photos by George Mendel
Home to both U.S. Steel and PPG Industries, Pittsburgh was an appropriate place for Mt. Lebanon metal artist Jan Loney to collaborate with glass artist Heather Joy Puskarich on a large-scale metal and glass art installation for Allegheny College’s renovated Carr Hall, which houses the physics department and the Richard J. Cook Center for Environmental Science. The installation will be featured at a dedication for the Cook Center for Environmental Science on October 12 at the college’s Meadville campus.
“I tried to think of where environmental science and physics meet,” says Loney, Academy Avenue, of her inspiration for the piece’s design. “[I thought of] concentric circles and the environment and places where we see that, whether it’s the iris and eyeball or a cross section of a tree. Then I started thinking about physics and things like planets, radio waves, sound waves, microwaves—all of the commonalities of those concentric circles. Last, I thought about throwing a stone in a pond and the ripple of the water. That’s what stuck with me.”
The installation, which is an impressive 8 feet tall and 38 feet wide, was created in Loney’s temporary studio on Cedar Boulevard. It is made up of recycled and repurposed metal and different types of glass, all in earthy shades of green, blue, gray and bronze and shaped into concentric circles. Loney began creating the concept and design for the artwork in October of last year and spent the subsequent months seeking out materials and experimenting with metalworking techniques to achieve her vision. The final product was completed this summer with the help of Puskarich.
“I think that there’s a real inherent beauty in a lot of materials that you see that people might take for its intrinsic value as a metal,” says Loney. She incorporated such found materials as a steel dryer drum, metal from an above ground swimming pool, perforated rusted steel and sheets of patinated copper that originally appeared on a house to create varied textures in the piece. “There’s a beauty to metal and the way it’s transformed by nature, whether it’s rusted or patinated. You can try to duplicate them, but sometimes you can’t create as beautiful a color or pattern as something that just happens.”
Technique plays an important role in working with metal, as there are myriad ways to manipulate it to attain a desired effect. “I really love the way you can bend it, form it, shape it, hammer it, mold it, solder it, anneal it. There’s so much that you can do with [metal] that I love,” says Loney. Technique is important to working with glass, as well, which is why Loney asked Puskarich to lend her skills to project six weeks before its completion.
Loney and Puskarich first met as artists-in-residence at Chartiers Valley Middle School in 2010. Originally from Shaker Heights, Ohio, Loney now lives in Mt. Lebanon within walking distance of both her workspace on Cedar Boulevard and her son’s elementary school. Puskarich works with the Pittsburgh Glass Center when she’s not attending school in Albany. “The art community here is very awesome,” says Puskarich. “It’s very collaborative in nature.”
Carr Hall, where the piece will be housed, is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for its renovations, which means the building will be more energy efficient, sustainable and made from recycled materials where possible. Loney designed the piece with the LEED certification in mind, collecting and recycling metal materials from scrapyards and other resources across Western Pennsylvania. The installation, which is positioned nine feet from the ground in the renovated building, contributes the to evaluation criteria for LEED certification.
This is the largest piece that either Puskarich or Loney has ever worked on—a daunting task. But they’re already looking forward to working together in the future. “Jan is great as a partner. We know exactly what the other person is thinking,” says Puskarich. “I want to do another one!”