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Artist sheds light on piece of Mt. Pleasant Township's history

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Linda Harkcom | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Charlene Bidula of Munhall stands near the framed photograph she shot while inside the old Hecla School building in Mt. Pleasant Township. The image was chosen to appear in the 103rd Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Annual Exhibition being held through Aug. 31 at Westmoreland @rt 30, the temporary location of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, located at 4764 State Route 30 in Unity. Photo taken in July 2014
Linda Harkcom | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
A photograph taken by Charlene Bidula of Munhall of the interior of the former Hecla School building in Mt. Pleasant Township, is part of the 103rd Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Annual Exhibition being held through Aug. 31 at Westmoreland @rt 30, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s temporary location, 4764 State Route 30 in Unity. Photo taken in July 2014

An Allegheny County artist has ensured that a small piece of Mt. Pleasant Township history is part of a prestigious art exhibition this summer at the temporary location of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

A photograph of the old Hecla School building taken by Charlene Bidula of Munhall, the museum's manager of communications and new media, was selected to appear in the 103rd Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Annual Exhibition, on display through Aug. 31 at Westmoreland @rt 30 in Unity.

Bidula said the photograph is part of a series she has been working on featuring abandon buildings. She said she loves the history and the artistic appeal of those types of buildings.

“While I'm in these areas, I think about what might have happened there throughout history. I look at the structure itself, the objects left behind and the way light shines in windows, cracks and doorways,” Bidula said. “Since I love natural light, I try to incorporate it into my photography as much as I can, especially when I'm photographing abandoned areas.”

Alisa Barnhart of Mt. Pleasant, Bidula's co-worker who is lead visitor services representative at the museum, invited her to come and explore buildings located near her home.

“Working with Charlene, I was aware of her being a photographer, and that she enjoyed seeking out abandoned and fading places as subject matter,” Barnhart said. “As someone who is also fascinated with old and forgotten buildings, I knew there are quite a few in the area, so I invited Charlene to a day of exploring. Because she is not local, I was excited to show her sites in the Fay-West area.”

Bidula said she was happy for the opportunity since she wanted to explore and photograph old, abandoned areas outside of Pittsburgh.

“I thought this would be a great experience for me. We spent the day traveling around the area photographing many abandoned places,” Bidula said.

Barnhart said she took Bidula to the old chicken barn in Norvelt, then to the train trestle at Carpentertown.

From there they went to the former grade school at Hecla, the Overholt Distillery at Broadford and Washington Furnace, a reconstructed iron furnace in Bullskin.

“I made a mental list of places that might yield some interesting photographs,” Barnhart said.

The photograph she chose to submit to the jury choosing art for the exhibit was taken in the old Hecla School.

“My Hecla School No. 7 photograph came about after going up the first flight of stairs on the right side of the school. I noticed this old, dirty office chair just sitting in the hallway. The floor was covered in dirt and debris and behind it was an open door. Light was coming in from a broken window to the left of the door. The way the light was shining into the window really made the chair stand out,” Bidula said. “It was as if the chair was asking me to photograph it. I thought about who might have sat in that chair over the years. The peeling paint and colors of the wall along with the dirt, dust and debris everywhere added to the visual appeal.”

Barnhart said when Bidula told her she was entering the show, she immediately asked her which photo she planned to submit.

“She had taken so many really remarkable shots that day. The one she chose, Hecla No. 7, was a favorite of mine. She really captured the way the room felt to me, as I stood within the walls of what was,” Barnhart said. “I knew immediately that she had a very good chance of being chosen for the show. I'm very excited that the outcome of our adventure has given Charlene this recognition.”

The Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Annual Exhibition is the oldest and longest continuing survey of regional art in the country.

A few of the artists who have had their work in the exhibition include Henry Koerner, Samuel Rosenberg, Philip Pearlstein, Jonathan Borofsky, Peter Muller Munk, Virginia Cuthbert, Mary Cassatt and Andy Warhol.

As many as 250 artists enter their work for consideration each year hoping to be included in the prestigious event.

Barbara L. Jones, chief curator of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, was the juror, and she chose Bidula's photograph to be in the exhibition.

“I was drawn to Charlene's image right away because of the composition — the lone desk chair surrounded by debris in an abandoned and decaying building interior. It related well to another work that I had just viewed, also submitted digitally, of a large wall of peeling paint,” Jones said. “When I make selections for an exhibition, I often try to tie works together thematically, and these two worked well that way. In the end, the two works did not hang together. but they still have that relationship.”

Bidula said she was excited and thrilled to have her piece chosen for the exhibit.

“I didn't believe it at first and I checked my voicemail a second time just to be sure I heard right,” Bidula said. “To be chosen to be in this exhibition meant that I was also now a member of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, and to know that I am now a part of that historic group of artists is an honor.”

Westmoreland @rt 30 is located at 4764 State Route 30.

It serves as the museum's temporary location during the expansion and renovation of the museum located in Greensburg.

For more information on the museum or the exhibition, visit or call 724-837-1500.

To learn more about Bidula and her art, visit

Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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