By SUSAN JONES
Internationally known pop artist Burton Morris says he was destined to one day paint the Cathedral of Learning.
“Thankfully this building was here, because I wouldn’t be here today,” Morris said during a ceremony March 31 at Hillman Library to unveil the brightly colored “Cathedral Of Learning, 2021.”
“This was such a work to me of passion and happiness because this building means so much to me,” he said.
The Pittsburgh native’s parents both attended Pitt. He showed off an armband his mother wore during freshman orientation in 1954 and told the story of how his parents met in the Cathedral’s tuck shop in 1955.
Morris attended Carnegie Mellon University but said that Pitt has always been his “home school,” as he grew up within sight of the Cathedral. And he has one more connection to Pitt. When Morris met his future wife, Sara, in Los Angeles, he found out she also was from Pittsburgh and her father, Nathan Firestone, was an instructor of political science at Pitt. Firestone recently retired after 50 years.
The new painting, which portrays Pitt’s iconic tower in Morris’ bold and graphic style, was commissioned by Pitt to mark the 2020-21 Year of Creativity. It will not only adorn the walls on the third floor of Hillman Library, it also will help raise money for Pitt’s Pell Match Program.
Products featuring Morris’ Cathedral painting, such as prints, mugs and stationary, will be sold through the University Store on Fifth, and a portion of the sales will go to support the Pitt Success Pell Match Program.
“I wanted to highlight Pitt in a way that shows the energy and the creativity, the colors — to do something different to highlight the Cathedral in a way no one has seen it before,” Morris said.
Kevin Washo, who now serves as Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s chief of staff, first contacted Morris in 2017. Washo was then on Pitt’s Board of Trustees and had heard about efforts to catalog and expand the University’s collection of public art on campus. As he looked at a print in his Philadelphia house of one of Morris’ “Popcorn” paintings, he thought Morris would be a perfect pick to do a one-of-a-kind piece about and for Pitt.
The painting was actually shipped to Pittsburgh two years ago, but the unveiling and celebration of the Year of Creativity have been delayed because of the pandemic.
“We’re here today despite the pandemic interruptions to celebrate the creation of this amazing painting. And I think we’re actually also celebrating opening up,” said Provost Ann Cudd, echoing a sentiment heard throughout the mostly maskless reception. She thanked Year of Creativity co-chairs, Jeanne Marie Laskas and Kit Ayars, and also took time to give Firestone a belated retirement gift.
“I’m very grateful to everybody who brought this partnership together, but Burton to you, in particular,” Chancellor Gallagher said. “Thank you for being a Pittsburgher — that biggest small town in the world —and reigniting that connection with us in such a beautiful now globally powerful way.”
Morris’ art was featured on the TV show “Friends” in the Central Perk coffee shop. He’s produced art for the Jimmy Carter Center, the Obama Presidential Center, the United Nations, Coca-Cola, Ford, Sony, AT&T and others. His art also has been featured at events like the Olympics, Academy Awards, MLB All-Star Game, FIFA World Cup and more.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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