Jack of all trades

Anita Radin in front of painting
Anita Radin’s self-taught art and design skills are on display in homes, offices and restaurants all over Pittsburgh. /Photo: Elizabeth Hruby McCabe

Jack of All Trades: a person with several job-worthy skills, but not one learned so well to claim it as a specialty; occasionally seen as unflattering commentary, or a slight. 

But for Anita Radin, it’s a compliment, and there are a lot of people who would agree. Her calendar is full of appointments all over Pittsburgh: Painting kitchens in Squirrel Hill and Garfield; selecting wall art and side tables to decorate a doctor’s office in Bloomfield; restoring the faded colors of once-elegant wallpaper at the former Thaw mansion on the North Side. Radin has painted kitchens and cabinets, murals in children’s and adults’ bedrooms, in several restaurants, in the office of her rabbi at Beth El Congregation, and created textured walls that resemble a Tuscan bistro for homeowners in Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair. 

All these skills have been self-taught; the only formal art classes she’s taken were the well-known Tam O’Shanter children’s art classes at Carnegie Museum of Art, when she was a pre-teen. Alums of the classes have included photographer Duane Michaels, Andy Warhol and actor Jeff Goldblum.

Radin’s background does not include college classes, but she was a licensed hair stylist and salon owner for three years, where she honed her business skills and time management. “(The experience) also showed me that I wasn’t going to be happy sitting at a desk. I have to be moving.” It’s also where she met her husband, David, a successful tech entrepreneur and columnist, who was one of her clients.

Designing and painting furniture and living spaces, indoor and outdoor murals, kitchens, bathrooms and office spaces, are all skills she learned on the job. That includes selecting all furniture and materials for the job and delivering them to the site herself in her Toyota van. 

Radin custom creates cutting boards, wall art and serving trays with her wood-burner.
Radin custom creates cutting boards, wall art and serving trays with her wood-burner.

Radin inherited her energy and artist’s eye from a multi-skilled and energetic father, Joe Heigl. He was trained as a cabinetmaker at a trade school, but was shipped to the Pacific in World War II to be a surveyor and mapmaker, drawing pencil landscapes in his free time. He had three jobs while she was growing up in Baldwin: mechanic and handyman for Allegheny County during the day, and cook and restaurant manager in the evenings. Weekends were spent as a carpenter for a home contractor in Bethel Park, installing the many ‘rumpus rooms’ of the ’60s and ’70s. Three jobs, six days a week; not exactly what we call life/work balance now, but for her dad, being that busy meant extra money to support his wife and two children. 

After her workday, you’ll find Radin woodburning an image of a family home, or a pet, or Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, for clients who’ve seen her Instagram site, Instagram @burningwood_by_anita. “It helps me relax,” she said. If she’s not woodburning, she may take a quick run to the off-price store to see if the vintage-looking wall art or right-sized side table she spied is still there, and she’ll buy and deliver them to the doctor’s office she’s refreshing in the city. 

Refreshed and colorized bench
Refreshed and colorized bench

She started dabbling in mural and decorative painting while her three kids, Dan, Jacqueline, and Veronica, were growing up. A trailing vine motif in her Rae Avenue home got a lot of attention from friends, who requested the same thing for their own homes. That led to more work via word of mouth. A child’s bedroom mural for a friend meant that their friends would invariably contact her for another mural. And another. Radin’s done enough painting and project work on her own that doing it for others was something she couldn’t say no to. “I’m a people pleaser,” she admitted, “and I like a challenge.” 

As a volunteer at Beth El, it’s not uncommon for her to be pulled onto a committee for an event or important project. Most recently, she spearheaded the committee in charge of renovating the Sufrin sanctuary at the synagogue, which included installation of a new Bima, or platform where the Torah is read, along with a new Ner Tamid, or the eternal light; Williams Glass Studio on Castle Shannon Boulevard designed the room’s new stained-glass doors. 

Radin’s daughter, Jacqueline, who lives in Virginia, is an elementary school teacher and part-time photographer. Readers of this magazine have seen many of her illustrative shots of children playing ball or at the pool in past issues. “Everybody can be an artist,” Anita insists, as her dad once told her.

“The creative artist lies inside of all of us, and all it needs is the time and patience to set it free. You need to try it all: music, drawing, singing, dance.”

Trying it all, and being willing to be that “jack of all trades” may seem counterintuitive in a world that tends to value only the standouts in a particular area. But as the complete saying goes, “The jack of all trades is a master of none. But oftentimes better than a master of one.”