Vanessa German

In a new series, The Huffington Post cut up the country into four sections and started scouring in search of great American artists whose work was largely going unnoticed.

Here in Pittsburgh, however, their choice for America’s Northeast region, Vanessa German, has been anything but unnoticed. From exhibitions at the former August Wilson Center to poetry at public forums, German has been in the creative spotlight for many years.

To her, we owe the Homewood Art House, where children are permitted to go after school to create whatever they want. Materials are provided, and they’re given artistic reign over the space, which sits right up the street from German’s own residence.

German herself has been producing art out of her basement for years, receiving local and regional attention. Her style is based heavily on things she finds on the street or in the trash, that she then turns into something valuable. German told Rao that her spirit of creation comes from childhood, when if she wanted something, she had to make it herself.

“I live in the ‘hood. People do renovations and literally dump everything in the alleyway, so I can find great materials off the street. People are always dropping things off at my front porch. Somebody’s grandma died and she collected those travel spoons, and they gave me her collection. Somebody else, his partner was a drag queen and she left all her drag shoes. Huge, beautiful, glittery, stacked drag queen shoes,” says German.

Now, her artistic energy has traveled as far as Arkansas, where the curators of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art are gearing up to exhibit her work in their unique, underground set-up.

Mallika Rao of the Huffington Post spoke with German about her Arkansas adventure at Crystal Bridges Museum.

“For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and German was one of 102 people to make the final cut,” writes Rao.

German told Rao, “Everybody says the same thing, but it’s kind of a wonder to drive in and park the car. Walking to this concrete colonnade, all of a sudden, a museum springs out beneath you. You take an elevator four levels down into a ground. It’s built into a hollow over a stream. It was something I’d never heard of before, Crystal Bridges. I honestly thought it sounded like the name of a country music singer.”

The space is extremely unique, nestled within 120 acres of Ozark forest and seated atop a natural spring from which the museum takes its name. The building and its surrounding land include an overlook, multiple ponds, a “Skyspace” and walking trails.

When Rao asked German what it was like to get a visit from the curators, she said it was strange to sense their nervousness.

“I had been in environments before where I was around artists who were really nervous about something called a studio visit, but I didn’t understand what they were nervous about. I didn’t go to art school. I had no frame of reference.  I think because I work in a basement and I go down to work, I have this idea that it’s like my secret world. There’s something about having someone there, something really affirming about it to me,” German told Rao. 

You can read the entire article here.

Rebekah Zook is a Duquesne grad and all-around story-telling enthusiast. A former fellow at WESA, she worked as a production assistant for their daily talk show. Most recently, she taught in the Propel Charter School system as a visiting artist. When she isn’t writing, Rebekah is a trip leader for the local non-profit organization Venture Outdoors. You can usually find her in a bright yellow kayak.