Teenie Harris, ‘Silver Clouds’ and the inexplicable charm of Pittsburgh in February
We found sweetness and light in the City of Bridges.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series about our first visit to this historic city last weekend. Look for Part 2 about Billie Eilish and the art of radical care over the next few days.
Pittsburgh is a resilient place.
The city of 600,000 in Western Pennsylvania was one of the country’s early economic centers, boosted by the nearby coal mines of Appalachia and a steel industry that made possible the railroad expansion west.
By the 1960s, the wartime boom was over and the city faced a level of deindustrialization seen in few other American cities. Its population fell by half over the next forty years, leaving behind a gilded city trying to find its new shine.
Relics from the Carnegie/Mellon/Heinz era — stunning buildings, such as the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh and the nearby Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History — are what draw many people to visit Pittsburgh today, but the city is thriving in other ways, particularly its art scene.
But it wasn’t until I experienced this place that I started to understand why Pittsburgh looms in the American psyche in ways this Midwest-born Texan wasn’t fully aware.
I knew that Andy Warhol and Fred Rogers were born in the same year (1928), on opposite sides of Pittsburgh. I knew that both became icons of creativity and individual expression through their very different career paths, but it was another Pittsburg artist who left the most notable imprint on me after this trip.
Charles “Teenie” Harris was a staff photographer at the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the oldest Black newspapers in the country, from 1936 to 1975, leaving an archive of more than 80,000 images that is now housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art.