Arts / Museums

The Secret Life of Andy Warhol: Once-Mysterious Pittsburgh Days of Art Icon Come Into Focus

BY // 08.06.16

Warhol's graveside August 6, 2016Dateline Pittsburgh: Happy Birthday, Andy Warhol! The Pop King, born on August 6, 1928, would be 88 years old today. Here’s a look at the elaborate graveside party at the Warhola Family plot in his hometown, filmed by earth cam as part of a joint project with the Warhol Museum and the St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church.

In honor of Warhol’s birthday month, here are some people and places that shaped the future artist, as well as some (surprising) personal connections shared by this writer.

In possibly the best Warhol book of all time — succinctly titled Warhol (Abdradale Press/Abrams, 1989) — its author, David Bourdon writes:

“Andy Warhol spent much of his life deliberately obscuring and mystifying his origins in Pittsburgh, yet it was his early years in the city, from 1928 to 1949 and encompassing much of the Depression and World War II, that helped to shape his values and influence his later art.”

To learn about his roots as the third son of immigrant parents of Carpatho-Rusyn heritage and more about one of the most remarkable American bios of the 20th century —a life literally diamond-dusted in celebrity and media —  Bourdon’s volume is a must.

My brush with Warhol: One of his first jobs was the same as mine — we both worked in the Joseph Horne Department Store in downtown Pittsburgh. Warhol dressed windows and suited up mannequins (and assiduously studied fashion magazines), a part-time gig that paid 50 cents an hour, in between his junior and senior years at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), from where he would graduate in 1949. My turn at that same downtown Horne’s was the summer after my freshman year in college, when I sold ladies (mostly polyester) clothes on the main floor of the grand old store, a prized job for a college kid.

My sister had an even better connection: She and Warhol, decades apart, shared the same art teacher. The legendary Joseph Fitzpatrick taught free classes every Saturday morning at the Carnegie Institute to worthy public school students from the Pittsburgh area. The “Tam O’Shanter” classes — each school selected two students to enroll, from about age 8 into the early teens — spanned decades. Warhol had Mr. Fitzpatrick during the 1940s, my sister Ellen Anspon, who later became an architect, went to the Carnegie every Saturday in the early ’70s during the school year to learn drawing in the atmosphere of the venerable Carnegie museum. Other Fitzpatrick students included contemporary artists Mel Bochner, Jonathan Borofsky, and Philip Pearlstein, the latter a fellow Carnegie Tech classmate, with whom Warhol moved to NYC in 1949 to share a walkup in St. Mark’s Place.

Besides images of Horne’s, the Carnegie, and Mr. Fitzpatrick, we assembled one of Warhol’s first paintings for your viewing pleasure, as well as a photo of his family’s scrap-metal business, which is still flourishing.

If you are anywhere near Pittsburgh, a pilgrimage to the Warhol Museum — a part of the Carnegie that began the artist’s entrée into the art world — is a must.

Here is a camera stream as we close our birthday thoughts of Warhol.

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