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My ideal Pittsburgh weekend: Renee Piechocki

When my friend Jill Foote Hutton, an artist and curator living in Red Lodge, MT, came to town, she asked to see “my Pittsburgh”.  It was easy to come up with my typical weekend mix of art, food, neighborhoods, and encounters with friends and strangers. Here are the highlights.
Friday, November 11 AM
Jill and I started our weekend at Coca Café in Lawrenceville for caffeine and banana bread. She was in town to give a lecture and attend the opening of the exhibition The Low Down; Tales from the Margin which she co-curated with Kyle Houser from IUP.  Go see it while you can.
At Standard Ceramics in Carnegie, owner Graham Turnbull gave us a tour and we met their mixologist Julie Hregdovic, who makes their glazes, and saw their clay production machines in action. We visited The Clay Place, their on-site supply shop and gallery.  In addition to their current exhibition, we spied a vessel by Ed Eberle  that Jill and I may have arm wrestled over if it was not already purchased.
Downtown in Market Square, Jill and I saw Carin Mincemoyer’s Diamond Diamonds, commissioned by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership with assistance from the Office of Public Art.
Then our group, including Kyle, Ken Spruill, Graham, Kate Hansen and Matt Williamson,  got a behind-the-scenes public art site visit from James Bintrim to see the newly installed Romare Bearden mural in the Gateway Center T Station.
As the director of the Office of Public Art, I work with a variety of organizations and individuals to implement public art projects and initiatives.  Sometimes, we help organizations like the PDP commission new work.  For this project, we helped the Port Authority raise grant funds to remove the Bearden mural from the old station, have it cleaned and restored, and relocate it to the new station.  
Pittsburgh Recollections was originally commissioned through the leadership of Carol Brown, who worked with the Port Authority to bring one of America’s greatest artists of the 20th century back to Pittsburgh.  Bearden is usually identified with North Carolina and New York City, and few people know that he attended Peabody High School. 
Located on the natural-light filled platform level, the ceramic mural will be open to the public when the station opens in the spring of 2012.  The station was designed by the team of Pittsburgh architects EDGE Studio and Pfaffmann & Associates.  The mural removal and conservation was completed by McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc.
Saturday afternoon
After a very quick lunch at Chipotle in Market Square, we set off to meet with Kate Lydon, the curator at the Society for Contemporary Craft , and my former colleague Lea Donatelli for a tour of the gift shop, education spaces, and the newly installed Associated Artists of Pittsburgh exhibition.
In the Strip we focused on a few key places:  Reyna Foods for tortillas and chipotles; Penn Mac for cheese, salami, and olives; and the Pittsburgh Market for a few tastings of East End Brewery’s hard cider.   Jill found great gifts for her friends back home at each stop. 
Next we headed to the Cathy Wilkes opening at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  There, we continued the tradition of not being able to see the art at the opening because you are meeting up with friends. 
Saturday PM
For dinner, we had excellent bhindi masala and aloo gobi at India Palace on Sixth Street before heading to Future Tenant’s Future Ten 8, their ten-minute play festival.  We chose the front row seats to watch hilarious one-acts about children in a beauty pageant done in drag (There She Goes by Gale Pazerski ), the evolution of a strange relationship (Bear-ly Legal: A Love Story by Marek Muller) and the trauma suffered by toys (Bath Time is Fun Time by Arthur M. Jolly).  
Saturday, November 12, 2011 
Breakfast at my place started with the fresh corn tortillas from Reyna's which turned into an egg and green chile casserole. Some of the friends Jill met the day before came, bearing delicious contributions to breakfast, including pumpkin popcorn from Pittsburgh Popcorn.
On the way to the convention center, Lea shared the story about the rooftop Jenny Holzer installation and told Jill what is happening in Pittsburgh around green building.  (Lea’s mom, Janice Donatelli, runs Artemis Environmental in Lawrenceville.)
At Handmade Arcade in the convention center, I immediately found a few Christmas gifts.  I meant to continue shopping, but shopping turned into chatting with friends and it was more fun to check out what everyone else was buying. 
As Jill and I walked back to the Northside over the Rachel Carson bridge, I told her about Three Rivers Park as we talked about ways artists balance making their own work and making a living helping other people make work.
At the Carnegie Museum of Art, we caught the screening of Citizen Architect, a film about Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio. If you need to see a film that makes you believe in the power of collaboration, put this on your list.  It was co-sponsored by the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh.  We stayed for the panel moderated by Tracy Myers then Jill headed for the ceramics collection, while I headed to the photography installations on the second floor. 
Picturing the City: Downtown Pittsburgh  features select images by nine photographers commissioned by The Heinz Endowments to document the transformation of Pittsburgh.  Having just walked the tracks in the Gateway Center T station, I enjoyed Dylan Vitone’s photographs of the North Shore Connector under construction.  In all of the photographs, I kept looking for people that I knew.  Which is what I found people doing in the Teenie Harris exhibition also on the second floor.  
In the gallery where thousands of photos are projected, I heard visitors wondering out loud if they included images of their friends and neighbors in the section called “home”.  Behind me,  people told stories about the famous people portrayed in many of the photographs.  I loved this installation, and plan to return several times to try to see the entire exhibition.
Back home on the Northside we enjoyed our stash from Penn Mac and drank wine.  We built a fire and Jill gave a show and tell with the prizes she found at Handmade Arcade.
Saturday PM
Before dinner, we drove up to Mount Washington to marvel at the view.  Forgetting that Jill is originally from Missouri, I told her about the importance of the Point in the French Indian War, the confluence of the rivers, and that Pittsburgh is the gateway to the West.  She gently turned the conversation to the St. Louis Gateway Arch as we rode down the Duquesne Incline.  We agreed to disagree.
We had a delicious and relaxing dinner at Chaya Japanese Cuisine , a place I had always wanted to try.
Driving around Squirrel Hill and into Shadyside, we landed at Janet Zweig’s installation in the Walled Garden at Mellon Park, another project I worked on through the Office of Public Art.  The garden was recently renovated by La Quatra Bonci Landscape Architects for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.  We stayed for an hour, walking through the lights in the lawn, admiring the plants and the ironwork by Samuel Yellin.  It was a magical evening. 
Not wanting our fun weekend to end, we had a drink at Salt and enjoyed talking with friends who were coming in for a post-movie dinner.
Sunday AM
I drove Jill to the airport, talking about how there were at least forty other choices of things we could have done on any given night.  Having moved here in 2003, one of the things I like the most about Pittsburgh is the diversity of what is available to experience and learn.  Plus, having a job where I get to work with artists and other colleagues engaged in civic design means I can contribute something to the city.  It’s a good mix.
After a late-morning tennis date with architect Karen Loysen, who is very patient with my forehand, followed by pizza at Mineo's in Squirrel Hill and a walk in Riverview Park, the weekend officially came to an end when I turned on my computer to get some projects ready for Monday. 
Renee Piechocki is the director of the Office of Public Art who thinks every weekend is a reason to celebrate.

Photographs courtesy of Renee and friends.
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