Can you give me some details about the sculpture on the northwest side of Benedum Hall? I tried Googling it and the artist name and got nothing.
Joshua C. Jones
Director of Chemistry Stockrooms, Department of Chemistry, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
This sculpture, which looks like a set of exploding steel bookshelves next to the Swanson School of Engineering, is signed “T. Mankowski,” but there is no record of old T. in Pitt’s art catalog. Nor, without a first name, was Google any help, as you discovered.
So we had to enlist the big guns to figure this one out. It was a mystery for months.
Specifically, we called on Chelsea Gunn, an experienced archivist studying toward her library and information science Ph.D. at the School of Computing and Information, who has begun researching a bunch of Pitt’s public art through a new campus-wide project (see “Doctoral student turns detective to catalog Pitt’s public art” in this issue)
Gunn got many people to pitch in on the hunt. But the University’s art appraisers didn’t have a clue. T. Mankowski was not an alum. There was a famous Polish metal sculptor named Mankowski who came to America, but this wasn’t his kid.
“I think we’ve all hit the same dead ends,” Gunn lamented last month. “And sometimes I hit new dead ends.”
Then University archivist Zach Brodt and Engineering Librarian Judy Brink entered the fray and finally cracked the case.
Ted Mankowski, the son of a Weirton, W.Va. welder, made this piece in his Burgettstown basement from welded steel — thanks to a high-school vocational class and maybe some inspiration from dad — and sold it for $1,000 at the 1969 Three Rivers Arts Festival to Westinghouse Corp. It was the largest piece he had sold to date, he told the Weirton Daily Times.
Westinghouse had just built a new building downtown — a kind of mini-U.S. Steel Building, by the same designer, at 11 Stanwix St., now city headquarters for Key Bank — and wanted some art for inside and around it.
By 1997, Westinghouse had sold off its industrial business, morphed into the broadcaster CBS and moved to New York. Much of its Pittsburgh art ended up at Pitt — including Ted Mankowski’s sculpture.
Mankowski told the Weirton paper that his piece was 10 feet tall and weighed 1,400 pounds, and that he had to hire an auto wrecker to lift and turn it so he could photograph it from every side. (One can only assume he constructed it in a corner.) But the piece has no name, he said, and no specific inspiration. He simply started all his sculptures with a sketch, then built a model to determine how much steel he needed to order from Pittsburgh.
At the time of the article, he was experimenting with pit slag as a sculptural material for his next pieces. And he was hoping for a one-man show soon. Meanwhile, he had a day job as a commercial illustrator and had worked at Ford Motor Co. in years prior.
“It gets really quiet from there,” Gunn says of the research: there is only one other mention of his art that can be found. In 1970, Mankowski installed a metal sculpture in front of the Uniontown Public Library for that city’s arts fest. A photo in the Uniontown Evening Standard paper shows the one-ton piece — a jagged array of tower- and block-like forms set against one another in a half-circle, like a crazy staircase — being lowered in front of the library.
Library director Christy Fusco says the piece is nowhere to be seen now.
Mankowski died in 2007 at age 65.
There is more work to be done, says Gunn — looking for the records to see how Westinghouse ceded or sold the piece to Pitt and what else may have come with it, for one.
“It’s cool to start with something that no one seems to know anything about” when you’re researching the provenance of public art, Gunn says. “The fact that it was more mysterious made it more fun.”
— Marty Levine
DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION?
Can’t figure out how some unusual feature of campus got here? Wondering why things work the way they do at Pitt? See something unusual and think: When was the last time that happened? When was the first time? And how come it keeps happening?
Just ask the UTimes. We’ll try to answer those questions you keep meaning to ask about campus curiosities and historical happenings at Pitt. Send your queries to UTimes@pitt.edu.