Art Project Celebrates Pittsburgh's Urban Animals
For a day or two this past April, Pittsburgh social-media feeds went loopy over photos of a big black snake looped in a tree in Frick Park.
The snake, it turned out, was not an escaped python, nor anything at all dangerous to humans, but rather a black rat snake, native to the region, that preys mostly on rodents.
For artist and park-lover Tereneh Idia, the episode only seemed to further recommend a project she was already working on to playfully acknowledge urban wildlife in our midst.
“People were like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a snake!’” she said. “It just solidified that actually we really do need to talk about the wild animals that are in the parks, and this is their home.”
The project was TripleAAAnimals, which had begun as a Twitter thread by local musician and producer Inez about extremely bold deer in Homewood. It evolved into a fictional sports league, Allegheny Animals with Attitude, with Idia as “commissioner,” and artists creating logos and T-shirts for teams like the Bloomfield Bats, Sugar Top Grubby Groundhogs, and Mount Washington Wild Turkeys.
The next phase is the Pittsburgh Parks TripleAAAnimals All-Stars. The collaboration with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy envisions a “home” team of native species, from the hellbender and firefly to the azalea-rhododendron, and a “visitors” squad of introduced species, from house sparrow to knotweed.
The teams are depicted on T-shirts, tote bags and other merchandise in an illustration by artist Mary Tremonte.
“This T-shirt, we’re hoping that it raises more awareness and helps educate people about the different animals that live in pittsburgh’s parks and call them home,” said Conservancy spokesperson Alana Wenk. The Conservancy is a nonprofit in a public-private partnership with the city to maintain and improve the city’s parks.
Tremonte, who selected the species from a list developed by the Conservancy, has a particular affinity for one player for the home team: North America’s lone marsupial, the opossum.
“I see them as a real hero in our area especially, with the prevalence of deer ticks and Lyme disease, because they attract ticks, and also eat them,” she said. “And so they’re kind of cleaning up the tick population, doing their part in the battle against Lyme.”
Other home-team members include the Eastern box turtle and the Eastern milk snake. Visitors include the red-eared slider turtle and domesticated cat, as well as such relatively unloved creatures as the brown rat and the spotted lanternfly.
Biologists say lanternflies, which have been killing trees and other plants in several Eastern states, should be squished on site. But TripleAAAnimals organizers say the idea is less to celebrate these bugs — or knotweed, a bane of gardeners — than to raise awareness about all the species in our midst.
“It was more of a way of showing who all was here, and so hopefully people can root for both the home team and the visiting team, or at least find out how these different species got invited, or get introduced into the region,” said Idia. “They are part of our ecosystem.”
The Pittsburgh Parks TripleAAAnimals All-Stars launches Saturday with an outdoor pop-up event at love, Pittsburgh’s store in Mount Washington. The event runs noon-5 p.m.
A portion of proceeds from sales benefit artists and the Parks Conservancy.