Knit one, purl bridge: Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol span ready for yarn bombing
Pittsburghers are famous for their fierce dedication to their individual communities, neighborhoods and city sections, so much so that there's a saying for it: “Pittsburghers don't cross bridges.”
A local fiber artist hopes a new public project not only eliminates that mentality but brings an entire population together in celebration of the city, the region and each other.
Beginning Aug. 10, the Andy Warhol Bridge, carrying drivers over the Allegheny from the North Shore to Downtown, will be coated in an array of vivid colors and designs all made of yarn. The project, called Knit the Bridge, will remain installed for a month, serving as a symbol of unity, creativity and common ground.
“I think it's really meaningful for people to create artwork and then get to have it on view and enjoyed in a public space,” says Amanda Gross, 29, of East Liberty, the project's organizer.
“People will make the connection that we're bridging the different communities in Pittsburgh. All these places have great histories and identities, but we tend to be somewhat siloed. We don't like to cross bridges. We wanted to ask how we can still be proud of our own identities and not be afraid to cross the bridge.”
The grassroots group obtained all the necessary permits from the city and county this summer. They've been working in the Spinning Plate artist space in East Liberty, collecting stacks upon stacks of knitted and crocheted panels.
They needed 572 panels measuring 34 inches by 72 inches (about the size of an average blanket) to coat the bridge. As of mid-week, they had 650. Extras will be used to replace any panels damaged during the duration of the installation. The acrylic yarn is water-resistant, so rain won't be a problem. Once the project ends, each one will be laundered then donated to the region's homeless shelters.
Gross' goal was to get participation from each part of the greater Pittsburgh region. To date, groups such as senior centers, schools and nursing homes representing every county surrounding the city are participating. Gross says more than 90 percent of Allegheny County municipalities are participating, and 89 percent of city neighborhoods are involved. In all, more than 1,800 people have contributed to the project in one way or another.
“We've had a wonderful response,” Gross says. “This is very grassroots, all volunteer, and it's really had its own energy since the beginning.”
Mitch Swain, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, expressed appreciation for the county's support of the public art project.
“This one is huge,” he says. “It brings so many elements of the greater community together. The list of community partners is really long, from Girl Scouts in Cranberry to organizations Downtown to people in Braddock and Butler. Whenever you do something like this that brings people together over something creative and fun, it brings a lot of attention to how creative the arts community is.”
Knit the Bridge also will likely help put even more positive light on Pittsburgh on a national level, Swain says.
“It gets people in other communities to talk about Pittsburgh,” he says. “It tells artists and creative people that Pittsburgh is a great place.”
The project could be considered yarn bombing, a public art movement that involves wrapping anything from parking meters to trees to entire automobiles in yarn. It's not clear where the movement began — some link it back to artists in Austin, Texas, in 2005, while others say it initiated in Europe.
“Different people say it started in different places,” Gross says. “It started with individuals, then popped up over all over the world, like street art or guerilla art.
“There's a juxtaposition between fiber arts and graffiti that catches people off guard in a good way,” she says. “It's temporary and removable. It leaves no permanent damage.”
While some might think of knitting as something only grandmothers enjoy, that's far from the truth, Gross says. Increased interest in do-it-yourself projects has fueled a resurgence in the craft's popularity, and it's now practiced among people ages child to senior.
“It's very accessible — anyone can do it,” Gross says. “You don't need huge equipment.”
Many Knit the Bridge volunteers are members of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, currently sponsoring its 21st Fiberart International 2013 juried exhibition through Aug. 18 at the Society for Contemporary Craft and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. The guild has participated in pop-up projects that involved yarn bombing some trees and parking meters Downtown.
Guild member and volunteer Jean Thomas, 85, of Highland Park has been helping knit panels for the bridge for months and can't wait to see the installed project.
“When Amanda first told us the idea, we said, ‘Oh, sure! That's a great idea,' ” she says with a laugh. “Then, we thought, ‘If we could we really do this, it would be incredible.' So many people have gotten involved. It's something we all can relate to. Its message is so nice.”
Volunteers will begin installing the project at 6 a.m. Aug. 10. The Andy Warhol Bridge will remain closed until 6 a.m. Aug. 12. The installation will come down the weekend of Sept. 7 and 8. The group is still seeking volunteers to help monitor the panels and report any damage. A party to celebrate the project will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Aug. 25, on the bridge. RSVP requested. Details: knitthebridge.wordpress.com
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.