Rivers of Steel NHA Receives $35,000 Grant for Industrial Heritage Art Program

Fake stained glass and rusted metal beams make up the art installation “Spectre and Shade,” by Oreen Cohen, at the Carrie Blast Furnaces’ Alloy Pittsburgh art exhibit in 2015.
Faux stained glass breathes new life into the Carrie Blast Furnace’s rusted metal beams in the art installation “Spectre and Shade,” by Oreen Cohen, at the Carrie Blast Furnaces’ Alloy Pittsburgh art exhibit in 2015.

Rivers of Steel NHA / Anthony Bookhammer

Swissvale, PA (January, 2020) –

Once the site of prolific iron production, the Carrie Blast Furnace in Swissvale, PA, a designated National Historic Landmark, is now the site of the Rivers of Steel’s Alloy Pittsburgh art program. As an example, temporary art installations, such as Oreen Cohen’s “Spectre and Shade,” above, breathe new life into the hulking steel structure on the banks of the Monongahela River.

This year, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area received a $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to expand Alloy Pittsburgh. Five visual and performing artists from Rivers of Steel NHA will be selected to live in five different local neighborhoods for three months where they will be expected to connect with the surrounding community and create their art.
Sheets of colorful plastic are installed between the rusted metal beams of the Carrie Blast Furnaces in 2015 for Oreen Cohen’s art work.
Oreen Cohen’s “Spectre and Shade,” an art installation at the Carrie Blast Furnaces in 2015.

Rivers of Steel NHA / Anthony Bookhammer

Alloy Pittsburgh artists’ pieces reimagine the industrial, historical site of the Carrie Blast Furnace which is often considered symbolic of Pittsburgh’s production renaissance. The program brings the element of community back to the structure which up until 1978 produced up to 1,250 tons of iron ore a day and employed hundreds of steel workers from the surrounding communities. Over the past few years, projects at the Carrie Blast Furnace have used dance, video, sculpture, painting, and more to tell the stories of the history of steel making in the region and provide a window into the culture of the surrounding area.

In Oreen Cohen’s Spectre & Shade, assembled in 2015, Cohen used colorful plastic films to replicate stained glass and filled in some of the negative spaces between rusted girders, or metal beams, at the base of the dust catcher for Furnace #7.

"The piece uses the old structure to create something new," Oreen said.
A rusted steel sculpture balances one ton of coking coal with a coffee mug.
Patrick Camut’s “Stan,” an Alloy Pittsburgh sculpture at the Carrie Blast Furnaces in 2015.

Rivers of Steel NHA / Anthony Bookhammer

In Patrick Camut’s Stan, also from 2015, the artist used a steel sculpture to balance one ton of coking coal with one cup of coffee in a United Steelworkers union ceramic cup. Camut composed the work in honor of his grandfather, Stan, a steelworker who drove to work with his coffee balanced in his lap each day.

“Strength and balance were common traits of the blue-collar workers from this region,” Camut said of his sculpture.

To better understand the industrial heritage and meaning of the Furnaces, and envision how their artistic endeavors will add meaning, artists must meet as a group and complete a research laboratory in the Furnaces before they begin the process of creation. Over several days, Alloy Pittsburgh alumni, former Carrie Blast Furnaces employees, scholars, and other members of the community give presentations and work with the new artists to help them understand the importance of the site as they refine their project ideas.

This year’s artists will show their work at the furnace from August 29th to September 30th. The opening day for the exhibit typically draws in around 250 visitors, says Rivers of Steel Director of Art Chris McGinnis. The artists will have an opportunity to discuss their work in person during one of the exhibition’s scheduled tours in September.

Alloy Pittsburgh is a special project,” said Ricardo Iamuuri Robinson, a 2015 artist. “The Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark is a special environment. Creating site-based artwork in such a sacred space, the artist is bound to develop something exceptional, and it was certainly an experience I will never forget. The Alloy Pittsburgh team honors and truly understands the process.”

Artists are asked to submit their proposals by February 7th. Candidates will be selected and artists will be notified by March 1st.

For more information on Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area and historic sites such as Carrie Blast Furnaces, please visit

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Last updated: January 27, 2020