As a photographer, Don Patterson has always understood the power of images. Even so, when he encountered a figure of Whitney Houston during a visit to a wax museum last year, he was blown away.
"I thought she was going to reach out and touch me," he says with a laugh. "It humanized it. It made me think about her life." This experience spawned an idea related to another of Patterson's passions: Pittsburgh's rich, but somewhat overlooked, role in the history of jazz, blues and R&B. How better to get people interested than with our very own wax museum?
Patterson — founder of the nonprofit Pittsburgh Next Generation Music Legends, whose goal is to "record the great legacy of Pittsburgh African-American Music" — is currently in the process of putting together what he's calling the Pittsburgh Jazz Giants Music Scene Traveling Wax Exhibition. The goal: to feature 10 to 12 wax figures of musicians who were born or lived in Pittsburgh, including George Benson, Mary Lou Williams, Lena Horne and Stanley Turrentine. At least some would be made by a company called LifeFormations, which has constructed wax figures for the Walt Disney Company and Baltimore's Great Blacks in Wax Museum. There are also plans to include touch-screen kiosks, photographs and memorabilia, and the exhibit would be displayed at various educational institutions.
Patterson, who helped bring the Stax Museum of American Soul Music's "It Remains to Be Seen" exhibit to Pittsburgh in 2006, aims to have the exhibit ready by next June, assuming funding comes together.
Currently, Patterson is trying to raise money with an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which features incentives ranging from a "Thank You" wrist band for a $10 donation, to a plaque and status as a "Wax Figure Friend" for a contribution of $2,500. While Patterson certainly wouldn't turn down funding from arts foundations, "I'm going directly to people who love music, who have a passion for Pittsburgh and a passion for history," he says. "Kansas City has a jazz museum, Detroit has Motown, Memphis has Elvis, Stax ... all these cities are celebrating their music legends and attracting tourism. But not here."