Natalie Plecity, a landscape architect, is also an installation artist whose canvas is Woodwell Street in Squirrel Hill.
Her artwork started in the early days of the Covid pandemic. The entire nation was locked down and the only thing to do was to wander around outside. Those excursions inspired her to use landscape tape to create splashes of color the entire length of Woodwell Street.
Plecity’s latest work is a line of poetry that runs from house to house, one or two words at a time, nearly the length of the one-block street.
Woodwell runs between Barnsdale Street and South Dallas Avenue. To get the full experience of the installation, in the right order, turn onto Woodwell from Barnsdale and head toward Dallas while looking at the homes on the left.
There from house to house reads one line from “The Hill We Climb,” the poem Amanda Gorman wrote for the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
Starting on a balcony then running down a pillar and along the lawns and through the trees, the letters on Woodwell spell out the 25 words of a single stanza:
“But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright.”
The public artwork started with a couch on Plecity’s front porch.
She wanted an L-shaped couch, but the ones she liked were selling for thousands of dollars. So, she decided to build her own couch frame out of cedar and just buy the cushions. Then she had a bunch of leftover cedar wood.
The wood lent itself to letters and the letters to words, but what words? She started with the idea that people on the street could just choose random words, then her daughter Violet said, “What about the woman in yellow?” a reference to the coat that Gorman wore at the inauguration.
“I did choose that line specifically. I wanted to find something that wouldn’t bother people. I wanted it to be something that was just kind of a nice thought. No matter what your beliefs are, I would think that the majority of people hope that their children have a better life than they do in whatever way you think that is.”
While she didn’t credit Gorman, she figured enough people will Google the words as they walk by.
While Plecity had the wood, she obtained white paint from a neighbor who had some left over. She and her daughter Sylvia glued the letters together using lots of borrowed clamps. The main cost of the project, she said, was the glue. Everything else was scrap.
The neighborhood art project was also a community-building effort.
After choosing the line of the poem, which had 25 words, Plecity reached out to neighbors and 21 said they wanted to take part, so then she had to parcel out the words.
“Everyone on the street is so supportive of all these things that I do. That’s the best part of it. No one complained about what word they got,” she says. “I told a man that his word was going to be ‘with” and he said, ‘With. That’s a nice word.’ I thought, ‘Wow, I am so glad that everybody is so easy to work with.’”
“Someone asked if Clare paid extra to have ‘Then love’ in her yard. That did not happen. She did not pay me at all,” Plecity says, talking about her neighbor Clare Stephenson.
Neighbors across the street, who did not get any words, still have been supportive.
Ziad Youssfi, who has been admiring the display from the even-numbered side of the street, photographed each house and created a photo collage to depict the display.
“I wanted to give Natalie’s work justice by capturing it in photographs before it gets weathered out over time,” he says. “Also, I wanted to share her work with a wider
audience than just the people on our street or other passersby.”
This isn’t the first time Plecity has brought her neighbors together.
Last year, she knitted sweaters for trees and poles along the street. It was pretty enough
that one of the homes was sold to a couple who saw the yarn bombing and decided that
was where they wanted to live. After Russia invaded Ukraine, Woodwell residents hung blue and yellow flags in support.
As a landscape architect, Plecity says she dreams of creating something with plants, but an attempt at planting cosmos the length of the block in the strip of grass between the
street and the sidewalk didn’t work. The soil is too compacted so only a few cosmos bloomed.
“If it doesn’t work out, I have to walk down the street and see my failures,” she says.
So what’s next? Plecity doesn’t know. The landscape architect thinks each installation may be her last, but then, another idea blooms.