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Sculpture to celebrate Natrona's proud past

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

Visitors traveling into Natrona next year will be welcomed not just by a street sign but a visual microcosm of the neighborhood's history.

Through a $6,000 grant from the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, Natrona Comes Together, the grass-roots neighborhood improvement group, will erect a memorial/welcome sign to greet visitors.

Stephen Paulovich, a New Kensington native now living in Louisville, Ky., is crafting the sculpture.

Paulovich previously did a memorial to coal miners, which is located just off Freeport Road in Harmar, and the statue of Willie Thrower, the former New Kensington High School star and NFL pioneer, which is located outside of Valley Memorial Stadium.

Paulovich has been working with Natrona Comes Together President Bill Godfrey on planning a sculpture park on a vacant property in Natrona.

What Paulovich has created is an image, on which he and Godfrey collaborated, that pays tribute to Natrona's industrial history and the people who lived and worked there.

It depicts a worker wearing safety goggles and a hardhat, his hands outstretched in front of him, with buildings in the palm of each hand..

"He is holding Penn Salt with one hand and Allegheny Ludlum with the other hand," Paulovich said.

They are the two large companies that attracted thousands of immigrants looking for work who settled near the plants and ultimately built Natrona.

"It has a lot of Catholic overtones to it," Paulovich said. "If you look at a lot of Catholic sculptures, you see saints holding something in their hands."

The worker towers above buildings that include the domes and spires of churches in Natrona. Under that is the inscription, in block letters, "Natrona."

"All the buildings in the (sculpture) can be found in Natrona," Godfrey said. "I think Stephen's sculpture is spectacular. I think he is going to get some rave reviews."

The sculpture will be mounted on a brick structure that will include a smokestack on one side. Paulovich said overall it will be about 13 to 14 feet tall.

Godfrey is hoping the township commissioners will approve River Avenue at the foot of Linden Street as the location.

That's the entrance for the new kayak and boat launch that the group wants to construct along the Allegheny River using another Port of Pittsburgh Commission grant -- this one for $10,000.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Pittsburgh. helped the improvement group obtain both grants.

An artist by profession, Godfrey said Natrona Comes Together has been working to use art as a niche for that community to attract people and spur economic development.

"As I was working on the plaque, it was getting bigger and bigger," Paulovich said. "Senator Ferlo saw it and said, 'Gee, we don't have the money for something like this.'"

Paulovich said a casting of that size would normally cost $20,000 to $30,000.

But Paulovich assured Ferlo that he is volunteering his services and his foundry will cast it for the amount of the grant.

The reason for that is Paulovich's love for Natrona and its uniqueness as a community.

"I went to school at 'St. Joe's' in Natrona for about four months," Paulovich recalled of his first exposure to the community. "It reminded me of a Harry Chapin song, 'Midnight Watchman' that opens with the lyric, 'I spent a year there one afternoon.'"

"Being from the other side of the river, I never knew all of that was back there," he said. "Natrona is still like a small village down there that you might find in Europe somewhere.

"That town, I definitely can't get it out of my mind."

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