Behind-The-Scenes At The Fort Pitt Museum

Jan 27, 2016

Paintings, figurines and dioramas fill the hallways of the Fort Pitt Museum. However, for most of January, the doors of the museum have been closed, as the pieces underwent renovations and workers installed new exhibits. Essential Pittsburgh took a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility ahead of their re-opening to see what went into the process.

Fort Pitt was an English fort built in the 18th century and used as a  military base, trading post and diplomatic center. According to Michael Burke, exhibit specialist, the fort was built on the previous location of Fort Duquesne, Pitt’s French counterpart. Due to the strategic importance of Pittsburgh’s three rivers, control of the area was desired by France, England and the American Indians.

One aspect the new exhibits will focus on the grand scale of the Fort Pitt construction. The site had to be built using resources found in the wilderness and made by hand, which was difficult due to the enormity of the fort.

“The difference in size, between what the English planned and the French had done, is that Fort Duquesne would almost fit in any of the five bastions of Fort Pitt,” said Alan Gutchess, director of the Fort Pitt Museum. “So Fort Pitt was a much more impressive fortification than its French predecessor.”

The museum also focuses on what occurred inside the fort. The Case Mate on the first floor was designed to resemble an artillery laboratory, similar to those found inside Fort Pitt. The room is traditionally where cannon balls and other munitions would be crafted.

The exhibits also focus on the fur trade within the fort, which was one of Pittsburgh’s earliest markets, according to Burke. In some years, Pitt saw 200,000 deer hides pass through its walls to be made into clothing or traded to American Indians.

The Heinz History Center contributed, with the donation of a multi-paneled diorama. The piece depicts an American Indian standing on Mount Washington, overlooking Fort Duquesne. Megan Shalonis, who is cleaning and repainting parts of the glass, said the diorama is important to the museum, because it shows the landscape prior to For Pitt’s construction.

The museum is expected to reopen on Jan. 30. Visitors will also be able to venture to the second floor of the museum, where a temporary exhibit tells the story of American Indians and the captivity trade. The feature will remain open until May 22, 2016.

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