Unexpected Art in the Mon Valley

Rick finds art in an unexpected place at the Melega Art Museum.

On hot summer days when I need a quick getaway, I sometimes hop in the car and drive south on Route 88 into the Mon Valley. As you go upriver, there are towns to discover—from New Eagle to Elco to California. There are antique stores in Charleroi, all sorts of treats in Speers and Lenzi’s Italian restaurant in Monongahela—among other places. And on Market Street in Brownsville, there’s a small art museum in the unusual Historic Flatiron Building.

Like the Warhol, it’s a museum that celebrates the work of one artist. I first saw this unusual collection of paintings, sketches, sculptures and vintage commercial art in 2010 when we did a story there for my TV documentary, Right Beside the River. When I was looking for historic photos, Norma Ryan, former mayor and steadfast promoter of all things connected with Brownsville, insisted that I visit the tiny Melega Art Museum located above the town’s history museum. I was surprised at how much I liked Melega’s work. The museum has since moved downstairs into a storefront where more examples of Melega’s art can be displayed with all its thoughtful energy.

Frank L. Melega was born in Indiana but came to this corner of Pennsylvania when he was 14 years old after his dad received work as a coal miner. Growing up, Melega’s artistic talents were recognized by his teachers, and as a young man, he distinguished himself in several different disciplines—from sign painting and eye-catching advertising work to serious painting and sculpting. His work has been honored many times—often with Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and, most importantly, at the 1952 Carnegie International. He may be best known for his paintings and sketches of the lives and locales of coal miners at work and at home. 

I learned a lot about Melega and his history from Patrick Daugherty, an artist and teacher who I met at the museum one day. Daugherty, Ryan and Melega’s son, Frank, founded the museum as a tribute to Melega, who died in 1997 at age 92. Daugherty helped design and install the clever recreation of Melega’s studio that sits in a front corner of the museum.

The paneled walls are similar to the ones in the original studio, and the rest of the artifacts are relics from there, including Melega’s sign painter’s tackle box. Daugherty says, “Frank always claimed that, with that set of tools, he could get a job anywhere in the world as a sign painter.”

Daugherty also pointed out that Melega’s most famous for his painting of a woman washing her miner husband while he’s bent over a galvanized tub, which was created in 1941; it’s titled “Another Day” and has a Norman Rockwell-ian, all-American glow about it. Many of the other paintings are not so optimistic, and since Melega worked in a variety of styles, you can see influences from Impressionism to Cubism—and even Surrealism. Or, like me, you can fall in love with his Town Talk bread ads and other slick illustrations for products like Brownsville Beer, which isn’t there anymore. Art is all around us. 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch This ‘Pittsburgh Dad’ to Finally See Deb and the Kids

Watch This ‘Pittsburgh Dad’ to Finally See Deb and the Kids

“Street Light Stories,” the newest short film for the popular web series, finally shows us the characters who are on the receiving end of “Dad's” comments and criticisms, but who were never seen before now.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Superior Motors

First Look: Superior Motors

Kevin Sousa's Braddock restaurant finally is open. So how is it?

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


A Band Called Creeper Made Me Love the Warped Tour Again

A Band Called Creeper Made Me Love the Warped Tour Again

Returning to the Vans Warped Tour proves that the long-running festival can still surprise — and, against all odds, it's even a great time for grown-up punks.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Stan's in Town Making the Rounds as Pens Celebrate

Stan's in Town Making the Rounds as Pens Celebrate

The Penguins’ successful Cup defense this season also has ensured trips to Canada, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Germany and Russia, as well as various stops in and around Western Pennsylvania.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Ease Your Way Into Style With These Slides

Ease Your Way Into Style With These Slides

Slide through summer with these trendy velvet slip-on shoes from Vintage Grace Boutique.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Valerian and Dunkirk are (Very Different) Winners

Valerian and Dunkirk are (Very Different) Winners

Reviews of "Dunkirk" and "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Here Comes the Bride and Groom — to a Different Tune

Here Comes the Bride and Groom — to a Different Tune

Three Pittsburgh-area couples make strong arguments for choosing non-traditional songs for the walk down the aisle.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Noted Garden Writer Tovah Martin Headlining Summer Short Course at Phipps

Noted Garden Writer Tovah Martin Headlining Summer Short Course at Phipps

The author of "The Indestructible Houseplant" will lecture on creating a garden for all five senses and other green subjects.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module