Art and Nature Collide at the Completed Sculpture Garden at Hartwood Acres

Visitors can view the minimalist style amid beautiful woodlands in the North Hills park.
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The Hartwood Acres Sculpture Garden has been refurbished and reimagined to offer visitors the largest public display of steel sculptures in the region set amid lush, rolling hills. 

The garden began in the mid-1980s with 11 sculptures. Carol Brown, former head of the Allegheny County Bureau of Cultural Programs, was very involved with the arts. Her artist friends contributed sculptures and she placed them around the park. However, there were not any signs or information about the pieces. 

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“The way this project came about was there were these randomly placed sculptures — nobody knew why they were there, the public didn’t, there was no information about them and they were not cared for,” says Caren Glotfelty, executive director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation. “Half the people I talked to said, ‘Let’s just get rid of them, let’s send them to the junkyard.’ And the other half who appreciate art more and understood a little bit of the history of it said, ‘We’ve got to find the money to restore them to their original condition.’”

First, the Concept Art Gallery in Regent Square appraised the collection and valued it at $2.5 million. This pushed the project into motion.  

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Initially, the goal was just to conserve the pieces; however, the project began to flourish. “It started with ‘let’s conserve them,’ Glotfelty says. “But as we got more into the idea, we thought, ‘Let’s bring them a little closer together, let’s connect the paths, let’s put signage in, let’s let people know who these artists were, let’s give them a history of why they’re here.’”

The nonprofit parks foundation, in collaboration with the Allegheny County Parks Department and other partners, have been restoring, moving and conserving the sculptures. In addition, they have added three pieces to the garden for a total of 14.  

“We wanted to preserve the integrity [of the pieces],” Nicole Oeler, landscape architect and project manager, says. “Most of the artists are gone at this point, so we can’t just pick up the phone and say, ‘Oh, how do you like this?’”

Conservators have conducted research to try to uphold this integrity to ensure that the sculptures are as similar to their original conditions as possible. 

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Now, the sculptures are placed together in the garden connected with a paved path. Each piece has a sign that identifies the artist and title, along with a QR code to learn more about the sculpture. For example, visitors can discover Joseph Goto’s “Tower Iron, Sculpture No. 5” is from 1967-68, is weathering steel and the artist was a teacher at Carnegie Mellon University. 

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The garden doesn’t just feature older pieces. Dee Briggs’ “Margie and Pete” was commissioned specifically for the garden in 2021. Briggs is a nationally known artist based in Wilkinsburg, and this piece is her first permanent public outdoor installation in Pittsburgh. 

In addition, the garden project focused on allowing everyone to enjoy the garden.

“A big component was making accessible paths for wheelchairs and people with mobility issues so we wanted to make sure everybody can enjoy it,” Oeler says.

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Each sculpture has its own maintenance plan on how to best conserve them. Additionally, this project focuses on sustainability; it installed five rain gardens and green parking lots. 

The rain gardens help collect and control the flow of rainwater absorption to help mitigate overflow and ensure water properly goes back into the earth. Green parking lots are not paved to again aid in water infiltration. 

There is no specific plan to add more pieces to the garden; however, the design provides spaces where additional sculptures could be placed. 

“The idea is for the future, we’d love to bring in the occasional new permanent piece,” Glotfelty says. “We’d love to have temporary exhibitions here to keep it different and to keep it activated in a variety of ways that will bring people back again.”

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