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Pittsburgh-Based Painter Offers 50 Unique Views Of The Mon Valley

Ron Donoughe isn’t from Pittsburgh (exactly), but he’s spent more time looking at the region – really looking at it – than most.

Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures presents Ron Donoughe: 7 p.m. Thu., March 18

Donoughe, who’s based in Lawrenceville, is one of the city’s best known painters, perhaps most especially for his series of cityscapes “90 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods.” His understated but luminous paintings are in honored locations all over town, from the Heinz History Center and the Duquesne Club to the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

His latest project to culminate is the book “Brownsville to Braddock: Paintings and Observations of the Monongahela River Valley,” published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The 50 plein air oil paintings were made over the course of a full year (2019) capturing cityscapes in towns like McKeesport, Chartiers and Fayette City in all four seasons. The images depict everything from riverfronts and Kennywood rollercoasters to old mills, churches, working power plants, cemeteries, and everyday houses.

Credit Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Ron Donoughe

“I don’t want to do exactly postcard images,” said Donoughe. “I’m trying to get at the genuine feeling of a region. And I think that’s best done through longer periods of time spent in an area.”

“Brownsville to Braddock” also includes photographs and short interviews of folks Donoughe met in the towns where he painted.

“I just randomly asked people what the neighborhood was like, and how was life in the Mon Valley,” he said. “Most people are really just so friendly and willing to share their stories. I thought it added to the book, because I really don’t paint people.”

Donoughe grew up in Loretto, a Cambria County town about 90 miles east of Pittsburgh. He’s lived in Pittsburgh about 40 years and has spent much of it doing outdoor studies of scenes, views and landmarks.

His interest in the Mon Valley was rooted partly in the fact that his partner has family roots there, and partly in curiosity – he simply didn’t know much about these towns that are so integral to the region’s industrial history, and postindustrial legacy.

“There’s still beauty down there, that’s what I enjoy about it,” he said. “It’s really interesting, the parks and the river, the recreation on the river.”

“I personally enjoy the industrial aspect of painting,” he added. “You know, man’s mark on what industry created down there. All the warehouses and the mills.”

He started painting in Brownsville, about 40 river miles from Pittsburgh, and worked downstream. Other towns he captured include California, Belle Vernon, Charleroi, Monessen, Donora, Monongahela, Elizabeth, Clairton, Duquesne, North Braddock, and Rankin.

The paintings in the book had been slated for exhibition at California University of Pennsylvania in spring 2020; then COVID-19 hit. A university spokesperson said the exhibit will be rescheduled for the fall.

In the meantime, Donoughe speaks about the book online Thu., March 18, in a Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures "Made Local" event. The talk is free; more information is here.

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