The History Center’s Visible Storage puts its archives on display | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The History Center’s Visible Storage puts its archives on display

“We want visitors to feel they are getting a behind-the-scenes tour”

The Senator John Heinz History Center has accumulated millions of treasures in its collections, including artifacts dating to 1849. Even in a seven-story museum, that requires quite an extensive storage scheme. 

In fact, Anne Madarasz, vice president of museum exhibits and collections, estimates that about 80 percent of its objects aren’t on public display. But a new exhibit aims to teach the public the fine art of preserving Western Pennsylvania’s gems when they’re behind closed doors. Visible Storage, located in the Sigo Falk Collections Center, quite literally bridges the gap between the main museum and its new storage site as you cross a windowed walkway to the main exhibit.

click to enlarge A Westinghouse electric car from the 1960s - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEINZ HISTORY CENTER
Photo courtesy of Heinz History Center
A Westinghouse electric car from the 1960s

In rooms previously reserved for staff, the public can now watch museum professionals at work, including a peek into the photo lab and mount-maker’s workroom.

The exhibit’s nearly 1,500 objects are broken into sections ranging from appliances to armaments. One side of the room holds a vintage Westinghouse washing machine, while the other side is home to Arnold Palmer’s teddy bear.

Visible Storage will definitely catch you off guard: You wouldn’t expect a history museum to have a vast store of original art, but this archive includes up to 800 originals. The exhibit features a sampling of paintings with styles ranging from folk art to portraiture, landscape to cubism. There is work from self-taught painter Kathleen Ferri, whose folk rendition of Kennywood will zip you back to your childhood with its pastels and aerial views of the vintage amusement park, creating the feeling of flying overhead.

Sports fanatics will get a kick out of the old stadium seating from both Three Rivers Stadium and the Civic Arena, while law-and-order aficionados will perk up at the collection of rifles, handguns, handcuffs and brass knuckles from the Pittsburgh Police Historical Association.

While this exhibit offers only the tip of the iceberg of the museum’s still mostly rather invisible storage, it’s a compelling snapshot.

“We want visitors to feel they are getting a behind-the-scenes tour,” says museum spokesman Ned Schano. “Part of our job is to show visitors how to preserve their own treasures.”

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