The Real Pittsburgh Steelers
Sculptures tell past, history of steel industry
Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012 02:08
With Labor Day approaching, Pittsburgh is paying tribute to its history of industry and hard work by unveiling two massive steel workers constructed from artifacts of the industry in South Side.
“The Workers” is a piece of art that was commissioned by the city over 15 years ago that has finally reached completion and is nearly ready for its debut. The piece will be located in Riverfront Park on 21st Street and depicts two steel workers standing over a melting ladle. It is meant to commemorate the many laborers and unions that helped to build this city and its most famous industry, said lead artist Tim Kaulen.
The I-beams that make up the workers were salvaged from the Hot Metal Bridge during renovations made about 10 years ago, during 1999-2000, according to Kaulen. Other scraps, including the 15-ton melting pot, were selected from the J&L Furnace that once called the South Side its home.
“The Workers” were taken from their assembly site and across the bridge that they had once held together to the Riverfront Park last Wednesday by Century Steel Erectors. The work is “sort of like a Lego puzzle” according to Les Hartman the project manager of Century Steel Erectors that oversaw the symbolic move. Each of the workers was disassembled into two or three pieces and hauled to the site by large flat bed trucks, Hartman said.
“Everything that’s in that project were things that were salvaged and selected by the artist and his crew,” said Hartman, “I think it’s tremendous.”
The project was designed and constructed by the Industrial Arts Cooperative (IAC). The IAC is a “group of artists that became a legitimate entity around 1998” that formed around this project, according to Kaulen.
The project was funded by over 30 contributors, according to a press release. The piece began as a $25,000 commission and as fabrication continued and the scope of the project grew so did its financial problems. Luckily for the IAC more than 30 different organizations, including United Steelworkers of America, Iron Workers Local Union No. 3 and The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, helped to fund the project’s final $200,000 budget.
Over the 15-year construction process more than 20 artists, led by Kaulen, overcame problems with funding and construction to complete the work.
“Yeah, this is pretty big”, said Kaulen. “As a young group of artists we were really eager and hungry to do something and make an impact.”
After the work was commissioned, the artists began by building wooden prototypes of the statues to ensure their work was something that would “represent the industry and laborers”. After the process of salvaging the pieces, the IAC underwent the five- to six-year process of fabricating the full sculptures. The work was done entirely on a volunteer basis, Kaulen said.
“We wanted to be true to intent and overshot the scope of the project,” Kaulen said.
The figures stand around 20 feet tall and weigh in at 7,500 pounds of steel each as they stand over the ladle that pour into a bed of flowers.
To celebrate both Labor Day and the completion of the project, the IAC will showcase the work to members of the Steel Works Plant Association Saturday morning. Though the work will be maintained by the city, Kaulen will present symbolic ownership to the steel workers and their families. The work not only stands as a testament to Pittsburgh’s hard-working nature but also “celebrates Pittsburgh's ever-forward motion, driven by an abiding respect for the past,” according to an IAC press release.
Century Steel Erectors also assisted in making the final goal of the IAC possible. The company donated the labor and equipment needed to make the move across the Monongahela River. According to Hartman, Don Taylor, president of Century Steel Erectors, decided that donating the “several thousand dollar job” would serve as a meaningful service to the city and its residents.
Now after over a decade's worth of work, the statues stand in their home awaiting the final assemblies. Apprentices of the Iron Workers Local Union No. 3 completed the final assembly work on the project. Since the site is so close to the river additional fine point welding is required, to make sure the memorial can withstand the elements for years to come. Apprentices will “go out in two weeks for additional welding” said Jim Dallick, apprenticeship coordinator for the Union.
A final ribbon cutting ceremony is planned for late September, Kaulen said.