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Allegheny

Mosaic in Pittsburgh tunnel intact after piece removed

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, 4:03 p.m.
Segments of Virgil Cantini’s mosaic is seen along the walls of a pedestrian tunnel Downtown on Sept. 13, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Segments of Virgil Cantini’s mosaic is seen along the walls of a pedestrian tunnel Downtown on Sept. 13, 2018.

An Ohio art conservator this week successfully removed one piece of an historic abstract mosaic from the wall of a Downtown pedestrian tunnel scheduled for demolition, and city officials are hopeful the remaining 27 pieces can be preserved.

McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory Inc. of Oberlin, Ohio, on Monday removed one of the panels created in 1964 by late Pittsburgh artist Virgil Cantini with little difficulty, according to Ray Gastil, who heads the city Planning Department. City Council previously authorized McKay Lodge to conduct the test for $8,857.

“It looks good. There was no crumbling,” Gastil said. “We think they’re all attached basically the same way.”

Gastil said McKay Lodge chiseled around the piece to get it out and crated it for storage. The company will prepare a feasibility report for removal of the remaining mosaic. Officials plan to preserve the entire work and find another city location for its display.

“I’m thrilled that they got the panel out without it being broken,” said Cantini’s daughter, Lisa Cantini-Seguin.

“The original plan was to take a couple panels out and then bury the rest.”

The Urban Redevelopment Authority in the early 1960s commissioned Cantini to create the mosaic for the 60-foot tunnel linking Chatham Street and Seventh Avenue as part of the redevelopment of the Lower Hill District, which included the building of the Civic Arena and Crosstown Expressway.

Officials are planning to demolish the tunnel as part of a $26.4 million cap and three-acre park over the expressway with construction expected start late this year. The city originally planned to save only several pieces of the mosaic until preservationists stepped in and lobbied for preservation.

Because the cap is being built through a $19 million federal highway grant, Pittsburgh was required to conduct a historic review of the area. In January, state officials classified the Cantini mosaic as an “historic resource,” which requires the city to attempt to remove it intact.

Cantini, who died in 2009, was a prolific artist and his works are displayed in locations across the city. The mosaic is made of glass and imported Italian tile set in concrete panels. It represents a bird’s eye view of the city at night and in the day and sits at eye level along walls of white marble. Light glinting off glass in the mosaic gives the impression of city lights.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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