The Magic Behind Mellon Park

June 4, 2010 by Laura Cook

A public opening for the Mellon Park Walled Garden restoration and art installation is set for Saturday, June 12 at 8:30 p.m. The garden is located behind the Center for the Arts near the corner of Fifth and Shady Avenues in Shadyside. Reservations for this free event are being accepted online at www.pittsburghparks.org/mellonpark.

The project began ten years ago when Joe and Elizabeth Seamans of Shadyside approached friend and local landscape architect Fred Bonci of the firm LaQuatra Bonci Associates about finding a way to honor the life of their daughter, Annie Seamans, who died tragically in a car accident. After several years of planning and consideration, Mellon Park was chosen.

View of the garden in the evening

"It took us years to find the right place to celebrate Annie's love of art, nature and people," said Bonci. "There could not be a better way to convey her passion for these things than to share it with as many people as possible in one of her favorite places."

"Annie loved the walled garden at Mellon Park ever since she was a little girl, all of us did," Elizabeth Seamans said. "She loved to go up there to look at the stars. As we worked there we learned that many, many people felt the same way. It has been an honor to contribute to this beautiful space."

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy was approached by Bonci and the Seamans family to help raise additional community funds and steward the restoration project, which was completed in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh and with the help of several volunteers who gave hundreds of hours. Funding for the project came from hundreds of family members and friends of the Seamans family, residents of the East End and Point Breeze as well as from several local foundations.

"The Mellon Park Walled Garden represents a beautiful piece of history, and the Parks Conservancy is delighted to work with wonderful project partners to bring together a fabulous result," said Parks Conservancy President Meg Cheever.

Crews began working in summer 2009 by removing declining trees and existing foliage in order to re-establish a more traditional planting plan. The garden features new seating, restored brickwork and stone paving, an operable fountain, a raised observation area, and a restored entryway. Free Wi-Fi will also be available in the garden by the end of 2010.

Plaque

The June 12 ceremony will also introduce an art installation created by New York artist Janet Zweig which was created in collaboration with LaQuatra Bonci. Zweig's work is entitled 7:11 AM 11.20.1979 79° 55´ W 40° 27´ N, referring to the time Annie was born plus the latitude and longitude of Mellon Park. The artist uses fiber optic technology to create a lighted representation of the night sky over Mellon Park in her memory.

"I hope that the Ann Katharine Seamans memorial will allow others to experience the historic Walled Garden and embrace the magic behind it," says Zweig. One hundred and fifty "stars" were installed in the lawn before new grass was planted last fall. Each star is surrounded by a granite circle, which is inscribed with the star's name and information about the star.

Adding to the collaboration with Natalie Byrd and Fred Bonci of LaQuatra Bonci, were local lighting designer and creator Hal Hilbish, and Benjamin Cohen of Zweig's studio serving as project assistant. Phil Gruszka of the Conservancy led installation efforts.

The process to select the artist was facilitated by the Office of Public Art, which organized a national request for proposals. The selection panel, which included arts professionals, project stakeholders, and community members, selected Zweig from a field of 89 interested artists from across the United States. Zweig was selected not only because of the strength of her previous public art commissions, but because she demonstrated the ability to connect with the community while being inventive and creative in her approach to site-specific projects.

Once Zweig was selected, the artist spent time in Pittsburgh, getting to know the Seamans family, learning about the park, and meeting with park users, local garden clubs, and members of the design team.

"The collaboration resulted in a subtle, yet powerful and personal art piece by Janet so beautifully immersed in a historic landscape. It was an honor to work on the restoration of the garden landscape with such creative and resourceful people," offered Bonci.

Zweig's proposal for the project was enthusiastically approved by members of the selection committee and the City's Art Commission. This artwork will become a part of the City of Pittsburgh's art collection.

Star in the lawn"This work of art is one of the more unique memorials in the City of Pittsburgh. This is a city rich in figurative memorials, and it is exciting to introduce a new conceptual framework to the Pittsburgh community for how a memorial project can be created," said Renee Piechocki, Director of the Office of Public Art.

The 35-acre Mellon Park spans Fifth Avenue in Shadyside and is the former Richard Beatty Mellon estate. Dating to 1935, its Walled Garden is a classic work of landscape architecture by Vitale and Geiffert, containing sculpture by Edmond R. Amateis. Anchored at one end with a flagstone terrace and fountain, the garden is enclosed on three sides by brick and stone, and features a central rectangular lawn surrounded by plantings and flagstone walkways.

Read this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story about the Walled Garden.

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Mellon Park, Restoration Projects, Flowers and Gardens