Andy Warhol’s Pittsburgh

Editorial Staff Art

Collecting and researching American art have been avocations of mine since my student days at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1950s, when I commuted to school through the neighborhoods of the Hill District and past the belching steel mills on both sides of the Monongahela River. Those are fond memories still—fifty years after leaving Pittsburgh for New England—so when a group of ten drawings of those neighborhoods and mills surfaced on eBay, with inscriptions dating to March 1945 by a student at the city’s Schenley High School, I acquired them. My reasons were initially nostalgic, but I also wondered if research might show that the “Andy” on the first sketch could possibly be Andy Warhol, who graduated from Schenley High in 1945.Warhol juvenilia is rare—much of it was reputedly destroyed by his brother Paul, whom Andy told to dispose of everything left behind when he moved to New York in 1949—so there was little early work to which the drawings could be compared. Nonetheless, careful study and a chain of circumstantial evidence suggest that they may well be the work of a teenaged Warhol. As such they provide a useful reminder of his childhood milieu as well as a hint of some of his later working methods.

Fig. 1. Pittsburgh’s Industrial Past, undated photograph by John R. Shrader. Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Historic Pittsburgh Collection.

Andy Warhol (originally Warhola), was born in Pittsburgh on August 6, 1928, and graduated from Schenley High at the age of sixteen. In the fall of 1949, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in pictorial design from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, he moved to New York City, where he died on February 22, 1987, from complications following a routine gallbladder operation. Along the way he became one of the most important artists of the second half of the twentieth century.

In his youth Warhol lived in a succession of Pittsburgh neighborhoods that overlooked the busy steel mills along the Monongahela River. When they were operating full blast, the skies were filled with smoke and pollution, though few people worried about that then, considering the smoke a sign of productivity and prosperity (see Fig. 1). Today the steel mills are gone, but in 1945 Pittsburgh was one of the most polluted cities in America, with smog so thick that it was not unusual for streetlights to be turned on during the daytime. Nevertheless, the group of sketches is affectionately titled Pittsburgh, Andy’s Home Town (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Pittsburgh, Andy’s Home Town attributed to Andy Warhol(1928–1987), 1945. Graphite onpaper, 7 ⅝ by 9 ⅜ inches. Except as noted, the works illustrated are in the author’s collection.

The use of a third-person title anticipates Warhol’s later thirdperson book titles, such as The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) or Andy Warhol’s Exposures. The individual sketches, on the other hand, display another habit of his; as noted by his longtime associate and diarist Pat Hackett, Warhol always described anything related to his art in the first person singular—for example, “my painting,” “my show,” “my work,” or, as on these drawings, “my sketch.”1 Finally, in regard to the inscriptions on the Pittsburgh sketches, the uppercase Is are “dotted,” as though they were lowercase letters. In later works, such as his booklet Love is a Pink Cake (1953), Warhol used dotted uppercase Is to enhance the whimsical nature of some drawings. These Is were seen on occasional Warhol works through the early 1950s.2

The titles and inscriptions are not the only practices Warhol may have carried over from high school to his career in New York. Of special interest is the appropriation of motifs from the works of other artists and photographers for his own purposes. A number of the Pittsburgh sketches were likely based on illustrations in newspapers or magazines, another of Warhol’s lifelong practices.3

Fig. 3. My Sketch of Steel Mills Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper, 10 ⅜ by 6 ½ inches. Fig.4. Pittsburgh by Otto Kuhler(1894–1977), probably mid-1920s.Watercolor on paper, 11 ¾ by 8 ¾ inches. Westmoreland Museum of American Art, William A.Coulter fund.

Two of the sketches were derived from steel mill scenes painted by Otto Kuhler in the 1920s. One, My Sketch of Steel Mills Pittsburgh (Fig. 3) is a near replica of Kuhler’s watercolor Pittsburgh (Fig. 4). The other, My Sketch of Pittsburgh (Fig.5) borrowed key elements from Kuhler’s large oil Steel Valley, Pittsburgh (Fig. 6). In both sketch and painting, the Eliza furnaces of the Jones and Laughlin mill complex are seen on the north side of the Monongahela River, along with the Hazelwood Coke Works farther upstream. The rolling mills of the South Side Works across the river are connected by the Hot Metal Bridge, so-named because of its role in carrying crucibles of molten steel from the blast furnaces to the rolling mills. The basic elements of steelmaking in Pittsburgh are shown—barges moving coal to be processed into coke, the combining of the coke with iron ore and limestone in furnaces to manufacture steel, and the shaping of the molten steel in rolling mills to produce finished products.4

Fig. 5. My Sketch of Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper, 7 ⅝ by 10 ⅜ inches. Fig. 6. Steel Valley, Pittsburgh by Kuhler, c. 1925. Oil on canvas, 45 by 50 inches. Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greenburg, Pennsylvania, gift of Richard M. Scaife.

Kuhler’s painting appeared on the cover of the New York Herald Tribune Magazine of November 6, 1932, more than a decade earlier than the sketch. Whether that was the specific source for the sketch is not known, but it is one that could have been found in the Carnegie Library, roughly a mile from Warhol’s home.

One of the most interesting sketches depicts a scene in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, between Oakland and Downtown. From the 1930s to the 1950s it was one of the most prosperous and influential black neighborhoods in America—a thriving center for art, literature, and music that nurtured the talents of Billy Eckstein, Lena Horne, and Errol Garner. At the time of Warhol’s birth in 1928, his family lived in a two-room house in one of the poorer parts of the neighborhood; they later moved to two other locations on the Hill before moving to a middle-class neighborhood in lower Oakland in 1934.5 My Sketch of “The Hill” in Pittsburgh (Fig. 7) depicts everyday life as the artist may have witnessed it in the neighborhood.Though elements might be drawn from a photograph such as the one in Figure 8, no source for the figures has been found, suggesting that Warhol was working from his own observation and memory in this sympathetic rendering. His own upbringing during difficult economic times enabled him to be compassionate toward the poor. He regularly volunteered at homeless shelters.6

Fig. 7. My Sketch of “The Hill” in Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper, 6 ¾ by 10 ½ inches.Fig. 8. Houses on “The Hill” Slum Section, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, photograph by Arthur Rothstein (1915– 1985), July 1938. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection.

The use of appropriated material is striking and informative in My Sketch of Negro Church Pittsburgh (Fig. 9), which is based on a photograph taken in January 1940 by Jack Delano (Fig. 10), one of a group of photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI) to document American life during the Great Depression and World War II.7 While the left-hand side of the photograph provides a tantalizing hint of what must have been a spectacular view of the city from the top of a steep staircase next to the church, the focus of the sketch is the church. Some of the figures have been altered and reordered and the scene has been lightened by having both church doors open. Prominently seen through the open doorway is a cross—a dramatic departure from Delano’s photograph that might reflect Warhol’s concern for his devout mother, who was recuperating from a life-threatening operation performed the month he began his senior year at Schenley High School. His brother Paul switched his work hours to take care of her during the day, and Andy took over when he came home from school. During his mother’s illness, he dropped his art elective and received no grades for art his final year in high school.8 The cross presages crosses that appear in Warhol’s New York works, beginning in 1981 and 1982, which are thought to point toward his own deep faith.9 Warhol visited a church almost daily and carried a rosary in his pocket.10

Fig. 9. My Sketch of Negro Church Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper, 10 ½ by 6 ¼ inches.Fig. 10. Negro Church in Mill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, photograph by Jack Delano (1914–1997), January 1940. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection.

The sketch in Figure 12 closely follows the elements of another Delano photograph, Long Stairway in Mill District of Pittsburgh of 1940 (Fig. 13). The stairway in both is known as Tullymet Street, connecting Sylvan Street and Chance Way in the Hazelwood section of the city.11 Delano’s photograph depicts a dramatic scene—Dickensian in atmosphere with its lone figure descending the steep, icy steps and the small figures trudging to work at the steel mills in the distance. In the sketch, by contrast, the ice and snow, the figures, and the turbulent sky have all been dispensed with. The result is a purely visual presentation of the scene, without the implied social comment. In Warhol’s later works he sought to neutralize (or at least cool down) emotionally charged subjects. For example, his drawing of breaker boys in a coal mine of about 1953 appropriated Lewis Hine’s visceral 1911 image of the harsh conditions under which boys labored in the Pennsylvania mines, Breaker boys in coal chute, South Pittston, Pennsylvania, but Warhol eliminated the dirt and grime, stripping the social implications from the scene.12

Fig. 12. My Sketch of Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper, 9 ⅝ by 7 ⅜ inches.Fig. 13. Long Stairway in Mill District of Pittsburgh, photograph by Delano, January 1940. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,FSA/OWI Collection.

Pittsburgh, famously referred to by nineteenth-century writer James Parton as “Hell with the lid off,” is more affectionately rendered in the sketches attributed to Warhol. Nick Kish, a childhood friend, recalled that on some Saturdays he and Warhol went to Schenley Park, found a comfortable spot, and just sat there to gaze at the haze and smoke, before sketching together.13 My Sketch of Steel Mills Pittsburgh (Fig. 11) and My Sketch of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, Pittsburgh (Fig. 14), for example, depict the stacks and smoke of the furnaces, but without the dirt and grime (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 11. My Sketch of Steel Mills Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper, 9 ⅞ by 7 ⅜ inches. Fig. 14. My Sketch of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper, 6 ¼ by 10 ¼ inches. The view depicts a portion of J&L’s South Side works, where molten steel was worked into finished products.

The sketches include two panoramas of the city, both simply inscribed My Sketch of Pittsburgh. The view in Figure 15 looks eastward from the Bloomfield Bridge, about three miles from Warhol’s house in Oakland. Punctuating the horizon are the steeples of Saint Joseph’s Church on Liberty Avenue, in the area known as “Little Italy,” a neighborhood of small frame houses on small lots.14 The scene may be based on a postcard published by I. Robbins and Son of Pittsburgh (Fig. 16), though the view from the bridge was the subject of many photographs as well.

Fig. 15. My Sketch of Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper, 7 ⅞ by 10 ½ inches.Fig. 16. Bloomfield Bridge, Connecting Grant Boulevard and Bloomfield District, Pittsburgh, postcard published by I. Robbins and Son, Pittsburgh. 3 ½ by 5 ½ inches.

The city scene in Figure 17 depicts a view across downtown Pittsburgh near the point where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers come together to form the Ohio. In addition to the South Tenth Street, Liberty, Railroad, and Smithfield Street bridges, the sketch includes the funicular to the top of Mount Washington, originally named Coal Hill, which rises four hundred feet above the river. The view was one that Warhol would have been familiar with from frequent Sunday trips with his mother to visit her sister in Pittsburgh’s North Side. The vantage point was likely only a short distance from the present Andy Warhol Museum.

Fig. 17. My Sketch of Pittsburgh attributed to Warhol, 1945. Graphite on paper,6 ¾ by 9 ⅝ inches.

The two panoramic views share technical features with Warhol’s Street Maps, executed a few years later in New York City. Passageways are indicated by graded lines, in the form of steps or stairs. Buildings are shown schematically, with horizontal and vertical lines that indicate their spatial density but no details of their individual forms. Together with the diagonals representing simple, sloping roofs, the interplay of lines produces a visual rhythm in Street Maps that art historian Keith Hartley has related to Paul Klee’s work.15

The Pittsburgh sketches were evidently meant to be kept together as a set, a booklet, possibly for use in a class project, as supporting material for college or employment applications, or for an art exhibition or competition. They could also constitute the earliest of the self-made booklets Warhol later gave as gifts to friends and commercial contacts.16

The ten sketches appear to be good examples of the young Andy Warhol’s skills and working methods. As a group they illustrate the approach to art that the sixteen-year-old may have already arrived at by the time he entered Carnegie Institute of Technology for formal art training in the fall of 1945. If so, they are among the few surviving artworks attributable to Warhol from the period and are thus important additions to his extant body of early works.

I wish to thank Matt Wrbican, chief archivist of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and Blake Gopnik, a resident biography fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, for sharing their time and knowledge during the course of my investigations. Gopnik is currently preparing the first comprehensive biography of Warhol, to be published by HarperCollins/ECCO. Kari Garber- Hynek, curatorial assistant at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, provided important information from their records on the works of Otto Kuhler.

1. See The Andy Warhol Diaries, ed. Pat Hackett (Twelve, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2014), p. xx. 2 Wayne Koestenbaum, Andy Warhol (Lipper/Viking, New York, 2001), p. 31, notes the artist’s “affected, arty predilection for the lowercase i.” 3 Warhol clipped photographs from newspapers and magazines for studying or copying purposes throughout his life. His mother and brother Paul relate how he cut out pictures and traced images from them as a child, when he was unable to go to school because of illness; and in college he was always ripping pages out of Life and using parts of them in his drawings (Victor Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol [Bantam Books, New York, 1989], pp. 19–20, 42). At Schenley High School Joseph Fitzpatrick encouraged his students to save newspaper pictures of art, according to Bennard Perlman in his essay “The Education of Andy Warhol” in The Andy Warhol Museum (distr. Art Publishers, New York, 1994), p. 150. Perlmam also claims that Warhol was ahead of most of the art world in the practice of copying or tracing photographs in newspapers and magazines (ibid., p. 162). 4 The description of the basic elements of steel making in Pittsburgh closely follows Barbara L. Jones’s discussion of Otto Kuhler’s painting Steel Valley, Pittsburgh; see Born of Fire–The Valley of Work… (Westmoreland Museum of American Art, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006), p. 99. 5 See, Perlman, “The Education of Andy Warhol,” p. 147. 6 John Richardson, an art historian and friend, said in his eulogy at Warhol’s funeral that the artist financed his nephew’s priesthood studies and volunteered at a shelter serving meals to the homeless. See “Andy Warhol’s religions and political views,” The Hollowverse, at 7 The photographs are in the Library of Congress. 8 See Perlman, “The Education of Andy Warhol,” p. 151. 9 See Joseph D. Ketner, Andy Warhol, The Last Decade (Milwaukee Art Museum/DelMonico Books-Prestel, Milwaukee, Wis., 2009), p. 27, for a discussion of Warhol’s Crosses of 1981–1982 in the context of his search for images that were laden with meaning, and that the crosses can be read as symbols of his faith. 10 See Andy Warhol, 365 Takes (Warhol Museum and H. N. Abrams, New York, 2004), p. 254. 11 Pittsburgh has many hills with steep steps connecting adjacent streets, in place of cross streets. Recent city listings show more than seven hundred such stairways (in contrast, San Francisco has only about 350). 12 Andy Warhol, 365 Takes, p. 236. 13 Perlman, “The Education of Andy Warhol,” p. 148. 14 See Walter C. Kidney, Pittsburgh Then and Now (Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, Calif., 2004), pp. 98–99. 15 Keith Hartley, “Andy Warhol: Abstraction,” in Ketner, Andy Warhol, The Last Decade, p. 50. 16 See Nina Schleif, “Clever Frivolity in Excelsis: Warhol’s Promotional Books” in Reading Andy Warhol (Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, Germany, 2013), pp. 79–84.

PAUL KOSSEY has a longstanding interest in researching American art.