Vanessa German, ARThouse
About the Artist/Site
This brightly painted blue house covered with mosaics of tile and mirror stands out in this partly razed area of Pittsburgh known as Homewood. This is a house of miracles, for the mirrors on this house do not reflect the negative happenings on the streets of this neighborhood. These mirrors, instead, reflect the light and joy and the hope of the people who have created it.
Vanessa German, both amazing artist and word wizard, is the inspiring light of “Love Front Porch.” Children and people come to the ARThouse to make art and create joy and hope for the future, guided by German. Strong mosaic hands, all-seeing eyes that also ward off evil, broken and unbroken hearts, and beautiful faces of women of color, along with positive written affirmations, bear powerful witness of the possible.
Brightly colored painted squares or stripes reminiscent of Gee’s Bend’s quilts girdle the foundation walls and reflect and embody both African and African American heritage and culture.
Art is contagious and has spread across the street to a day care center.
German, the third of five children, was born in Wisconsin but grew up in Los Angeles in a dangerous mid-city neighborhood but in a household full of art and creativity. Her mother, a fiber artist, encouraged her children’s inventiveness and vision in storytelling and the performing and visual arts: “We grew up with the ingredients to make ‘stuff,’” German commented, “and, most importantly, fully realized faith in our imaginations.” She moved to a town outside of Cincinnati as a teenager and then followed her parents to Pittsburgh in 2000. Across the years, she gained fame through both her sculptures – many of which she describes as “power figures” – and her spoken word theatrical performances. She was named Emerging Artist of the Year by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in 2012. Writer Graham Shearing commented, “She is a witness to what she finds and declares it loudly and passionately, and, for a shy woman, also fearlessly. She intuitively transforms her findings, her evidences, into her work.” She has given several TED talks, was a member of the inaugural class of fellows at the August Wilson Center of African American Culture, and is the subject of Gregory Scott Williams Jr.’s 2012 documentary Tar Baby Jane.
German had been living in Pittsburgh’s poor neighborhood of Homewood for several years before she began making art on her front porch, as her basement was too crowded with sculpture she had already created. Soon, curious kids started stopping by to see what she was doing, and, particularly prompted by the trauma of a fatal shooting in the neighborhood, she set out art supplies for them to work with, creating an informal after-school program that she called “Love Front Porch” and that she hoped would help them deal with the violence around them. After moving twice to larger and larger sites, the current ARThouse – purchased through donations and through sales of her sculptures, and completely transformed by her work and those of her neighbors – now serves both children and adults through various art programs. Mosaic lettering on the front stair risers reads: “Being at the ARThouse / Where You Realize / You Had Wings / The Whole Time.”
~Jo Farb Hernández
Map & Site Information
7701 Hamilton Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15208 us
Latitude/Longitude: 40.45285 / -79.888698
7701 Hamilton Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15208, United States
Tygart, West Virginia