Monday, December 7, 2015

Pittsburgh for Pittsburghers Gift List

Got a list? Checking it twice? Fortunately, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to finding unique and creative gifts by Pittsburgh artists and authors; sports team-themed stock; or tacky tchotchkes for Yinzers and jagoffs. And let's face it: gifting memberships to our fabulous museums, certificates to local restaurants, and subscriptions to regional performing arts organizations is almost too easy (but still, do it anyway). 

To broaden your choices, here are my personal gift suggestions for lovers of Pittsburgh history, architecture and culture.
Pittsburgh's Mansions, Melanie Linn Gutowski
1. Pittsburgh's Mansions by Melanie Linn Gutowski. I really love this accessible, portable history of the grand homes of Pittsburgh's past. Published by Arcadia Press in 2013, local writer Gutowski hits all the marks for presenting fascinating potted histories and drool-worthy archival photos of houses you wish were still around and ones that are but won't let the likes of you through the front door. Retails online but do a good turn and shop local; you can find this at your local bookstore or museum gift shop. Pair it with a promise to do one of Pittsburgh's many grand house tours together.

Pittsburgh: a coloring book, Rick Antolic

2. This Pittsburgh-themed Adult Coloring Book. The mania for coloring books for adults (as opposed to adult coloring books) was bound to hit The Burgh at some point before it peaked. Pittsburgh artist Rick Antolic has done the city proud with Pittsburgh: a coloring book filled with his 27 clearly rendered detailed illustrations. Buy one to color and one to keep clean--oh, right, buy some to gift, too. Check your local bookstore or buy directly. You'll of course want to add fancy colored pencils and crayons (Be creative and go easy on the black and gold)!

Macaroni Boy, Katherine Ayres
3. I keep meaning to write about the Pittsburgh Banana Company explosion of December 1936. Maybe I'll get around to doing so later this week (or next December, more like) to celebrate its anniversary, but I'll guarantee that Pittsburgh-based author Katherine Ayres' version of the story is way better than anything I'll write. It's featured in her 2004 middle grade novel, Macaroni Boy. Don't be put off by this being a kid's book. It's a mystery nestled within a realistic look at Strip District life during the Great Depression, as much fun to read for a 40 year old as for a 4th grader. Find your copy at a local bookseller and present it in a fancy banana dish filled with macaroni, or something (Because the banana split was invented in the Westmoreland County town of Latrobe, duh!).

August Wilson Century Cycle
4. Nothing compares to seeing a production of one of August Wilson's plays. But if you can't take them all in, reading the August Wilson Century Cycle which includes all ten of his amazing decade-by-decade stories of African-American life is the next best thing. Hell, it might even be better, since you can read it all on your own time. The set is incredibly spendy, but seriously, what a gift! Engage your discount-searching engines for this one, or see if one of our used bookstores can find it for you.

A related gift that will cost you nothing is a link to recordings of staged readings of the Century Cycle done in Fall 2013 by notable actors and actresses. Performed at The Green Space at WNYC in New York City, the audio was available for free listening online for several months in 2015 but is no longer available on the site. However, Open Culture preserved links HERE to Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

I could easily fill this entry with lists of Pittsburgh-related books, but I suppose a bit of variety is called for. If you haven't the time to hit up local craft markets, hie thee hence to Etsy, that fabulous online shopping center and time-suck. Let me make it easier for you: the following shops offer some fun Pittsburgh history-related items.

PghShirtCo's Igloo Tee

5. PghShirtCo Igloo Tee features a cool architectural rendering of the late lamented Civic Arena (or Mellon Arena, depending upon your corporate allegiance). Give your Igloo-lover this shirt along with a link to my blog article, Things That Aren't There Any More: Civic Arena and Lower Hill, for context. Available through the Etsy shop.

6. My fellow mapheads will enjoy resting their weary cartography-filled heads on these Pittsburgh map pillows, available in ivory or black from Etsy shop Jazzberry Blue.

7. Also map-themed are these aluminum cuff bracelets created using vintage Pittsburgh maps from Etsy shop decembermoondesign.

8. Pittsburgh-based photographer and historic preservation advocate Chris Litherland inspires me daily on his Facebook page with his gorgeous shots showcasing the architectural beauty of Pittsburgh and surrounding region. You can purchase prints of his gorgeous works from his website.

Chris Litherland Photography

Pittsburgh Bridges Poster, Joseph Boquiren
9. The Internet will tell you that Pittsburgh rivals Venice for the most number of bridges within the city limits: 446 to 443. Granted, some of ours aren't as picturesque (or sturdy) as their Venetian counterparts. But you can show off your civic pride and pay homage to our infrastructure with this 17 x 37 Pittsburgh Bridges Poster designed by Joseph Boquiren. It's one of my all-time favorites, and you can get your own by searching online or hitting up the Heinz History Center shop.

10. Quick, name a Pittsburgh artist.

No, not him.

Seriously, if you or someone on your gift list thinks that Pittsburgh art began and ended with Andy Warhol, it's time to expand artistic perspective.

John Kane (1860-1934) was the first contemporary American folk artist to be recognized by a museum. A Scotland-born itinerant laborer who spent his hard-knocks adult life in Pittsburgh, the mostly self-taught Kane became a sensation at age 67 when his painting Scene in the Scottish Highlands was accepted by the prestigious Carnegie International. The reception for Kane's work paved the way for the widespread popularity of other, better-known outsider art and folk artists like Grandma Moses and Clementine Hunter. His work is especially appealing to Pittsburghers because he created so many vibrant scenes of our industrial landscape which still resonate today. Take, for example, Turtle Creek Valley. This is a scan of my print from the 1939 book Modern American Painting.

John Kane, Turtle Creek Valley

Intrigued? Cultivate a shared interest in Pittsburgh artist John Kane!
First of all, there are some books to share. John Kane, Painter by Leon Anthony Arkus is the main reference, published in 1971. It contains Kane's autobiography as told by him, plus a catalogue rasionne of his paintings. John Kane: Modern America's First Folk Painter was published in 1984 by Galerie St. Etienne in New York to coincide with an exhibition hosted there and at the Carnegie. This is a much smaller but lovingly presented biography containing mostly black-and white reproductions of his works.

After you've both read the book/s, plan a visit with the art-lover on your list to the Carnegie Museum of Art to take in the largest collection of Kane's paintings, 17 in all. Then go on a field trip to Greensburg's newly-remodeled Westmoreland Museum of American Art, where five Kanes donated by the late Richard Scaife recently assumed pride of place with a sixth owned by the museum.

There are only around 130 known Kane paintings (although there may be some hundred year-old railroad cars graced with his work under layers of paint, dating from his time painting cars in a McKees Rocks rail yard!). Kane is well-represented locally at CMOA and WMAA but his paintings can be found as far afield as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Hirshhorn Museum, Barnes and Phillips Collections, et cetera. You could bond over months of Kane pilgrimages!

BONUS SUGGESTION: give the gift of local music.There are so many fabulous artists performing in and around Pittsburgh, and many have recordings to be purchased. No links from me because I'd be here all night listing them all. Just follow your bliss, do a search, and purchase tickets to shows or buy recordings directly from artist sites to show your support.

OH BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! The Pittsburgh history-steampunk-cartography fan on your list will adore this Alternate Histories Pittsburgh and Allegheny International Spaceport print!

A birds-eye view lithograph entitled Pittsburgh, Allegheny & Birmingham published by Otto Krebs in the 1870s has been cleverly altered to show the truth of Pittsburgh's role in old-timey space exploration  include a spaceport hovering above the Monongahela House Hotel and a rocket blasting off toward the West End. I may have to include this image if I ever finish my book on the Monongahela House. This 11x17 inch print can adorn your loved one's wall...or yours. There are a lot of other clever altered images on the Alternate Histories site, but since many include Pittsburgh-zombie references, I had to pass them by (zombies ranking high on my list of aversions, right up there with crows, clowns, vampires and Neil Diamond).

Anyway, happy shopping and happy holidays!

1 comment:

  1. Another way to watch all of August Wilson's Hill District plays is to subscribe to HBO: