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Pittsburgh Artists Who 'Taught Themselves' Featured At New Gallery

Butcher shop painting
Courtesy of Double Dog Studios
Kathleen Ferri's painting "Depression Butcher Shop"

Work by self-taught artists will open a homemade art gallery Saturday, in Carnegie.

Is Your Spacecraft ... painting
Courtesy of Double Dog Studios
"Is Your Spacecraft Ebbing or Burning Oil" is a painting by William Truschel

The show, titled “They Taught Themselves,” features work by 13 artists from Western Pennsylvania. Only one is still alive, but curator Pat McArdle says all of them helped further the tradition of the outsider artist in the spirit of John Kane, the Scottish-born, Pittsburgh-based laborer and painter. Kane’s recognition by the Carnegie International, in 1927, helped pave the way for other artists without formal training, from Grandma Moses to Howard Finster.

“They Taught Themselves” features 80 works — paintings, sculptures and more — by artists including Kathleen Ferri, who grew up in Turtle Creek and in her later years began creating “memory paintings” of life in the 1940s in the shops and on the streets of that town and neighboring communities like Braddock and Wilmerding.

Ferri, the lone artist in the show who’ll still alive, was a stay-at-home mother, but her story echoes that of many of the other artists, who typically began making art later in life.

“Jory Albright worked on the railroads, so a lot of his paintings have to do with railroads and Altoona,” said McArdle.

Another artist, Robert Wright, started young but pursued his vision single-mindedly.

“He was a fella who in the third grade, the nuns told the class to paint what they see,” said McArdle. “And what he saw was an angel. And he continued to paint that angel from third grade up to 62 when he passed away.”

Carlos in the rec room drawing
Courtesy of Double Dog Studios
"Carlos in the rec room" is a drawing by J.J. Burns

The exhibit also features work by Paul Warhola, the older brother of Andy Warhol, who was known for adorning his works with prints of chicken feet, and DeVon Smith, a scrap dealer from tiny Wampum, Pa., who earned national attention for crafting a whole family of fanciful robots from found objects.

McArdle, a long-time collector and curator who specializes in outsider art, suggested “They Taught Themselves” to Dave and Patricia Klug, who had planned to launch their Double Dog Studios Gallery last year, until the pandemic intervened. Dave Klug is a designer and illustrator with credits in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and more, and Patricia is a marketing consultant. After their children moved out, they sold their house and bought an old church in Carnegie to live and work in.

Klug said the gallery will have no special focus or theme other than being a bit off-center. “We like eccentric,” he said.

McArdle said he hopes the exhibit reintroduces audiences to artists who haven’t gotten any publicity in a while. “They were written up, but the stories get forgotten, and we thought it would be great to once again bring them together and let people who have never heard of them possibly hear the stories and see the work that they produced here in the region,” he said.

The show will include video displays featuring interviews with or profiles of some of the artists.

“They Taught Themselves” opens with a reception 6 – 9 p.m. on Sat., July 24. The gallery is located at 317 Second Ave., and is open Fridays through Sundays and by appointment.

More information is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm