Sculpture pays tribute to Natrona's steel legacy
Those entering Natrona from River Avenue can no longer pass through the Harrison neighborhood without reflecting on its spirited history or the industry and people that built it.
New Kensington native Stephen Paulovich's latest artwork won't allow it.
The 4-foot bronze sculpture is a poignant monument to Natrona's people and history with a chiseled engravement of an on-duty steelworker. The steeler is perched on a lifted beam in the sculpture and surrounded by the neighborhood's historic landmarks.
“Steel built this town,” the artist said. “I wanted to do something that represented the history of the neighborhood and the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into making a life for the community.”
Paulovich and several United Steelworkers Local 1196 union members erected the monument Wednesday morning at the Allegheny River kayak launch near the foot of Linden Street.
The headstone-shaped monument rests in an arch underneath the industrial roof line of an 80-inch brick structure that the steelworkers built. The local union members said they'll soon install a 10-foot model of a traditional smoke stack to stand beside the structure.
“It's great to finally see it on site,” Paulovich said. “It's been four years in the making and a lot of hard work.”
Paulovich, who lives and owns an art studio in Louisville, Ky., independently funded a significant portion of the $30,000 project. The Natrona Comes Together Association, which recruited Paulovich for the project, also received a grant from the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.
Natrona Comes Together is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Natrona through childhood education, historical preservation and an influx of artistic endeavors. Its president, Bill Godfrey, said this monument exemplifies what the association wants to accomplish and hopes that it draws people to the kayak launch and park and playground area across the street.
“It's all about drawing people in,” he said. “A lot of blue-collar, Rust Belt towns like these have a certain charm to them. The younger generations like to come in and build them back up.
“That's what we want to see happening here. That's what we're trying to accomplish.”
If Natrona begins pulling in young people unfamiliar with the area, the bronze sculpture can serve as a viable history lesson.
The work is adorned with about a dozen of Natrona's key historical landmarks, from the Penn Salt workers' row houses that line Federal Street to the popular St. Ladislaus Church on Spruce Street. Paulovich studied “Historical Natrona,” written by Lower Burrell's Charles “Skip” Culleiton, as a reference guide to determine the most significant and culturally relevant Natrona structures.
Several area residents gathered to witness the monument's installation Wednesday and reminisce on some of the landmarks, including the Roxy Theatre on River Avenue, which closed decades ago.
“I remember you used to be able to go see a show at the Roxy for a quarter,” said Mary Jane Zdila, an administrative manager at the Natrona Bottling Company. “It was 20 cents for the show and five cents for a candy bar. This town used to have so many companies. It's unfortunate to see where it is now but this is a nice tribute to our tradition.”
The monument marks Paulovich's third major sculpture in the Alle-Kiski Valley. He previously did a memorial to coal miners in Harmar along Freeport Road and a tribute to NFL pioneer and former New Kensington football star Willie Thrower outside of Valley Memorial Stadium.
The Carnegie Mellon University graduate recruited University of Louisville art and engineering students to help design and craft the Natrona monument in his art studio.
The studio's commercial clients include country star Kenny Chesney and Papa John's Pizza CEO John Schnatter.
“You do work for them so you can do work like this for these guys,” Paulovich said. “Pittsburgh is about work and I've always carried that with me and admired that the most about this city. That's what these steelworkers are all about.”
Lance Jablonski, 44, is an ATI Allegheny Ludlum employee and United Steelworkers Local 1196 member of 13 years. The steelworker helped build the monument and was there on Wednesday to help place the sculpture in its shrine.
“This is something that's pretty special,” he said. “These are the types of towns that built America but somehow everyone seems to forget about and leave behind.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.