Charcoal Mural And Abstract Quilt Work Tell The History Of East Liberty Church

Jul 6, 2018

A new art exhibit exploring sacred space in a secular world has opened at Regent Square’s Concept Art Gallery. It’s the work of Carnegie Mellon University architecture professor Doug Cooper and his wife, fellow architecture professor Stefani Danes.

The exhibit showcases Cooper’s charcoal drawings alongside Danes’ abstract quilt work. The centerpiece is a large mural, which incorporates both mediums.

Danes said their inspiration came from the desire to make a mural for their church, East Liberty Presbyterian. The church is undergoing its first major renovation since it was built in the 1930s, and the couple wanted to contribute with a work of art showcasing the building’s history.

“Working with something that we know well as a place, as a landscape, as a community is a great way to explore any theme,” Danes said.It’s the way we want to work as architects, so doing work like this helps us to understand Pittsburgh better.”

The couple said the rest of the exhibit, which showcases sacred spaces around Pittsburgh, grew out of the concept for the mural.

Cooper said his charcoal drawings focus on the idea of sanctuary within the city – they feature Pittsburgh churches intermingled with an urban fabric of bridges, canyons and buildings.

"Woods Run," Doug Cooper, 2017. Charcoal on paper on board.
Credit Jakob Lazzaro / 90.5 WESA

“You see in that a kind of chaos of cars, of bridges, of large roadways that have cut off a really quite wonderful church from any connection to the world around it,” Cooper said. “That’s one way of looking at sacred space in a secular world. Other ways are to show how it still does indeed have a centered-ness in the city around it.”

In contrast, Danes’ abstract quilt work is more about the overall idea of sanctuary. She said everyone makes their own personal sanctuary, but that is also is created by communities.

“And then we, as a city, can offer sanctuary to people who are in great need of refuge, of safety,” Danes said. “And of course, that’s one of the meetings throughout all of this work.”

The mural, which will be installed in East Liberty Presbyterian after the exhibit’s closure on Aug. 31, is the pair’s second artistic collaboration. Proceeds from art sales will also go towards the church’s ongoing renovation.