Century III Mall was one of the biggest real estate developments in southwestern Pennsylvania over the past half-century. Between 1976 and 1980, U.S. Steel Corp. and the DeBartolo Corp. of Youngstown, Ohio converted a former slagheap in West Mifflin into the largest shopping mall in the region. To pay homage to the industrial history of the location, and to humanize their vast building, the companies hired Carnegie Mellon University professor Douglas Pickering to produce a major sculpture for the main atrium.
Inspired by the tension between the industrial history of the location and the forward-looking name of the mall, Pickering created a colorful and reflective monolith using abstracted shapes borrowed from the steel industry. Approximately 80 individual pieces of stainless steel and lacquered acrylic were arranged in an interlocking formation atop on an imposing black marble base. The pieces were orange, blue, black, white, grey and chrome —a vibrant and playful palette that avoided gaudiness. Pickering called it Pittsburgh Reflections. Both the title and the design played with the dual meaning of the word “reflections” — mirroring and contemplation. The ladles and gears hidden in the design recalled the fading glory of the steel industry while the negative space between the shapes framed the goings-on at the mall and the lacquered enamels reflected neon signs from nearby stores. The black marble base gave the monolith an aura of timelessness and stability. “I wanted to capture the city’s spirit and strength — its past struggles and its unfolding present and future as we move into ‘century three’ of our country’s history. And above all, I wanted this work to image the greatness of Pittsburgh,” Pickering said.
At the time of its unveiling in March 1980, Pittsburgh Reflections was one of the largest sculptures in Allegheny County and certainly the largest work of art produced by a local. It was 28-feet tall, weighed six tons and had required more than ten thousand man-hours in its design and construction. “It is not given to many sculptors today to see so large a work come to fruition under their direction because of the costs and difficulties of such projects. Douglas Pickering, however, has paid his artistic dues and is deserving of this special offer,” Post-Gazette art critic Donald Miller wrote in a review.
Pittsburgh Reflections was a prominent feature of Century III Mall for more than 15 years, but the sculpture disappeared from the main atrium some time after Simon Corp. purchased and renovated the building in 1996. The sculpture was likely destroyed.
H. Douglas Pickering (1921-1991) was born in Wilkinsburg, Pa. and raised in Forest Hills. He earned a bachelor’s degree in art from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1943 and a master’s degree in art education from Penn State University in 1953. He taught at Allegheny College in Meadville from 1948 until 1960 and Carnegie Mellon University from 1960 until he retired in 1986. He sat on the boards of the Three Rivers Arts Festival and the Pittsburgh Plan for Arts, served a term president of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and was chairman of the city Art Commission.