Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crew Uncovers Five Missing Portraits at Old Carnegie Library

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crew Uncovers Five Missing Portraits at Old Carnegie Library

Article excerpt

Colorful oil portraits of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson are still missing from the old Carnegie Library that opened in 1890 on the city's North Side.

But five of 25 large pictures painted by Pittsburgh artist Elizabeth Black were uncovered Tuesday when Mascaro Corp. construction workers removed lathe, plaster and wire mesh as part of renovations underway for the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

The portraits, each measuring 40 by 60 inches, were made to fill 25 niches in the reception room, where librarians welcomed visitors and retrieved books for them.

A painting of Francis Parkman still hangs in one of the niches, but sadly, someone painted a black mustache on the revered historian, possibly during a 1970s renovation. Someone also drew glasses on the face of poet Elinor Wylie. A third portrait of a white-haired man in a tan coat fell to the floor.

"It's kind of too bad that we didn't find [Edgar Allan] Poe, [Benjamin] Franklin, [Mark] Twain and [Emily] Dickinson because most people know who they are," said John Black of Germantown, Tenn., the son of Elizabeth Black.

Often hired by Pittsburgh's elite to paint children's portraits, the artist was 28 in 1940 when she researched the lives of the famous people she portrayed for the library under a commission from the Works Progress Administration.

Her subjects were: naturalist John James Audubon, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, author and poet Edgar Allan Poe, philosophers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, author Harriet Beecher Stowe, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, humorist and novelist Mark Twain, authors Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, and historians Francis Parkman, John Fiske, John L. Motley and William H. Prescott. The last portrait she finished was of poet Walt Whitman.

By 1943, Black was a Red Cross volunteer sketching her way across Europe, capturing the faces of young American soldiers. …

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