Sculpture in South Side park provides a mighty look at Pittsburgh's industrial heritage
The sounds of steel echoed once again through an old mill in Hazelwood as volunteers on Wednesday prepared to move an enormous homage to Pittsburgh's industrial heritage to its permanent home in the South Side.
“The Workers,” which depicts two steelworkers and a ladle, not only pays tribute to the city's fiery past — it's made from it. Artists used steel salvaged from local plants to build the 25-ton sculpture.
“It's nice that they incorporated some of that history,” said Dennis Hirsh, 58, of Pleasant Hills, who toiled for more than 20 years at LTV Steel's now-shuttered Hazelwood Works, where the piece took form. Hirsh is the last former LTV employee still working at the 178-acre Hazelwood mill site, employed as a security guard.
Workers trucked the sculpture across the Monongahela River via the Hot Metal Bridge that once carried molten iron from blast furnaces along Second Avenue to LTV's South Side plant. It will stand on former industrial property converted to South Shore Riverfront Park near the Birmingham Bridge.
Commissioned by the city in 1997, the sculpture includes two 20-foot-high abstract figures working on an authentic steel ladle salvaged from a mill. Members of Industrial Artists Co-op in the South Side used original girders from the Hot Metal Bridge for the torso and limbs and steel from an LTV boilerhouse for the gloves and shin protectors.
Local foundations, businesses and the city funded the $200,000 cost. Pittsburgh's portion was a $35,000 grant.
Century Steel Erectors based in Dravosburg donated a large crane, flatbed truck and sent six employees to move the sculpture. Work began about 7 a.m. as a dense fog — reminiscent of Pittsburgh's Smoky City days — shrouded the Mon Valley. It took about seven hours to move the pieces in two trips.
Sculptor Tim Kaulen, 46, of Polish Hill, the project manager, said 22 artists spent “tens of thousands of hours” on the sculpture, most on a volunteer basis. They started out with conceptual drawings, then built lumber mock-ups of the pieces before cutting and welding the metal together.
He said Pittsburgh's steelmaking days may have ended a generation ago, but the spirit of labor is still evident in the hospitals, technology centers and universities that employ the city's workforce today.
Eric Lipsky, 46, of Regent Square personifies that sentiment. Lipsky, a mechanical engineer who helped build the sculpture, was a bicycle mechanic who grew up in Nebraska, moved to Pittsburgh to attend college and now works as an engineering professor at Penn State Greater Allegheny in McKeesport.
“I came to Pittsburgh over 20 years ago and really fell in love with the industrial aesthetic,” he said.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.