Turning a corner in one of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods often leads to grey walls, matching the skies of one of the country’s gloomiest cities. The local art scene has stepped in to bring color and vibrance to the landscape, with murals awash in contrasting bright colors and animals, like Pittsburgh artist Baron Batch’s butterfly paintings and the elephant murals in the South Side.
However, some of the most-visited public art in Pittsburgh honors notable people with ties to the city. With the recent completion of a large Mac Miller mural in Etna, Pittsburgh City Paper decided to reflect on other murals of Pittsburgh icons scattered throughout the Steel City. That reflection does, unfortunately, highlight a glaring lack of famous local women represented in the city’s public art. Even so, the works listed here still make for a diverse array of famous Pittsburghers, from Andy Warhol to athletes to horror makeup artists.
Artist: Gustavo Zermeño Jr
I.D. Labs363 Butler St., Etna
Artists: Kyle Holbrook and the MLK Project
250 Paulson Ave., East Liberty
The late Pittsburgh-native rapper Mac Miller worked at the I.D. Labs recording studio throughout his entire career, and not just in his early days. Owner E. Dan says Venice-based artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. painted a mural of Miller in Los Angeles that gained media attention. Through the photos and social media posts shared online, Miller’s family saw the mural and were inspired.
“The family got wind of it and just sort of reached out to say, ‘We love the mural,’ and that led to some further discussion,” says Dan. “Gustavo had expressed interest in wanting to come to Pittsburgh to do one, and we just happened to have a giant blank canvas on the side of the studio so Mac’s mom reached out to me and asked if they [could paint] it. To which I, of course, said yes.”
The painting depicts multiple portraits of Miller, including one of him wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers bucket hat and jersey. Fans of Miller, as well as his parents, grandparents, and brother, have come to admire the mural, according to Dan.
This is not the only piece honoring Miller in his home city. Wilkinsburg native Kyle Holbrook, founder of the Moving the Lives of Kids Mural Project, which focuses on art development and education, says he knew Miller before the young rapper’s career took off. Miller worked with Holbrook and MLK on a mural in East Liberty. After Miller died of a drug overdose in 2018, Holbrook organized the creation of a mural right next to the one he painted years before.
Miller even discussed his work with MLK and Holbrook in Pittsburgh during a 2013 interview on MTV2 Presents: When I Was 17.
“That’s the mural I’m most proud of after all I’ve done in 43 countries,” Holbrook says.
“The Two Andys”: Andy Warhol and Andrew Carnegie
Artists: Sarah Zeffiro and Tom Mosser
628 Smithfield St., Downtown
This mural depicts steel industry mogul Andrew Carnegie sitting next to artist Andy Warhol, both of them wrapped in salon capes, their curler-wrapped hair under hooded driers. Carnegie is softening his hands while Warhol reads a magazine referencing the play Fences by Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson. Completed in 2005 by Sarah Zeffiro and Tom Mosser, the irreverent, brightly colored piece was funded by the now-defunct Pittsburgh nonprofit, the Sprout Fund.
Artists: Kyle Holbrook and students of the Pressley Ridge School for Autism
Fifth Avenue and Magee Street, Uptown
Along Fifth Avenue, just before PPG Paints Arena, is a bright painting of some of the greatest Penguins players in history, accented with puzzle pieces.
This is another Holbrook-led piece. He teamed up with the Pressley Ridge School for Autism to create a painting that promotes autism awareness, and allowed the kids to get up on the wall and do some painting, too. Holbrook says this was an important experience for the children and their families.
“A lot of times when you have a kid with disabilities, the communication can be a challenge, so doing something together can mean much more than just a mural,” says Holbrook.
Artist: Jeremy Raymer
166 Almond Way, Lawrenceville
Jeremy Raymer has been painting murals since 2013, many of which portray Pittsburghers.
Along with Raymer’s passion for painting Pittsburghers comes a love for horror films, which led to him painting a mural of director, actor, and makeup special effects artist Tom Savini. The Pittsburgh native worked on locally shot George A. Romero films like Dawn of the Dead (in which he also plays a biker).
The mural depicts Savini holding an old-school hockey mask a la Friday the 13th, another horror classic he worked on. Raymer says he had the opportunity to paint the mural after running into Savini’s daughter and making a connection. After that chance meeting, Raymer was able to meet Savini, who was “geeked” about the mural. Raymer says he plans to paint one of Savini’s horror creatures in Bloomfield next.
“Legends of Pittsburgh”
Artist: Michael Malle
Second Avenue and Ross Street, Downtown
“Legends of Pittsburgh” has been on display at the intersection of Second Avenue and Ross Street since 2000. It features 14 baseball legends who once played for Pittsburgh teams, all standing on a baseball field in the uniforms from their respective eras. Depicted here are Pittsburgh Pirates stars Kiki Cuyler, Ralph Kiner, Fred Clarke, Max Carey, Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner, Danny Murtaugh, Arky Vaughan, Willie Stargell, Pie Traynor, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, and Honus Wagner. Also included is Josh Gibson, who is the only Negro League player featured in the mural.
Artist: Jeremy Raymer
Voodoo Brewing Co. 205 E. Ninth Ave., Homestead
Speaking of Josh Gibson, Raymer also used his talents to pay tribute to the historic baseball player.
“I really like painting locals, and, in particular, ones local people don’t really know a whole lot about,” Raymer says. “Josh is someone I always wanted to paint and was really excited to do.”
Josh Gibson was a star catcher in the Negro baseball leagues from 1930 to 1946. Though he was born in Georgia, Gibson spent most of his life in Pittsburgh after his father relocated here in the early 1920s to work in the steel industry. He played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays, among other teams in the league.
The mural of Gibson along the backside of Voodoo Brewing Co. features Gibson in a baseball cap and wearing catcher’s gear.
Artist: Kyle Holbrook
The Clemente Museum. 3339 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville
Another Pittsburgh baseball legend who has been commemorated in the form of a mural is Pirates’ great Roberto Clemente, painted by Holbrook and the MLK project in 2019.
This painting of Clemente in his uniform sparked an emotional response from fans and Clemente’s family, according to Holbrook.
“He’s such an icon in culture in baseball for Puerto Ricans and people of color and so many different things, but this is the only mural on his actual museum,” Holbrook says. “And to take things further, his late wife Vera signed the mural, and his son [Roberto Clemente Jr.] also signed the mural. Both of them told me that it looked like him and teared up.”
Artist: Kyle Holbrook
2037 Centre Ave., Hill District
This Holbrook piece features award-winning playwright August Wilson, writing in a notepad surrounded by bright, artistic scenery that highlights the Pittsburgh native’s legacy. The painting was finished in 2014, and features small stories and “murals within murals,” as Holbrook puts it, which were painted by local children. He says a lot of the imagery was based on research and discussions with Wilson’s family and friends.