Myrtle Beach, the popular South Carolina beach/party town where many pasty northerners prefer to vacation this time of year. This blogger-to-be used to live just up the coast in Wilmington, NC. In the couple years I lived there, I made the hour-long drive down to Myrtle Beach a number of times, seemingly all for some goofy reason.

I remember driving down with my friends Detlef and David on the former’s quest for plastic pants, a necessary adjunct to the aspirationally-epic rock and roll he was performing at the time. No memory of whether he located them or not. I also remember making the trip with musical pen pal Marion, visiting the southern United States from Great Britain, along with Portland Orbit‘s own David. The parade of signs advertising “shag dancing,” “shag contest,” “shag music,” and just plain “shagging” turned her porcelain English sun-starved cheeks blood red. In the lowlands of the South, nothing could be tamer than shagging, but we understand it means something entirely different across the lake.

Handmade sign advertising shag dancing classes

Shag classes in Myrtle Beach: come join in or watch! [photo: the Internet]

You know what? I was there at least one more time. David (again, Orbit David) (what a prince!) helped me pack up a U-Haul and move from Wilmington to Pittsburgh. My repayment was to take him to Medieval Times wherein we ate giant turkey drumsticks, drank Pepsi products, and watched the pageantry of real humans and horses parading and jousting on the dirt floor of suburban Myrtle Beach sprawl. [Note to those relocating cross-country: an evening for two at Medieval Times is a lot cheaper than professional movers and pretty solid entertainment. Go Green Knight!]

Medieval Times theater/restaurant

Medieval Times: Where you’re the king and the Pepsi products are all-you-can-drink [photo: the Internet]

All this is to say Myrtle Beach is fine, but it’s not the destination I’d name my business after. But then, I probably won’t ever open a tanning salon. As my mother is wont to say, “maybe in my next life…”

Every square inch of their big front windows was painted over

I don’t know that I can name any other business that so successfully blocked out the light as Myrtle Booth. The irony that a tanning salon–in legendarily bleak Pittsburgh, no less–would attempt to thwart real sunlight from breaching its interior is just too great. Maybe people walk around naked in tanning salons? [Note to self: investigate!] I feel like that’s the only plausible explanation for this particular design decision.

The way the window was fallING apart

I can’t remember a time Myrtle Booth was actually open for business and we’ve been in the neighborhood for fifteen years now. You can see that aged wear it the way the white background paint has flaked off and has an amazing art-imitates-life look of loose sand on a wooden surface. I also love the single aborted attempt at graffiti in the pair of small black spray paint runs in the bottom right corner. What happened? Did the assailant just run out of paint at the wrong time? S/he never felt the need to come back and finish the job? Kids these days! No commitment!

Windows for Overcast Skate Shop retail store, Pittsburgh, PA

Overcast Skate Shop, the new occupants of 4116 Main Street

Back in May, we eulogized the relocation of Goeller Generator, a decades-old non-sexy business that cashed-in on rapidly-gentrifying Lawrenceville to make way for new upscale eats and digs in the Sixth Ward. The change from Myrtle Booth to its new life as Overcast Skate Shop is happening in the same general part of town, but with a very different set of circumstances. It’s hard to feel anything negative about a new business moving into to a storefront that’s been empty for so long and we wish them well, but I’ll still miss those big front windows.

The Meadville PennDOT Road Sign Sculptures, Part I: The Fence/Mural

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence detail of cow

It was a dreary, cool, rainy day when The Orbit crew pulled off the highway for some high art and a bag of Combos. We’d describe the weather as very un-summer-like, except it was very much in keeping with this particular summer. This cool-weather-lover is certainly not complaining–give him forty-five degrees and drizzling and you’ll find one happy blogger chortling to himself as he types. That said, we were hoping for a break in the rain long enough to photograph one particular roadside curiosity, and were granted that particular wish.

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence of hot air balloons

Thurston Balloon Classic over Weight Limit Mountain

An hour-and-a-half due north of Pittsburgh lies Meadville, the seat of Crawford County. This smallish town is the unlikely host of an immense collection of sculptures, all in connection with and displayed by the local Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) maintenance yard.

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence of barn and silo

Stop barn with Jct silo

According to PennDOT, the fence/mural project and its adjunct flower garden (more about that, later) were conceived by Allegheny College art professor Amara Geffen and Jack Molke, former Crawford County maintenance manager. The actual work was executed both by Allegheny College art students and the local PennDOT workers. It began back in 2001, but continued over many years until the entire maintenance yard fence was covered.

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence detail of great blue heron

Great blue heron

From PennDOT:

The mural depicts life in Crawford County highlighting annual events such as the Thurston Balloon Classic and the Crawford County Fair. Local community landmarks such as the Crawford County Courthouse, Conneaut Lake Park, and Allegheny College’s Bentley Hall highlight the scene. The project depicts life in Crawford County with farm scenes, seasonal scenes and downtown Meadville buildings.

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence of trees

Lane change ahead tree

What no set of photographs will accurately depict is the sheer immensity of this piece. The fence is well over human height and probably reaches up to ten or twelve feet. It stretches some 1,200 feet (approx. a quarter mile) down Route 322 and around the corner. The fence is at once a single continuous piece and also dozens of distinct interlocking sections that each bleed into one another.

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence of singing cowboy on stage

Singin’ cowboy down at the (railroad) crossroads

There are broad strokes like rolling Crawford County hillsides and a series of sections devoted to (downtown Meadville?) storefronts. But the detail on the pieces is terrific with little touches that play with the recycled signage and “Easter egg” details that you’d never catch if you just did a drive-by.

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence house

Bridge outhouse … or Bridge Out house

For all these reasons, it’s really worth parking and taking a walk down the full length of the fence and back. Then, like all great art experiences, you can cross the highway to Sheetz for some M.T.O. and group reflection.

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence of Canada goose

Baltimore Life/Canada goose

Are the sculptures worth a trip from Pittsburgh? They’re pretty great, and no set of photographs is really going to do them justice, so we’d have to say yes. That said, combine them with the next time you’re heading to Erie, or Conneaut Lake, or are just making a run to Meadville’s own Voodoo Brewery and you’ll have yourself a fine combo for your Combos.

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence of merry-go-round

Ferris wheel

Getting there: The PennDOT building and maintenance yard is on Rt. 322, literally just a minute (maybe a half mile?) from the Meadville exit off I-79. The sculptures leap out at you and go on for a quarter mile so you really “can’t miss it.”

Meadville PennDOT sign sculpture fence of clouds, rain, mountains, and tree

Art imitates life: rainy day scene