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.”
Wheel get you there
Another environmental achievement is gaining a foothold on the North Shore and around South Side through the work of pedicab drivers. You may have seen pedal-operated tricycles lined up outside PNC Park or Rivers Casino, wheeling fans to Pirates, Panthers or Steelers game; or along East Carson Street, running club-goers among bars and to their residences (thereby lessening potential drinking and driving).
Green Gears Pedicabs was started in 2009 by Paul Kletter and his wife, Mary Beth Karabinos, and has grown quickly under the management of the couple’s former Upper St. Clair classmate and friend Eddie DeCarlo. “In five years, we went from four pedicabs and a few drivers to 20 part-time drivers and a fleet of 10,” Eddie says. Upwards of 25,000 people hitch rides on them each year.
Are pedicab drivers a special breed? “It’s not for everybody,” Eddie admits. “I compare it to landscaping work: you’re outside and sweating a lot. It’s hard when you first start out but your body adjusts. I have drivers who are 55-year-old guys and 100-pound girls—both are able to pedal 600 pounds of people.”
Drivers are independent contractors who rent the bikes, enabling them to set their own rates and accept tips. Typically, a ride to Heinz Field or PNC Park is $10 per person. South Side bar hoppers pay one dollar per city block. The drivers also work Pens games and music concerts at Consol Energy Center but concede that it’s more strenuous due to the hilly uptown terrain.
All told, the drivers have made a positive impact on lessening emissions in the city, while providing a way from point A to B. During the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the bikes are converted to haul cargo and “our drivers become garbage men,” Eddie says. “They used to have gas-powered trucks but we took over the hauling trash job. We do it more green.”
Speaking of green . . . and purple, yellow, orange . . . bam! An explosion of color! That’s what it’s like to enter the Pittsburgh dream incubator known as Randyland, uphill from the Mexican War Streets on the North Side. Randy Gilson self-created his “dream job” in 1982 when began refurbishing the Old Allegheny Gardens then purchased a dilapidated building for $10,000 on a credit card. He’s been expanding to other properties ever since. Arguably every inch of his environs is festooned with art, artifacts, gardens and everyday stuff that Randy has created or repurposed.
“It’s so amazing what you can do. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” he says. “I don’t want anything that’s easy or right or simple. I don’t have a formula. The second I feel it, I immediately start to grow with it, like the attraction of a friendship.”
Randy’s day job is waiter at the Westin Pittsburgh but his obsession is that of painter, sculptor and gardener. Yet his mission extends far beyond artistic expression. “All that I am living for is actually devotion to this wonderful city,” he says, explaining that his long-term plan is to create a foundation and donate Randyland to the city. Roughly 100,000 people from all over the world visit this happy place.
For the first time, Randy has created an art project to raise funds for Randyland. Titled “Thinkerers”, the project involves hand painting slate pieces in a Picasso-esque style that depict “the evolution of a person thinking,” he says. “Each slate piece is unique, like pulling a thumbprint out of the ground. I mean, dinosaurs actually walked on this stuff. If the stone could talk to us, it would tell us what happened in our past and teach us about the future. My job is to release what’s inside the stone.”
It’s the best job in town, Randy believes. I have no idea why God gave me this beautiful journey but now I’m addicted to it. I’m in love with my life’s journey.”
Pittsburgh Penguins fans might give the best-job-in-town award to vocalist-musician Jeff Jimerson. His gig as the national anthem singer before the puck drops at Consol has steadily garnered him local cult status since his first rendition in 1990. “That year, we went to the Cup and I didn’t get to sing in the finals because I was the new guy,” Jeff remembers. “It subtly turned into something, and in past five or 10 years, I became the regular guy.”
The Penguins’ anthem singer
As one of the longest-tenured anthem singers in the NHL, Jeff Jimerson joins the national ranks with the likes of Boston’s Rene Rancourt and Chicago’s Jim Cornelison. “I used to dream that I’d someday be like [legendary Pens and Pirates organist] Vince Lascheid. So, yea, I’m the luckiest hockey fan in the city,” he says.
Jimerson’s delivery of the patriotic song is a perfect fit for the city he represents: powerful, classic and non-flashy. “The biggest compliment I get is that I keep it simple,” he says. “Some singers like to add vocal calisthenics but that doesn’t necessarily make it better. Because of what the song stands for, and because I’m the last thing that happens before the game starts, I try to sing it in a respectful, timely way.”
Jimerson is also known for his annual Christmas concert performances with B.E. Taylor–and he sang the anthem in the 1995 film Sudden Death. His variety band, Airborne, covers everything from old standards to contemporary rock. For a taste, check out Jeff’s newly released CD At Last. By day, he is a talent consultant for Pittsburgh’s Entertainment Unlimited.
Being the voice of the Pens, though, is near to his heart. “I never want to allow myself to take it for granted—partly because I don’t want to take life for granted, and also because if you screw it up, you make the headlines on SportsCenter.”