The Andy Warhol Museum, which opened in 1994, is located in a distinctive building that once served as a warehouse for oil well, mill and mine supplies.
That’s such a fitting coincidence because Andy Warhol, Pittsburgh’s best-known artist, was as indefatigable in creating art as the hard-working immigrants employed in so many Western Pennsylvania mines and mills.
His Manhattan studio, located on 47th Street, was even called The Factory and he used assembly-line techniques there to make silkscreens and lithographs. As it was decorated in silver paint and aluminum foil wallpaper, some people nicknamed it The Silver Factory.
The building that now exhibits many of Warhol’s works was built in 1911 and had 16 pillars on each floor. Transforming the space into a museum was a $12 million project, overseen by former curator Mark Francis.
The seven-story, steel-framed structure, located at 117 Sandusky St. on the city’s North Side, once housed Frick & Lindsay, a company organized by William E. Frick. He had grown up in Philadelphia and, by 1883, was a traveling salesman for John A. Roebling’s Sons Co. that made wire cable.
In 1891, Mr. Frick — no relation to Henry Clay Frick — arrived in Pittsburgh, where he organized Frick & Lindsay Company, a distributor of oil well, mill and mine supplies. Despite the company’s gritty products, its headquarters was sheathed in classical, creamy terra cotta with plenty of decorative flourishes such as egg and dart moulding, foliated scrolls and lions’ heads.
That classical, Beaux Arts exterior has survived to the present day. It’s quite possible that the building’s designer was William Wilkins, architect for the historic Maul Building, still standing in the 1700 block of the city’s South Side.
From 1965 through 1990, the building housed Volkwein Bros. Inc, a company founded by Jacob C. Volkwein in 1905 on Liberty Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh. The company, which sells printed music and rents and sells instruments, moved to RIDC Park West in Findlay.
This summer, the first floor of The Andy Warhol Museum underwent a major renovation. Large, silver framed, factory style windows were installed, allowing light to flood into the space.
There’s new lighting and acoustical sound panels on the ceilings will absorb noise. Restoration Hardware furniture has arrived and an expanded gift shop will open this month. Now the space resembles a cross between a New York loft and a minimalist hotel.
When visitors arrive, they will see two large photographs of Andy Warhol. One shows him at work in The Factory; in the other, he reclines for a much-needed rest.
(Top photo: Entrance to the Andy Warhol Museum as it looked in 1994. Photo by Bill Wade/Post-Gazette)