Let’s be honest. Who wouldn’t find it fascinating to sift through a celebrity’s personal belongings and learn things about the person that no one else might know?
Erin Byrne does this like it’s her job. Wait . . . it is her job. As lead project cataloger of the Time Capsules at The Andy Warhol Museum, Erin is one of a team of archivists who, for the past five years, has been opening and organizing the contents of 610 containers—mostly cardboard boxes, 40 filing cabinet drawers and one steamer trunk—filled with items from Andy Warhol’s life that he couldn’t bear to part with.
“Warhol was always known for deliberately controlling his persona. This shows a different type of person from his hedonistic, Studio 54 image,” Erin observes. “There are traces of his generosity, like correspondences with young gay men who reached out to him for advice. And his sense of humor: one box has Preparation H bottles and old underpants.”
Each container averages 500 objects—clothing, books, photos, food, meds and original drawings. “There’s a lot of kitsch objects, like Hamburglar dolls and shot glasses,” notes chief archivist Matt Wrbican. “They give you a great sense of not just his life but the times he lived in.”
The museum launched the project in 2008 after receiving a six-year grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation. Erin and crew must record, reference and image everything. At 12 Time Capsules per year, the endeavor will take 20 years. Scouring Warhol’s wares has given the archivists “a much more intimate connection with him.” Yet these private items were destined to see the light of day. “Warhol thought of the Time Capsules as one big sculpture,” Matt adds. “It’s figurative, like all of his art. They are his practical joke on the world.”
The public is invited to experience “live openings” of Time Capsules at the museum’s Out of the Box events. On May 30, Benjamin Liu, Warhol’s ‘80s assistant, will be onstage to discuss the contents. “We have no idea what is in a box until it’s opened,” Matt explains.
Time Capsule #500 from June 1984 got its 15 minutes at the Andy Warhol Museum’s 20th anniversary benefit auction this past Saturday, May 17. One lucky winner now has the option of opening it privately or with guests. Bidding started at $15,000 and ended at $30,000.
Surveillance of another sort—even wilder, perhaps—is the work of Bill Powers, president and CEO of PixController, Inc., the company behind the Pittsburgh Hays Bald Eagle Nest webcam, installed along the Monongahela River near the former Carnegie Steel Homestead site. Footage of a bald eagle couple doting on their chicks has gone viral, but the Pennsylvania Game Commission wasn’t initially sold on the idea of filming a federally protected species.
“It took two years to convince them that this was something good to do,” Bill recounts. Previously, he’d pitched the concept of tracking black bear. His request was denied. “Coincidentally, a month later, an agency in Minnesota hired us to film a black bear birth. That footage was a huge success and got the game commission’s attention.” They then granted permission for the bald eagle cam and the project took flight on December 20, 2013.
Bill’s company custom-designed the Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera, mounting it in a tree roughly 30 yards away. “We can remotely move and zoom the camera to watch inside the nest.” The video feed is streamed over the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network (data plan and bandwidth donated by Verizon) and powered by a solar-charged battery bank.
The bald eagles are getting all the glory but Bill’s job includes cam-monitoring other Aves: bluebirds at the Westmoreland Conservancy in Murrysville, osprey in North Hampton County, and falcons atop the Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning. “Falcons’ main food source is pigeons so, yea, they eat very well.”
The fact that the bald eagle brood has claimed the Hays aerie as its own is big news. Industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries drove them away; reintroduction efforts began 30 years ago. “To have bald eagles in the city limits is a tribute to how much Pittsburgh has recovered from being a heavily industrialized city with polluted rivers,” Bill says. We started with two nests; now there are 250. All these birds are now getting their food sources out of those same once-polluted waters.”