Move over, Superman. The real man of steel is back.

Joe Magarac, the mythic, larger-than-life steelworker whose body was literally made of steel, is the inspiration for Iron Eden’s new Liberty Avenue showroom: Magarac Gallery and Gathering Space.

For those not steeped in Western PA folklore, Joe Magarac was an early 20th-century folk-hero who could bend steel beams with his bare hands, and who thought nothing of working long hours with no days off. His surname, Magarac, meaning donkey or jackass in Croatian, signifies his hard-working, indefatigable nature.

Is it any wonder some believe Magarac was an invention of steel tycoons looking to galvanize their overworked labor force?

Magarac will be first and foremost a gallery space and retail space where visitors can check out Iron Eden’s new line of home furnishings made from salvaged Pittsburgh steel: Magarac by Iron Eden.

“It’s really a tribute to the working man,” says John Walter, who runs the space with his wife, Jody.

John started working as a professional metal craftsman in the late ’80s when he designed decorative gates and window barriers under the name Iron Elegance Security Systems. He changed the name to Iron Eden in 1996 to reflect the “organic, Garden of Eden” forms he was creating, replete with vines and birds and butterflies.

John and Jody Walter. Photo by Brian Conway.

John’s work can also be seen across the city at restaurants like Station and New Amsterdam, where he designed the bars. He first worked with salvaged steel for Bricolage’s production Woyzeck at the Pittsburgh Brew House, creating a crow’s nest out of recovered steel beams. His main studio is situated in the hollow underneath the Bloomfield Bridge.

“I’ve never seen a piece of steel I didn’t like,” he says. “I’m like a steel hoarder.”

The Walters purchased the building at 4071 Liberty Avenue 10 years ago and run a short-stay residence in a separate building next door. Jody says they’ve had the idea for a Magarac line for even longer, buying up the domain name almost 15 years ago. Work on the new space, alone, has taken five.

As they were assembling the gallery, and it filled up with tables and benches (and even a pool table) for sale, they thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to create a gallery that doubled as an events space?” So far, they’ve hosted a pair of birthday parties and hope to rent the roughly 2,000-square-foot space for more happenings in the future.

The front of the space will contain a small collection of Magarac artifacts, ranging from a Magarac painting donated by Braddock mayor John Fetterman to an old comic book published by U.S. Steel titled “Joe the Genie of Steel.” The walls are painted in iron oxide dyes to give the space a more industrial feel.

The raw materials for the furnishings were salvaged from across town: there’s a table made with steel pickets from the West End Bridge, and bookends forged out of an old I-beam stamped with “Carnegie Steel.”

“It’s all reclaimed Pittsburgh,” says John. “And it’s all heavy.”

Magarac will open in early November. Hours will be by appointment only.

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.