A new public artwork in Larimer draws directly on the stories of longtime residents of the Pittsburgh neighborhood.
Larimer Stories follows a two-year collaboration between local artists and the community’s senior citizens. The work is a large aluminum frame, like a billboard, with racks for movable metal letters that spell out short statements from the participants about life in Larimer over the past century.
The temporary work, which was installed in May and formally opens Friday, stands on a grassy lot on East Liberty Boulevard at the corner of Larimer Avenue. The messages will change every few weeks. The first one includes a small, wooden word-balloon-shaped sign bearing the question “How long have you lived in Larimer?” The reply, on the larger sign, reads, “All my life. I was born here on Mayflower Street in 1919.”
That statement is attributed collectively to the “Larimer Senior Group 500+ Years Living in Larimer” (a group that Pena said included 98-year-old Anthony Mainiero). It and many other recollections were gathered as a result of a partnership between Peña and the Larimer Consensus Group, a community organization. Peña interviewed local seniors, who also selected the quotes that would be used.
The project is the latest from the Temporary Public Art and Placemaking Program, a pilot initiative by Neighborhood Allies and the city’s Office of Public Art. Larimer is one of six neighborhoods in the program.
The idea behind Larimer Stories is to make Larimer a little more real to passersby, mostly motorists.
“What it's trying to achieve is just letting these things that have been here for 70 years, 80 years, 90 years, people living their lives, to emerge temporarily,” said Peña. “And people will say, ‘Oh wow. I didn't know that,’ or ‘I didn't know this person lived here,’ or ‘I didn't know that particular history.’ And more importantly, not just history in the sense of, ‘Oh, here’s a famous person who came from this neighborhood,’ but rather, ‘Here are people who are alive today who’ve lived here their whole lives.”
Peña said other recollections he gathered from seniors including how Negley Run Boulevard used to be called “Chianti Street” because residents grew grapes there. Others recalled resident Betty Lane’s “healing garden” and how bricks where made from clay sourced in the area.
Peña said Larimer Stories will remain up until April.
Larimer is a predominantly African-American community bordering on East Liberty. In recent years, it’s been the site of community-driven redevelopment efforts including affordable housing and green infrastructure. Larimer Stories stands on the front lawn of the EECO Center, an environmentally friendly office building that’s home to the Larimer Consensus Group.