|Owner||City of Pittsburgh|
|ADA Services||The sculpture is located near a parking lot, off of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. It is surrounded by grass.|
The Workers is Pittsburgh’s one significant monument to steelworkers. It was commissioned in 1997 and erected in its Southside site in 2012. It is located on the Southside Riverfront Park, accessible on 18th Avenue off Carson Street on the Southside. It is within view of the Birmingham Bridge, and commands a stellar view of the Pittsburgh skyline. It takes a small effort to find one’s way there, but it’s well worth it. It is a curious and appealing setting for the grand sculpture; curious because it’s off the beaten path, but appealing because the park is friendly, beautiful and inviting. The Workers seem to have showed up to an outdoor party, odd guests who are still at their tasks.
The Workers are the creation of the Industrial Arts Co-op (IAC) known for their creative reuse and recycling of materials found in abandoned industrial sites. In the earlier IAC projects (or, to be accurate, the loose collective of 10-12 artists who became the basis of the IAC) sculptures were designed to be part of salvage sites, and often intended to deteriorate with them. Previous on-site industrial salvage art projects included “The Owl” inside the Carrie Furnace ruins, a 22 by 60 foot winged sculpture that hung in the mill until it “met an unpredicted fate,” and, significantly, the Carrie Deer, a now-famous sculpture also at the remains of the Carrie Furnaces, that has weathered twenty years and recently undergone a vitally needed restoration. The tens of thousands of hours of labor that took The Workers from conception, wooden mockup, and final execution were mostly donated. Even moving the sculpture from the studio to the site, a task that required a large crane, flatbed and six workers, was donated by a local firm.
The Workers also uses parts recycled from the scene it depicts: the ladle (in this instance a industrial size bowl for pouring molten metal) is a restored hot metal ladle, supplied by a local firm. The workers are fashioned from I-beams repurposed when the Hot Metal Bridge was renovated, and the shields on the workers’ arms and legs were pulled from the remains of the Jones and Laughlin boiler house, the last part of that vast plant to be demolished.
In all twenty-four artists contributed to The Workers over the fourteen years of its construction, with Tim Kaulen, an important part of the ICA projects since its inception, playing a significant role throughout its inception, design and construction.
The Workers are heroic, oversized (three times the size of a human worker) and yet approachable, mounted at ground level with no protective fencing or other impediments to human interaction. They look like giant robots yet are curiously human in their postures and body language. They seem intent on their dangerous work, a child’s friendly toy made into giants. They are the only sculpture in the Riverfront park, itself a repurposed Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company railyard that once ferried trains carrying the raw materials to the mills where the workers made them into steel.
The Workers are an abstracted statement about a category of workers that are central to Pittsburgh’s identity. In this way it is unique in the family of sculpted figures that make up the art landscape of the city. Pittsburgh has Galileo and Shakespeare in front of the Carnegie, realistic depictions in grand proportions of an earlier era. Local icons such as Fred Rogers, Bill Mazerowski and Richard Caliguiri have dominant places in the city’s artscape. Yet The Workers is the only sculptural statement commemorating a specific caste of workers and it does so through abstraction rather than realism. The work it commemorates is almost unimaginably difficult and dangerous, and realistic treatment could easily lead to visual overstatement, Socialist Realism on the Mon. Rather The Workers are shown in a mundane moment on the job, handling potentially lethal molten metal, in a manner that can be interpreted as casual yet serious, intent yet playful. The overall effect is impressive and inviting; a perfect anchor for a public park.
The sculpture seems to evoke ancient history yet it is only since the 1980s that the labor of The Workers has gone missing.
By Douglas Harper, sociologist
Douglas Harper, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at Duquesne University and President of the International Visual Sociology Association. He has written extensively on visual culture and his most recent book, Visual Sociology, is a comprehensive overview of the field.
Born in Mercer County, Tim trained at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Operating outside the conventions of commercial art, Kaulen’s materials reflect the nature of his work – his often repurposed materials are scraps and snapshots of former signage and construction materials formerly scattered within the community. These materials are then repurposed, reimagined, and replaced back into the civic landscape in a different context. This spirit of community is not exclusive to the physical manifestation of his work. Founding the Industrial Arts Co-op as a collaborative way to create art, Kaulen’s creative process is deep seated and on a sense of social community and partnership.
City of Pittsburgh, Department of City Planning
PJ Dick Corporation
Casey Equipment Company
The Heinz Endowments
The Sprout Fund
Pittsburgh 250, Community Connections
The Pittsburgh Foundation
The Fine Foundation
Rivers of Steel
Tube City, IMS
Walter Long Manufacturing
Esab Welding Equipment
The Brew House Association
Hydrel / An Acuity Brands Company
The Office of Public Art
Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council
Ferry Electric Company
Century Steel Erectors
Iron Workers Local Union No. 3
Frank Bryan Incorporated
Simpson Reinforcing Inc