Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Donora paintings hold deep messages
In the top corner of Todd Pinkham's colorful new mural about the Pennsylvania borough known as Donora, an entrepreneur named Frank Donner is depicted among blazes of sun.
Nearby is a likeness of Nora Mellon, the wife of Andrew W. Mellon, a Pittsburgh industrialist and banker who invested heavily with Donner in a giant steel mill in the town in 1901.
But the main focus of the painting is a rendition of an old photo of Beanie Huhra, an eccentric Donora resident who appeared in parades on a surrey pulled by a donkey. He used the getup to promote the Society for Better Living, which had formed in nearby Webster to protest pollution from Donora's zinc mill that was blamed for 20 local deaths during a smog in 1948.
The only difference in the mural between then and now is that Huhra is surrounded by flowers instead of dead soil thanks to the society's complaints that were partly responsible for the first federal clear air regulations in the 1960s.
"I tried to give them a work that reflects today," said Pinkham, 39, a painting professor at California University of Pennsylvania.
He included Donner and Mellon in his scene because their names were joined to create the borough's name. The large painting is among two that Pinkham created for a new museum that is being developed in Donora for the 60th anniversary of the smog in October.
And, other works of art in a Donora theme will be presented to the town, free of charge, by Cal U. students after their classes resume in the fall, Pinkham said.
He is using Donora and its troubled economy to inspire his students to reach out and do something good for the world around them.
The theme of "social justice" is gaining popularity among artists in the United States, he said.
"Basically, Donora is a community that would benefit from getting a little bit of notice," Pinkham said.
In addition to the smog, Donora became famous in the early 1960s for being home to the first major steel mill in the nation to close permanently. And the borough is poised for some new attention about dirty air because "times are changing" as the green cause keeps gaining momentum, Pinkham said.
He strives to include images in his works that inspire people to use mental associations about things that are otherwise concealed in society.
“Looking at my paintings becomes a sensory adventure of discovery that started when I began to paint it and continues with the act of viewing it,” Pinkham stated on his Web site.
His Donora projects work to pull the story of the town together, said DeAnn Pavelko, a member of a committee organizing events for the smog commemoration.
"I think when you look at them, you see Donora, the episode, the whole story," Pavelko said.
The committee plans to hold a parade and football game between Donora and Monongahela. No one was able to see those events in October 1948 because of the heavy smog, yet they went on as scheduled.
(Portions reprinted from the Observer-Reporter)