Pittsburgh preserving historic tunnel mosaic under Bigelow Boulevard
A historic mosaic inside a Downtown Pittsburgh pedestrian tunnel is more than halfway gone.
And an Ohio art conservator tasked with meticulously removing the work of art before the tunnel is demolished expects to have the job completed by next week.
Two employees of McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory Inc. of Oberlin, Ohio, Thursday were removing and boxing the 28-piece mosaic in the tunnel linking Chatham Street and Seventh Avenue behind the U.S. Steel Building. The “Cantini Tunnel” is named for late Pittsburgh artist Virgil Cantini, who created the mosaic in 1964.
Emmit Lodge, project manager for the conservation company, said each piece is held in place by masonry and stainless steel wire ties. The bottoms are supported by pieces of galvanized steel. They were able to access the backs of each piece by cutting around perimeters and remove them.
“Once we get the wire ties off we pry them off the walls,” he said. “There’s minimal risk of damage.”
The city intends to demolish the tunnel under Bigelow Boulevard during construction of a $26.4 million cap over the Crosstown Expressway and 3-acre park designed to link Downtown and the Lower Hill District. Construction is scheduled to start in coming weeks.
Pittsburgh originally intended to save only several pieces of the mosaic, consisting of colored glass and glazed tile set in concrete. Local preservationists stepped in last year and began a public crusade to preserve and remove the entire artwork for public display in another city location. City officials agreed to the removal after the state determined it is a historic city resource.
Lisa Cantini-Seguin, the artist’s daughter, credited Brittany Reilly, a Highland Park art preservationist, Preservation Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh architect Rob Pfaffmann with leading a crusade to save the mosaic. She and her husband were thrilled that the city, PennDOT and the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, decided to save the mosaic.
“I don’t think we should throw out the old and only look at the new. Think about Notre Dame. Its been there for what, 800 years?” she said, referencing the Parisian cathedral that caught fire last week.
Cantini, who died in 2009, was a prolific artist and his works are displayed in numerous locations across the city, including the University of Pittsburgh. One of his best known sculptures is a fountain christened “Joy of Life” outside the First Presbyterian Church in East Liberty.
An Italian immigrant, Cantini founded Pitt’s Department of Studio Arts and taught at the university for more than 40 years.
The mosaic was designed through a contract with the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority during attempts to improve the Lower Hill District during the late 1950s and early 1960s. It included the building of the Civic Arena and demolition of the Lower Hill, a dense residential and commercial area.
Check out some up-close images of the mosaic here.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .