On the corner of Bartlett Street and Panther Hollow Road in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park, there’s a colorful, decorated bench. Depending on the season, it could be painted like an American flag, covered in shamrocks or decked out for the Buccos.
The bench has become a landmark in the park and visitors have come to expect its changes. But the project didn’t start as a major city initiative or a grant-funded art piece. Rather, it began when the Department of Public Works foreman Gary Sciulli had some free time and a creative hand.
“I think the Steeler bench was the first one we did because they were having a really good season,” Sciulli said. “And that corner, where the benches are, is a real well-known corner.”
Sciulli, who has worked for the city for 20 years, said some Pittsburghers refer to the space as the “Bob O’Connor Corner,” for the former councilman and mayor, who died suddenly in 2006.
“Even when he was in council, before he was mayor for the brief time, he’d hang out there,” Sciulli said. “He was always a good dude, he was always with the people.”
O’Connor is remembered in a lot of ways in Schenley Park, including a golf course and memorial space, but Sciulli and his team decided they wanted to add something, too. He said the Steelers were playing, and he had some extra benches laying around, so he drew up a design and painted the bench.
“The paintings just got more extravagant. We started with block letters, “Sciulli said. “So when we have time, we make them.”
Sciulli, with help from the 26-member crew he oversees, has completed 14 benches. Some are seasonal, like those for Thanksgiving, Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day. While others are for a cause, like breast cancer awareness and prisoners of war missing in action.
Typically the benches are repurposed from older rusting or broken benches. Sciulli said many of them are more than 100 years old, some of the originals in the park.
“We clean them, weld them, we might make one, we cut new wood, we paint ‘em,” Sciulli said. “Then we paint ‘em according to whatever’s going on in my head.”
Art students have asked Sciulli to paint a bench of their own, he said, but he’s always declined, saying the project would get out of hand if there were too many people involved.
“[The benches are] not a priority,” Sciulli said. “They’re just something on the side. When there’s a thunderstorm and I’ve got a couple guys in and there’s lightning and there’s nothing else you can do, I’ll start messing with the benches.”
Because they’re low on the list, Sciulli said it can take a few days to a few weeks to complete a bench.
What does Sciulli want to paint next? The Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer league.
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