If you’re a fan of the numerous rust-ravaged, repurposed factory machine sculptures dotting the Pittsburgh cityscape from the South Side to Gateway Center to Rankin, you’ll be happy to hear there are a lot more on the way, thanks to Tim Kaulen and his talented crew of student welders working year-round to convert cheerless industrial salvage into intriguing public art.
Kaulen is the founder and executive director of Industrial Arts Workshop, a Hazelwood nonprofit offering youth and adults professional welding classes with an artisanal emphasis.
Their latest public art project is “Braids of Hope” — a dazzling 50-foot long, 12-foot high metal and paint mural produced by the 12 students enrolled in the recently completed Summer Welding Bootcamp.
Set to be officially unveiled on Oct.13, “Braids of Hope” uncoils elegantly across the white brick side of the Elevationz commercial building at 4944 Second Ave. (across Tecumseh Street from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Hazelwood), that houses an event space, hair salon, barber shop, lash and brow studio and resale boutique.
“This is the third public art piece we’ve done here in our current space,” says Kaulen. “It was conceived by our kids and the details developed with community input.”
Industrial Arts Workshop grew from the vision of Kaulen, a 1987 Art Institute of Pittsburgh graphic design and photography graduate, who became enamored with large public sculptures and taught himself the welding skills to create them.
In the mid-1990s he joined an ad hoc group of like-minded artists who dubbed themselves the Industrial Arts Co-op and roamed the region devising impromptu sculpture-making projects at abandoned factory sites.
In 2014, Kaulen shifted his efforts toward teaching. He convened a series of mobile sculpture workshops that utilized recycled materials to build permanent public sculptures in neighborhoods around Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
“We did five years of a summer camp out of trucks and trailers,” he recalls. “We’d pack up the welding equipment, invite kids to a public event, set up tents and weld in public. It was no-cost and open to anyone. We did that with huge success as all volunteers and only on weekends.”
Since 2021, Industrial Arts Workshop has occupied a sprawling 5,200-square-foot space at 5434 Herbert Way that formerly housed a car restoration business and a soda bottling company. It has received strong support from the Hazelwood Initiative as an innovative way to provide community youth with professional arts exposure and technical training programs.
The Workshop hosts after-school welding classes throughout the year for youth ages 14 to 18, adult “weekend warrior” workshops and a summer boot camp for teens. Certified instructors teach welding fundamentals, both as an art form and with the idea that graduates can consider a career in welding or related fabrication fields.
NEXTpittsburgh visited the Industrial Arts Workshop headquarters and spoke with Kaulen and the group’s community engagement manager Maura Bainbridge about the transformative power of flame, metal and youthful imagination.
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NEXTpittsburgh: How did the new installation at Elevationz get off the ground?
Tim Kaulen: What we like to do in summer camp is find a community group to work with as a partner for each project. They represent the voice of the neighborhood. They can offer financial resources to help produce the piece. They have a physical site, a property to be the home base. For “Braids of Hope,” Hazelwood Initiative served as our partner group.
Maura Bainbridge: A local artist named Edith Abeyta of Arts Excursions Unlimited led the community meetings to develop the concept for our students’ work.
Kaulen: We then audited the voice of the community through charrettes and shared those results with our students, and the students began to make drawings and miniatures towards solutions that became the public art outcome.
NEXTpittsburgh: How was “Braids of Hope” selected as the theme?
Kaulen: We have a lot of ideation and a lot of teamwork and a variety of solutions to get to a finished symbol that represents the community. Then there are other decorative secondary symbols to support other voices and other statements. The concept of beauty was the thing we kept landing on.
NEXTpittsburgh: Then the design process started?
Kaulen: The side wall at Elevationz was painted with the head of the young person, and our goal as sculptors was to create the relief patterns that are her braids along with the jewels and gems and charms that are the decorative part of her braids. The students were guided in the storyboard planning, drawing the design, and they made all the relief sections.
NEXTpittsburgh: Where do your sculpture materials come from?
Kaulen: We go to scrapyards for recycled steel. We get a lot of donated materials from fabrication shops that are cutoffs. That’s the industry term for things going back into the scrap bin from a specific job or fabrication project.
NEXTpittsburgh: Do you have a wish list of things you’d like NEXTpittsburgh readers to know about?
Kaulen: I have a huge wish list!
Bainbridge: The mobile welding lab is being outfitted, so that’s a long wish list there.
Kaulen: We’re fortunate to have several local businesses who see the value of the program and contribute generously. We have a great relationship with a Lawrenceville company called McKamish, a structural steel and HVAC builder and designer. They’re a family-run business and a union company, and for a student interested in going forward to career employment in the field, employment with a company like this would be step two after apprenticing with the Steamfitters union.
Lincoln Electric is a great welding company, West Penn Laco is a local welding supplier. They have given us equipment and safety gear, head to toe, for 20 kids. Community Kitchen Pittsburgh has provided lunch for us, and Dylamato’s Market here on Second Avenue is another great partner.
Bainbridge: The support goes beyond materials. McKamish hosts field trips for our students every year. This summer we went to Cultural District galleries Downtown and looked at all the public art murals and sculptures. We went to Frick Art Museum to see the vanessa german exhibit and visited the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh. CCAC’s welding instructor Cody Stroud came in to show a special type of welding called TIG welding.
NEXTpittsburgh: That’s quite a range of experiences.
Bainbridge: We also went to Pittsburgh Technical College, the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse and Construction Junction, and the metal shop at Duquesne Light.
Kaulen: The Duquesne Light fabrication facility is exceptional. Culturally speaking and utility-wise, it’s a wonderful shop, so that could be also a second step of an employment track for students.
NEXTpittsburgh: The Workshop has strong involvement from local labor unions.
Kaulen: We’ve had a great relationship with Ironworkers Local 3 and Steamfitters Local 449, and we introduce our students to those apprentice programs. We did some renovation here in the building where the ironworker apprentices built this mezzanine for us. The apprentices built all of our welding booths where the students learn technical skill building and welding. They built all our solid-state 2-foot by 5-foot tables.
NEXTpittsburgh: How do students find you?
Bainbridge: I go to a lot of schools and trade fairs. We do a lot of social media, e-mails to a lot of moms, and contact a lot of teachers in schools who bring me in to talk to their classes. We get a lot of returning students and new students who heard about it from friends who participated. And that’s another thing we’re always working on — how do we keep challenging kids who want to keep coming, while also delivering to kids who have never tried it before?
NEXTpittsburgh: You’ve had a very diverse group of young people over the years. What do you think motivates them to take these classes?
Bainbridge: We definitely get some kids who want to make art in this medium. We get a lot of kids who want to find out how to have a trades career like the Steamfitters, even if they aren’t really sure what that is until we go on a field trip.
Kaulen: For summer camp, we interview kids in person to understand where they may fit within a teamwork and a group setting. Are they chiefly interested in art or in a career work path, or do they express interest in a trade?
The problem-solving aspect, especially in pairs of kids, is really dynamic. We do a fair amount of recapping and talking about the week’s work and the experiences, both challenges and successes. The students start to understand their strengths in the team and where other people could benefit from their strengths.
It’s an organic step of students supporting one another based on their understanding of the cohort. In some cases, instructors can actually start to step back and let kids lead each other and help each other as a group.
NEXTpittsburgh: That is a very powerful step.
Kaulen: It’s been the most powerful takeaway and also one of the biggest surprises that wasn’t anticipated.
NEXTpittsburgh: That some young people want to teach?
Kaulen: We knew we could guide people on an art path, which is not an easy path, and I from experience know that path, and it’s hard. We could guide people on a potential career path and then a trade path. What we didn’t anticipate is that some people want to be in a space of helping others.
NEXTpittsburgh: That collaborative impulse could be the most valuable thing the Workshop provides.
Kaulen: I’ve come to believe that if you have a community-based art initiative that has a good mission or good identity, people will feed into it.