November 28, 2022

An exhibit juxtaposing long-unused industrial materials with new artwork opens Thursday in the Pittsburgh Botanical Garden Visitor Center.

“Patterns of Meaning,” by Pittsburgh artist Cory Bonnet, will be on display through Feb. 26 at the Settlers Cabin Park facility in Oakdale.

Bonnet’s exhibit is based on a collection of 6,000 wooden patterns, plans and other foundry tool making artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th century recovered from Campbell and Brier Hill Works in Youngstown (Ohio) Sheet & Tube, which closed in the late 1970s.

Some pieces of these industrial materials are associated with oil paintings which, according to Bonnet, “tell the history and heritage of the steel industry in the region”.

Earlier this year, Bonnet and Chip Barletto, owner of the CB Gallery and Museum in New Castle, brought 10 truckloads of industrial artifacts to the artist’s studio at the nonprofit Energy Innovation Center in the Lower Hill district, and Bonnet got to work interpreting their.

“The idea I’m trying to convey is how difficult it was to build all the infrastructure, and the effort it took that is so easily taken for granted today,” Bonnet said. “The collection contains hand-drawn plans and diagrams of how to build these wooden foundry models. Then the foundry patterns were pressed in sand, and molten steel was poured in, and then those parts were machined to be assembled to build anything in the United States and around the world.

A painting title, “Another Day at the Office” depicts two men pouring a ladleful of flaming molten steel.

“They have hardly any protective gear except for goggles. One guy holds his hand in front of his face to protect it from the heat,” Bonnet said.

The exhibit highlights how much human effort went into the construction process before the days of computers and automation, he explained.

“It’s easy to dismiss past generations as not being – and I don’t mean smart – but maybe not as intellectual,” he said. “When you look at these drawings, I challenge just about anyone today to do the same without the aid of computers or calculators.”

sense of pride

As the title reflects, the exhibit also explores the way of life and worldview that was lost with the decline of the steel industry.

“When the factories closed, it wasn’t just the jobs lost, it was all the ancillary industries and all those jobs that were lost,” Bonnet said. “For me, the most important thing that was lost was that sense of meaning and pride that came from creating. Here are guys in the late 1800s, early 1900s, who probably hadn’t done college, maybe had high school diplomas, but they were able to wield forces that were basically mini-volcanoes.

“You leave work, and everything around you is there because of what you created,” he said. “There was a sense of pride and belonging for the place where they lived and worked. When the mills closed, they lost everything.

A Pittsburgh-area native, Bonnet holds a BFA in Drawing and a minor in Art History from the University of Edinboro in Pennsylvania. He has an interest in sustainability and has long been committed to using reclaimed, reclaimed or sustainable materials in his work.

He was named “2017 Preservationist of the Year” by the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh.

“Patterns of Meaning” also includes works by designer Angela Neira, master cabinetmaker and artist Nate Lucas, glassmaker Brian Engel and ceramicist AJ Collins.

“These are artists I’ve worked with for years now,” Bonnet said. “As I brought all this material and showed them the collection, they were inspired and had their own ideas of what to create.”

Engel and Collins cast glass and ceramic pieces using some of the salvaged patterns.

Bonnet’s work fits well with the mission of the botanical garden, said executive director Keith S. Kaiser.

“The garden shares an industrial past of land use, including coal mining. We demonstrate through our gardens and forests how the earth can heal and how human actions can achieve this,” he said. said “Cory’s work tells a story of the area’s industrial past, as well as the area’s present and future through sustainable practices.”

An opening reception for the exhibit will begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Visitor Center. Bonnet and the other collaborating artists will be present to talk about their work.

The happy hour-style event is suitable for ages 21 and older and will include signature appetizers and cocktails. Pre-registration is required at 412-444-4464 or

Shirley McMarlin is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Shirley by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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