PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Just behind the U.S. Steel Building, between Seventh Avenue and Chatham Street, a unique pedestrian tunnel, there since 1964, has been adorned with 28 mosaic panels created by the late Pittsburgh artist Virgil Cantini.
“I was 12- or 13-years at the time, and he had worked on them in our back yard,” recalls Lisa Cantini Seguin, daughter of the artist.
Cantini Seguin remembers when her father was commissioned to do this art for the city of Pittsburgh.
“I remember my mother wasn’t too happy because the welding burned all of her flowers down,” she told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Monday.
Cantini Seguin says her father was a big believer in public art, easily accessible and free to the public.
Hundreds of people use this tunnel every day, but the chances are pretty good they walk by these mosaics without even seeing them.
In fact, there’s nothing on the walls to indicate what these mosaics are all about.
But last year, the city told Cantini Seguin a new city project to cap over I-579 would mean filling in the tunnel.
As for the mosaics, says Cantini Seguin, “They were going to be backfilled and buried. They were going to bury the artwork.”
“My husband and I were in total disbelief. Who buries artwork? This is not like Mt. Etna erupting in Pompeii,” she said.
Strong reaction from the arts community has prompted a turn-around from the city, starting with a test to see if the city can remove the panels without damaging the artwork.
“If that test works, and we have high hopes that it will, and we’re working with a terrific team to do it, if that test works, we are going to proceed to remove all 28 panels and find a relocation for them,” says Ray Gastil, the city’s planning director.
Gastil says the city always hoped to save some mosaics, but now, he says, “We’ll try to preserve all of them.”
Cantini Seguin thinks the odds now favor saving her dad’s artwork.
“I’m not 100 percent comfortable, but I’m probably 80 percent comfortable,” she said.
For more information on the mosaics, visit: www.pittsburghcantinimosaic.com.