Session Looks at Bearden's Impact on Art and Society

By Loeffler, William | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Session Looks at Bearden's Impact on Art and Society


Loeffler, William, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


One was a hot pitching prospect who was scouted by the Major Leagues. Another was a songwriter. Still another was a soldier and scholar.

All of them were Romare Bearden, a painter and activist whose life and work are the subject of a symposium Friday and Saturday at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

"Bearden in the Public Realm" examines the artist's impact as a mentor, philanthropist and art ambassador. The event, which is free and open to the public, is part of a national symposium series organized by the Romare Bearden Foundation in New York City.

Bearden, who died in 1988, lived in Pittsburgh as a fourth- grader and as a teenager. He graduated from Peabody High School in 1929 and worked for a summer in a mill owned by U.S. Steel.

His glazed tile mural, "Pittsburgh Recollections," is one of the city's most treasured pieces of public art. The 60-foot-by-13-foot mosaic was recently removed from the T station in Gateway Center. It will be reassembled when a new subway station is built near Smithfield Street.

Bearden's bond with Pittsburgh made the city "an absolutely natural fit" to host the symposium, says Diedra Harris-Kelley, co- director of the Romare Bearden Foundation.

"He talks about seeing smokestacks from the steel mills and from his grandmother's (Lawrenceville) house," Kelley says. "He goes through a description on how they would not wear their shirts because it was so hot in the steel mills. He would see their backs with scars from the heat and the flames."

Bearden's paintings and collages, rendered with a sort of folksy cubism, depicted scenes from African-American life in Harlem, Pittsburgh and beyond.

Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Piano Lesson," a play that was inspired by a Bearden work of the same name. Another collage, "Mill Hand's Lunch Bucket," served as the touchstone for Wilson's play "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

Bearden co-wrote songs that were covered by various artists, including Pittsburgh native Billy Eckstine. …

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