Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Alumni Association Meeting in Pittsburgh

This weekend, I had my first experience with F&M's alumni association and, for that matter, alumni associations in general. I was invited to speak to the meeting of the Western Pennsylvania chapter taking place at the spectacular spaces of the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. The alumni association invited me as a medievalist because of the current Gargoyle exhibition at the Phipps. My talk was entitled "Medieval Art & Architecture: Why Bother?" and I tried to squeeze in both my archaeological research in the Mediterranean and my historiographic research in 19th-20th c. America. Here are some impressions from the event.

1. Charles Klauder's Cathedral of Learning (1926) looks great as ever. As F&M's master plan architect, I saw this modern Gothic masterpiece in different eyes. I also got lost a bit and happened upon 5th Avenue. It's one of the most stunning avenue of American architecture. I believe that Pittsburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. and certainly one of the most under-appreciated.

2. I was thrilled that some of the new alumni members had also been my students, and favorite students at that. Alumni associations, after all, provide the postpartum connection with graduating seniors. It was great to meet Will Austin (and his charming grandmother), to hear about Glenn Halperin and to meet Elizabeth Bursick (an anthropology major that I hadn't met). Congratulations to all the 2010 graduates.

3. I also met two alumni that directly connect to my research and I was thrilled about this. If I hadn't made the trip, this serendipitous connection would have never happened. Tracy Meyers is the curator of the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum, one of the most important architectural museums in the country, Tracy also teaches at Carnegie Mellon. She has curated an excellent exhibition at the Heinz, Imagining Home, and she has also worked in one of the most important pieces of scholarship in contemporary domestic architecture, Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes (which I saw at Yale last spring). Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to explore, but I look forward to my next trip to Pittsburgh; Tracy has promised her special tour.

4. My Greek-American research interests were happy, too. I met Jordan Nicholas and his mother, who introduced me to their family tradition. Nicholas Coffee Company was established at Pittsburgh in 1919 and survives to this day. This must be one of the oldest coffee roasters in the U.S. The company has survived the Great Depression, the coffee rationing of WWII, the mass produced coffees of the 60s (Maxwell House, etc.), and the gourmet conglomerates like Starbucks (one of which has opened across the street from Nicholas).

5. I met my first F&M Trustee, Robert J. Brooks and his wife. Brooks is currently the mayor of Murrysville, Pa. and best known at F&M for the Brooks College House. Brooks and his wife were both wonderful and have told me all the child-friendly spots for my next trip to Pittsburgh.

6. Finally, it was great to interact with staff from F&M's alumni relations and development office, Aimee Achorn and Dan Rogalski. It's fun to meet people from your back yard in a different setting.

7. The Phipps Conservatory is a glass house, commissioned by Pittsburgh steel baron Henry Phipps in 1893. I was eager to visit this historical landmark because it connects to my new research on conservatories, especially the Islamic-inspired Horticultural Hall at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia. My bibliographic starting point for the Phipps' was Peggie Phipps Boegner and Richard Gachot, Halcyon Days (1986).


Nicholas said...

Greetings Kostis,

Remember me from our flight together to Athens? Glad to hear you were in this area. I am up at IUP (about 50 miles from downtown Pittsburgh). The prior weekend my family was at the Greek Festival at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh. I think you would find it an interesting piece of architecture--it is glass and steel, obviously because of the US Steel and PPG presence. You would enjoy meeting Father Touloumes.

Nick Karatjas


Hi Nick
Great to hear from you. Are you going to Cyprus again this year? Someone mentioned the Greek Orthodox Church at Pittsburgh as an interesting piece of architecture. I must make it a pilgrimage next time.

tim said...

I hope that, as you made your up 5th Ave, you were diverte a block north on Amberson to Shadyside Presbyterian Church. The Byzantine roots of Romanesque are clear enough on the exterior, but you need to see the worship space & especially the Scheffler mosaic: www.shadysidelanten.com

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States