Arts | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Friday, December 8, 2017

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 9:32 AM

Attack Theatre’s latest show was inspired by the writings of Jimmy Cvetic. But this wasn’t exactly the Cvetic those familiar with his work might think of.

click to enlarge Attack Theatre's "In Defense of Gravity" - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN ALTDORFER
Photo courtesy of John Altdorfer
Attack Theatre's "In Defense of Gravity"
Cvetic is one of a kind: a Vietnam veteran, retired undercover narcotics cop, boxing coach and poet, and his poetry reflects his resume. It’s full of cops, crooks, drug dealers and prostitutes and nutjobs. From the plainspoken Bukowski school, it’s highly narrative, gritty (to say the least), sometimes graphic and often profane, if always also humane and leavened by a good deal of humor.

In Defense of Gravity, whose premiere run had four showings this past weekend at the George R. White Studio, in the Strip District, lacked many of those qualities. Instead, it took a handful of lines from Cvetic’s poetry and used them to construct its own story about loss and hope.

Attack co-founder and co-artistic director Peter Kope embodied the central figure, while the company’s six other dancers served, either collectively or individually, as foils for or representations of his state of mind. Throughout, the performers moved mostly to the sounds of a stellar live band playing mostly original compositions; the group included percussionist Jeff Berman; keyboardist Ben Brosche; Ben Opie on clarinet and saxophone; and vocalist Anqwenique.

The work's opening passage depicted the protagonist’s loneliness and and sorrow — a function, we’re shown, of the loss of a young child. A second, playful section found the ensemble engaging in Attack’s familiar, and occasionally gravity-defying, athletic derring-do. The concluding sequence of the hour-long work depicted healing and resolve.

The lost child was represented by a pink baby blanket and a series of toys extracted from a wooden chest; a scene when the performers array these items at center stage traveled to the edge of sentimentality and perhaps past it. (A certain sentimentality, it should be said, is not unknown in Cvetic’s writing, no matter how earthy it typically is.) But the overall shape of the work and the skill of the performers ultimately carried the evening.

The concept and vibrant choreography are credited to Kope and fellow co-founder and artistic director Michele de la Reza (who also performed), while the remaining five performers were credited with “movement invention.” Kaitlin Dann, Dane Toney, Ashley Williams and Sarah Zielinski contributed solid solos, while company newcomer Simon Phillips made a noteworthy debut, moving with power and grace and radiating charisma.

In Defense of Gravity (the title, in acronym, references Cvetic’s cop nickname, “Dog”) distills a few aspects of Cvetic’s work. There’s his mordant humor — “It’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the sudden stop, followed by the bounce,” goes one line quoted in the show’s recorded voiceovers (spoken by Cvetic himself and actor Patrick Jordan). But mostly there’s hope, and the determination to go on in the face of heartbreak. As the concluding lines say, “As for the broken pieces you have gathered, keep them, they belong to you.”

At Saturday night’s show, Cvetic himself briefly addressed the audience post-performance. He was clad in his usual backward ballcap, novelty T-shirt and Converse. He probably wasn’t most people’s picture of a poet, but as In Defense of Gravity demonstrated, success doesn’t have to be about meeting audience expectations.

Here’s Steve Sucato’s preview of the show for CP.

And there’s more on Cvetic and his writings here, here and here. You can also find dozens of his poems elsewhere on City Paper’s web site.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 1:52 PM

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Some cities drop pickles, roses and bologna at midnight. But on Highmark First Night, the ball rises as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve.

Now in its 24th year, Highmark First Night, sponsored by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, returns on Dec. 31 with more than 100 events throughout Downtown's 14-block Cultural District. (While some First Night performances and attractions take place outdoors, most are indoors.)

This year’s theme, as announced this morning at a press conference Downtown, is “Love, Peace, Pittsburgh.”

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. with children’s fireworks sponsored by Dollar Bank on the Highmark Stage. Afterward, steelpan band Barrels to Beethoven kicks off the night's musical performances with its energetic tropical sound.

Other attractions include the Allegheny Health Network Parade, with Grand Marshal Randy Gilson, artist and creator of the North Side's Randyland, at 8 p.m.; performances by Arcade Comedy Theater’s Penny Arcade, at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Player One, at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. at its new location at 811 Liberty Ave.; and Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers at the Benedum Center, at 7 p.m.

Outdoor warming and cell-phone charging stations return this year, and are located at the August Wilson Center and Katz Plaza.

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Lee Fields & The Expressions headline the night, performing soul and funk anthems from 10:45 p.m. to 12:10 a.m. at the Highmark stage, at Liberty and Stanwix. During the performance, Lee and company will ring in the New Year with the raising of the Future of Pittsburgh Ball and Zambelli fireworks.

Admission buttons for First Night are $10, and are free for children 5 and under. They are available online at, in person at the box office at Theater Square on 655 Penn Ave.; or by phone at 412-456-6666. They are also available at a $1 discount with an Advantage Card at participating Giant Eagle stores.

For $40, attendees can purchase First Night Friend VIP buttons that grant access to priority seating, parking and a private lounge in the O’Reilly Theater, where they can relax with hot beverages and sweet treats.

For more information and a complete list of events, visit

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 11:41 AM

The Pittsburgh-premiere production of the iconic playwright’s most recent work is a splendid staging. It couldn't have been easy to handle Stoppard’s combination of personal journey, social critique and intellectual inquiry into the nature of mind, but Quantum makes it look that way.

click to enlarge Andrew William Smith and Alex Spieth in "The Hard Problem" - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN ALTDORFER
Photo courtesy of John Altdorfer
Andrew William Smith and Alex Spieth in "The Hard Problem"
The play concerns a grad student’s new job at a neurological research institute where the big philosophical divides include the one between those who think of the human mind as an opportunistic machine designed by evolution to maximize the propagation of its own genes, and those who think more agency is involved – free will, perhaps, or even, in young Hilary’s case, spirit.

There’s much more to the story, but fans of The Real Thing and Arcadia know that Stoppard writes dialogue like no one else. And while it seemed pretty clear to me what his answer to “the hard problem” is, he gives all sides a chance to make their case with a wit that’s hard to match.

Meanwhile, director Rachel M. Stevens, her design team and cast create a visual spectacle to remember, turning a big, under-renovation room at the Energy Innovation Center into a kind of walk-through memory chamber, and the stage in particular into a multi-level, multimedia feast for the eyes.

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for City Paper.

The remaining performances of The Hard Problem are tonight, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. (Friday’s show is sold out.)

Tickets are $42-48 and are available here. The Saturday and Sunday shows included a gourmet boxed-dinner option for an $18 surcharge.

The Energy Innovation Center is located at 1435 Bedford Ave., in the Hill District.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Posted By on Tue, Sep 5, 2017 at 5:13 PM

Image courtesy of D.J. Coffman
Remember the good old days when Americans unequivocally hated Nazis? Well, a new independent comic is hoping to rekindle those feelings. “Captain Freedom: Combat Hate” is the tale of Captain Freedom, a superhero who fights Nazi villains and Axis powers, and a recent effort is trying to bring his stories of taking down racist villains.

Captain Freedom will be written by California-based Dan Taylor and drawn by Westmoreland County resident and occasional Pittsburgh City Paper cover artist, D.J. Coffman. Captain Freedom isn’t an original character. His first appearance was in Speed Comics No. 13 in 1941 and is credited as being created by “Franklin Flagg.” The character is in public domain, and Coffman says now is the perfect opportunity to revive Captain Freedom, given the public emergence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., and other places.

“The comic-book fans, they need a hero to step up and fight this stuff,” says Coffman.

So, Taylor, Coffman and several other comic-book-industry veterans are throwing their support behind the creation of a pilot issue of the new Captain Freedom. To get the project off the ground, they need some cash, so they started a Kickstarter campaign to raise at least $2,500. The comic will be part of the independent comic-book label Keep Left, which was created by Coffman and Taylor. Coffman says the more money they raise, the more pages the comic book will have.

Taylor says as some groups attempt to make racism and other hate-filled ideologies more normal, there needs to be an even stronger push to condemn it.

“In today’s tumultuous climate fueled by racism and supremacists, our country, our world, needs heroes to step up and denounce hate when our political leaders will not,” says Taylor in a press release. “While I do not condone violence, I feel that a war against hatred needs to be fought by those who stand against bigotry and racism. And the weapon we’ve chosen is resurrecting a comic-book superhero that fought the good fight in the Golden Age — a defender of democracy and foe of tyranny.”

Coffman says the comic will be all-ages friendly, and that heroes and villains will be easy to distinguish (guy with American flag-like costume is good, and the people with swastikas are bad). Coffman says he was motivated to join this project because he was frustrated with seeing people he knows feel like they have to be silent on issues regarding race and hate.

“I want to punch back at it the best way I know how ... and that's drawing some friggin' comics” says Coffman in a press release. “My heroes are guys like Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who taught me through their works that the pen and pencils are always mightier than swords."

Coffman also says that Captain Freedom’s sidekicks, the Young Defenders, will be updated to represent a more diverse America and will include minority characters. He says that Captain Freedom is about spreading the American values of liberty to anyone who wants follow them. “Captain Freedom’s one main star can represent many things, not just the U.S.,” says Coffman. “The star can also be seen as the one star guiding African-American slaves to freedom.”

Kickstarter donations come with prizes like signed copies and other memorabilia. The last day to donate is Fri., Oct. 6.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 11:14 AM

click to enlarge Strawberry Way before (left) and after (right) - PHOTO COURTESY OF ENVISION DOWNTOWN
Photo courtesy of Envision Downtown
Strawberry Way before (left) and after (right)
The alley known as Strawberry Way that slices through the northern section of Downtown, from Liberty to Grant streets, has always been a shortcut for some Pittsburgh pedestrians, but not always a desirable one. Trash was usually strewn across its asphalt and the blank, high walls of skyscrapers hurried walkers through as fast as their feet could carry them.

Then this summer, thanks to the work of public-private partnership Envision Downtown and others, the alley was transformed. Colorful designs were painted on the blacktop by local artist Deanna Mance, roadblocks were put up to stop cars from driving through, and picnic tables and planter boxes were placed on the street to encourage people to enjoy their new Downtown oasis.

Last week, the national transit and urban planning news site Streetsblog USA awarded Strawberry Way its Best Street Transformation, People’s Choice. The Pittsburgh alley beat out five other projects in cities including San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta.

“Strawberry Way is the latest example of partnerships at work to promote a people-first Downtown Pittsburgh,” wrote Sean Luther of Envision Downtown in an email to City Paper. “In this case, Envision Downtown relied heavily on a coalition of the PDP, the City’s Department of Public Works, the Office of Public Art, the Colcom Foundation and PPG Paints to drive this transformative project forward.”

The Strawberry Way transformation won the honor by receiving the most votes on the Streetsblog USA website.

In addition to being more aesthetically pleasing than before, Luther says the the project has resulted in a 43 percent increase in pedestrian traffic through the alley, according to a study completed by Envision Downtown. Also, there has been an outstanding 462 percent increase in people spending time in Strawberry Way.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is proud of Strawberry Way’s transformation too. “Strawberry Way is a great example of our community-driven vision for making Pittsburgh a sustainable and efficient 21st Century city for all,” wrote Peduto in an email to CP.

Check out the CP video below to see the transformation in progress.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 10:17 AM

Artist Nathan Mazur with his Bus Issue cover illustration
Artist Nathan Mazur with his Bus Issue cover illustration

It's hard to look through Nathan Mazur’s portfolio without smiling. This local artist’s website is full of lovable creatures he’s designed for CD covers, T-shirts and posters. He’s also skilled at giving life to inanimate objects, putting happy faces on objects like flowers and foods — you can check out a cartoon waffle dancing in an animated music video he collaborated on with Santa Barbara musician Parry Gripp here.

This is Nathan’s second City Paper cover. The first was an illustration of tots lugging oversized instruments for a story on young musicians being kept from playing bars. This week, it’s a cartoon of a Pittsburgh Port Authority bus, complete with Nathan’s signature cartoon bee on the front, for our Bus Issue. We checked in with Nathan over email after he competed this week’s illustration.

What neighborhood do you current live in?
I hail from the east suburbs to ensure that Pittsburgh’s garbage traffic keeps me at least an hour from anything I need or want to do.

Are you freelancing full time, or do you have a separate day job as well?
I am far too anxious of a person for the feast and famine that accompanies full-time freelance, so I push pixels around at a think tank throughout the day.

What’s your favorite thing about being an artist in Pittsburgh?
There are lots of places in Pittsburgh to get your stuff displayed or peddle your wares, and the arts community in general is fairly accessible, helpful and friendly.

What’s your work space look like?
My work space is a messy, finished room in the basement with a couple desks: one for the computer and the other for painting. I share the room with a pair of Australian lizards and a 12-year-old Mexican Red-Knee tarantula. The python was moved to the laundry room because of his size. There’s some taxidermy specimens and various musical instruments in there as well. I’ve been working at the dining room table a lot lately, though.

Your online bio claims that you’re a “cereal enthusiast.” That warrants an explanation!
I’ve tried just about every commercially available cereal at some point. The sugary stuff is my vice. My favorites are Reese’s Puffs and Basic 4.

Tony the Tiger, Count Chocula ... There are so many great cartoon characters on cereal boxes. As a “cereal enthusiast,” what’s the best one?
I’m really liking the newly redesigned Lucky from Lucky Charms, though those weird, little cannibal squares they often use for Cinnamon Toast Crunch are endearing.

You’ve done work for books, record albums and television. What was your favorite assignment ever?
I don’t have a favorite assignment, really. I love the stuff I do for Parry Gripp because it’s always super fun. I also really like seeing my art get made into a tangible good, like a book, sticker, T-shirt or stuffed animal.

What’s the worst possible thing you can think of that someone could ask you to draw?
I dislike drawing classrooms with a lot of people in them or crowded bus interiors. It only reveals how shoddy my perspective skills are!

Your portfolio is full of adorable creatures and feels so happy. Have you intentionally avoided drawing anything too dark?
I haven’t purposely avoided anything dark, it’s just never really been asked of me. A lot of the garish colors and forced expressions I choose for my characters often have a manic undercurrent. Beneath the aposematic colors lurks implied danger, I suppose.

Where does the name of your website “Scared of Bees” come from?
Scared of Bees was a name for a band that never became fully realized. I had the web domain already purchased and needed a portfolio site, and since my actual name was already taken, I just used that. It’s worked out well as it’s kinda funny, more memorable than my given name, and is a good conversation starter. I’m not really scared of bees, though. We need more bees!

Your cover illustration for us this week is for our Bus Issue. Do you have any good stories about riding buses in Pittsburgh?
I was once taking a bus from Downtown to the South Side. It was late afternoon. Around 18th Street, some grizzled old dude walked on with a case of American. A couple minutes later, I heard him crack one open and enjoy a cold, frosty chug. And why wouldn’t he?

Do you have any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
I’ve got a couple animated videos in the coming weeks I worked on for Parry Gripp. I’ve also recently undertaken something I’ve dubbed the #jartproject on Instagram where I draw something inside of a mason-jar stamp I bought at Michaels. I’m not happy with most of them, but it’s been a good exercise to create things without the benefit of ctrl+Z.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2016 at 12:23 PM

Amy Garbark and her Fall Arts Preview cover - PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT DAYAK
Photo courtesy of Matt Dayak
Amy Garbark and her Fall Arts Preview cover

Amy Garbark is the solo force behind garbella, a popular local shop of goods and gear that she draws, designs and screenprints herself. Her “I [bike] PGH” and “P is for pierogi” shirts have been on Pittsburgh gift lists for years: She was crowned “Best Pittsburgh Crafter” in City Paper’s 2012 Best of Pittsburgh Issue and we featured her “Dear Pittsburgh, I love you” T-shirts as one of our personal must-haves in our Stuff We Like [] column in 2015.

Amy grew up in Pittsburgh and lives in Lawrenceville’s 6th Ward with her husband, Steevo, and their newly adopted dog, Cinder. In addition to working in her shop and exhibiting her designs at retail shows across the United States, she also plays drums and sings for local band Reign Check and has mentored young artists at Girls Rock! Pittsburgh, a local rock camp empowering girls through music. We caught up with her over email after she was finished with this week’s Fall Arts cover illustrations to get her thoughts on Pittsburgh’s art scene and owning her own business.

You seem to travel a lot for work. What's your favorite thing about Pittsburgh’s art scene that tops other cities you’ve been to?
I love the sense of community and camaraderie among artists, makers and designers in Pittsburgh. I have had lots of people in other cities tell me that they are envious of our Pittsburgh scene because there seems to be more collaboration than competition.

When did you figure out you wanted to be an artist?
Hmmmm … I can’t pinpoint one specific moment that I decided to be an artist. I have always liked making art, as far back as I can remember. I had fantastic art teachers in high school who encouraged me to pursue it. I went to school for art at Alfred University, but it was a bit of a journey to get where I am today. Shoe store, office job, back to school to get art-teacher certification, arts-based youth programming nonprofit, to quitting my full-time job six years ago to pursue garbella full time.

What’s it like being your own boss?
It’s the best! It’s great to be able to determine the structure of your day and environment of your workspace. However, with this awesomeness, also come some challenges. That being said, I’ll take the challenges of being my own boss over any other option.

What’s your biggest selling item in your shop?
Hands down: the “P is for pierogi” baby one-piece.

What’s your personal favorite?
The Always Be Snackin’ design is probably my favorite because it’s pretty much been my motto since I was a tiny kid.

You introduce new designs pretty frequently. Is it hard coming up with new ideas?
Sometimes! I prefer to just create and release new designs when I have an idea and feel like putting it out there. However, when I feel pressure to release a new collection, then it can sometimes be a little challenging for me.

I saw you recently were one of the featured sellers in Etsy’s Open Call event where you got to pitch your products to big-name buyers like Macy’s and Whole Foods. That’s so cool! Was it super intimidating?
Thanks! Yeah, I’m really grateful and honored to have been chosen as a finalist and really appreciate the opportunity. At first, the thought of pitching to the huge retailers felt a bit overwhelming and intimidating. However, when you really get down to it, they’re human and relatable, and I know my business and products better than anyone, so who better to pitch to them, right?

We featured garbella's "Dear Pittsburgh, I love you" t-shirt in our Stuff We Like section in 2015 - PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT DAYAK
Photo courtesy of Matt Dayak
We featured garbella's "Dear Pittsburgh, I love you" t-shirt in our Stuff We Like section in 2015

Where can folks buy your merchandise in Pittsburgh?

Wildcard, Brambler Boutique, The Picket Fence, Robin’s Nest, West Elm, and So Me in Glenshaw. Also, you can order from my online shop [] and pick up at my studio, or come to one of our studio open-house sales, or at various craft shows and markets each year, like Handmade Arcade, I Made It! For the Holidays and Three Rivers Arts Festival.

In addition to art, you’re involved in the local music scene too, from drumming in a local band to mentoring young female artists in the Girls Rock band camp. What kind of music do you listen to when you work?
I listen to lots of different music and podcasts and sometimes audiobooks too. For music, I am always listening to a variety of genres and like to check out some new stuff, but ’90s indie rock still gets played in pretty heavy rotation.

I love the support and courage that Girls Rock provides young girls looking for female role models.
I agree. The Girls Rock PIttsburgh! Camp is one of my favorite times of the year! It’s completely volunteer run by an incredible group of women with diverse talents and skill sets, and the campers are incredible.

Did you have any female artists or musicians you looked up to when you were a kid?

Yes! The first album I remember really, really connecting with was Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, which came out on my 11th birthday. I have two older siblings, so they both also introduced me to a lot of new music from there. My brother played in bands and went to a lot of shows and let me start tagging along to shows when I was 12 and 13. Seeing women play in bands like Jawbox, Superchunk, Velocity Girl and Tsunami had a lasting effect on me and was an important part of my formative early-teenage years.

Your cover illustrations this week include lots of cute fall icons. What’s your favorite season?

Is it a cop-out to say I love all of the seasons? I really do! I love the variety of four seasons: the long days of summer, the cooler crunchy-leaf days of fall, the hopefulness of spring and the crisp air of winter with a side of cozy. However, if I have to rank them, then: summer, fall, spring and winter.

Do you have any projects coming up people should look out for?
I’ll be participating in the Lawrenceville Artist Studio Tour on Nov. 19, so stop by if you want to check out my workspace and pull a print!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Sep 7, 2016 at 11:45 AM

Artist Jonathan Trueblood and his cover illustration of Bernie Sanders - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEATHER WILLS
Photo courtesy of Heather Wills
Artist Jonathan Trueblood and his cover illustration of Bernie Sanders

Pittsburgh-based artist Jonathan Trueblood first reached out to me through City Paper’s Instagram account in March, letting me know he’d love to illustrate a future cover. After I saw his great caricatures of famous faces like David Bowie and Mario Lemieux on his account, I knew I wanted to keep him in mind the next time I needed a portrait.

After finding out this week’s cover story was going to be on Bernie Sanders’ supporters uniting behind down-ballot candidates, I pitched the idea of Bernie Sanders as Uncle Sam, portraying him as this year’s new face of American politics. Editor Charlie Deitch signed off on the idea, and Jonathan came on board as soon as I emailed him.

Originally from Baldwin, Jonathan is a graduate of Edinboro University and has his master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to illustrating, he’s also a graphic designer, animator and an assistant professor at Point Park University, teaching classes like Storyboarding and Fundamentals of Motion Graphics and Visual Effects. He also used to work in New York City making commercials.
We caught up with Jonathan over email after he was finished with this week’s illustration and got his thoughts on Pittsburgh’s art scene, cartoons and the best advice he gives his students.

What’s your favorite thing about being an artist in Pittsburgh?
I think the artist scene in Pittsburgh is a very tightly knit group. Everyone knows everyone, and they definitely look to encourage work and exposure for each other. I think the more the art scene in Pittsburgh grows, like it seems to be, it will be great for all. A rising tide lifts all boats!

What’s your work space look like?
Haha! My work space is my living-room couch. I have my laptop and my Wacom Cintiq each on a TV tray, and Netflix playing in the background. I have a room that is supposed to be my “office/workspace,” but I’ve been too busy or lazy to get it cleaned up and ready.

Tell me about your process behind this week’s cover illustration of Bernie Sanders.
I always start by finding the best reference photo or photos of the subject. It’s weird to say, but not every picture looks like the person you are trying to draw, or the picture doesn’t capture their personality. Once I grab several photos, I do some quick sketches to get an idea of how I want to exaggerate the features. Some people are much easier than others. Once the sketch is done, I start “painting” in Photoshop. Then it’s a lot of trial and error moving features around, painting and re-painting, and praying that it will look right when it’s all done. I also always send my work to a couple of my friends from college who always give me good advice and criticism. I know they’ll always be honest with me and really tell me if I need to fix the image to make it look more like the person.

One with Bernie Sanders doing the classic Uncle Sam point, and a second option, giving Sanders the point he often uses in his speeches. We thought the Bernie Sanders’ point was a perfect fit for this week’s story.
One with Bernie Sanders doing the classic Uncle Sam point, and a second option, giving Sanders the point he often uses in his speeches. We thought the Bernie Sanders’ point was a perfect fit for this week’s story.

In addition to illustrating, you also teach animation at Point Park. That basically means you get paid to make cartoons all day, right?
I joke about that all that time … that I get paid to make cartoons. It’s true, though. I’m very lucky to do something I love. When I’m not teaching animation, I’m also making animations for various clients, drawing storyboards, illustrating and doing graphic design.

Speaking of cartoons, do you have a favorite?
My favorite animated movie is The Lion King. If I had to pick another cartoon, I would say “Rejected,” by Don Hertzfeldt.

What’s the best advice you give your students who are just starting to figure out what they want to be when they grow up?
I have a friend that used to work out all the time at the gym. He used to wear a shirt that said, “Everyday you don't lift, somebody else does.” I think that applies to working at getting into the field of animation. It’s a very competitive industry. I tell my students that every day you aren’t working on your portfolio, animating, drawing, learning or getting better, somebody else is, and they are the ones that will get the job at the studio you want. Work hard and love what you do, and you’ll be fine.

Your celebrity caricatures are spot on. Is there one in particular who’s the most fun to draw?
Wow! There are so many! I’ll say this ... the funnier-looking the person is, the more fun it is to draw them. It’s also easier too.

I discovered your work after you contacted me through City Paper’s Instagram account. Do you think social media is changing the art world in any way?
Absolutely! Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Dribbble have been fantastic avenues for me to reach out to new people to work for and collaborate with. I think the trick for any artist is to be unique. Develop your own personal style.

You mentioned that you used to work in New York City making commercials. Have you done anything we’d recognize?
I’ve been back from NYC since 2006, so it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything on TV. If you used to watch TV shows like Viva La Bam, Jackass, The Tom Green Show, Pimp My Ride and any of those MTV shows, you would have seen some of my projects. My favorite one I ever did was to promote a new band every other week. We would do eight 10-second long animations for each band. Like mini music videos. They would play in and out from commercial breaks. I think in a year we did about 100 or so of those little animations.

Where can we follow your work?,, and on Instagram, it’s @blackpowderdesign.

What question do you wish I had asked you?

I wish you would have asked me about my family. I’m married to my best friend and beautiful wife, April. We have two ridiculously cute and amazing little boys, Cash (3) and Tig (1). I’m a very, very lucky guy!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 2:25 PM

Photo courtesy of City of Asylum
Kuniko Yamamoto

Visiting storyteller Kuniko Yamamoto will take families on a journey to Japan this Saturday at City of Asylum’s Alphabet City tent. Her Origami Tales continues a new series, Summer on Sampsonia, named after the North Side street that the nonprofit literary center calls home.

Combining origami, masks, musical instruments and mime to tell traditional tales, Yamamoto gives audiences a chance to experience firsthand the culture of Japan.

Yamamato is a native of Japan currently based in Florida. Trained by renowned mime/actor Tony Montanaro, Yamamoto has performed extensively at venues throughout the U.S., including Disney’s Epcot Center and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Thanks to her magician husband, she also incorporates subtle illusions into her ancient stories.

As City of Asylum preps for the upcoming opening of its new Alphabet City cultural center, in the former Masonic Building, near the Garden Theater, it continues using a large tent adjacent to its headquarters to host literary, jazz and cultural events.

Origami Tales takes place on Sat., Aug. 20, from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at 318 Sampsonia Way, on the North Side. The event is free to the public, but reservations are encouraged.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 2:22 PM

click to enlarge Chris Moehle of Robotics Hub (left) and Meredith Meyer Grelli of Wigle Whiskey (second from left) at the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse in the North Side. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Chris Moehle of Robotics Hub (left) and Meredith Meyer Grelli of Wigle Whiskey (second from left) at the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse in the North Side.
The company that brought back whiskey pride to the birthplace of the Whiskey Rebellion is taking another step toward spreading the traditions of Pennsylvania distilling. Wigle Whiskey is seeking to start an interactive whiskey museum here in Pittsburgh, adding to their mission of reigniting interest in the rye whiskey heritage of Western Pennsylvania.

“It’s time to reclaim our place in whiskey history,” Wigle co-owner Meredith Meyer Grelli said to a small crowd at the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse in the North Side yesterday. 

Grelli said that while Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail get most of the attention when it comes to whiskey heritage in the U.S., Western Pennsylvania actually deserves most of the credit for popularizing the spirit in America. After all, following George Washington’s quashing of the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania in the late 1700s, many distillers moved to Kentucky, where they created Bourbon shortly after.

The Whiskey of America Museum, or WAM!, will include exhibits on whiskey’s history in America, cultural displays detailing the spirit’s rise in popularity, do-it-yourself cocktail stations, and interactive exhibits that engage visitors in the science behind distilling. Grelli says that the Pittsburgh community will be an integral part of the process, and local artists, scientists and makers will contribute to the museum. Chris Moehle, of the Robotics Hub, a Carnegie Mellon University-General Electric collaboration, says the group has plans to create and showcase a robot for the museum that will automate the malting process of making whiskey.

“It’s going to be like a kids museum for adults, with alcohol,” says Grelli.

A bottle shop and tasting room will accompany the museum and will feature local spirits, beer, ciders and wine for sale. The museum site will also serve as the trailhead for the new Rye Whiskey Trail, which will stretch from Pittsburgh to George Washington's historic estate Mount Vernon, just south of Washington, D.C., following the Great Allegheny Passage and C & O Canal Towpath bike paths.

Many regional and national groups have already signed on to help create the museum, which Grelli emphasizes isn’t a Wigle museum, but a whiskey museum. A 16-member committee has formed and includes representatives from the Smithsonian Institute of American History, Heinz History Center, George Washington's Mount Vernon, Allegheny County Economic Development and Pittsburgh City Councilor Dan Gilman.

Wigle is contributing $250,000 to the project and is hoping to raise an additional $35,000 via a Kickstarter campaign. Pledges to WAM!’s crowdfunding campaign come with prizes like t-shirts, party invites and even engraved mini oak barrels. Grelli says the museum will start as a pop-up at a to-be-determined location in Downtown this November. Then they hope to find a permanent location somewhere in Pittsburgh that could open sometime in 2018. 

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