The Carrie Deer is Pittsburgh’s most well known example of industrial salvage artwork, created surreptitiously by guerilla artists George Davis, Liz Hammond, Tim Kaulen, John Latell, Joe Small, Tim Yohman, and Bob Ziller. The artists snuck on to the site most Sundays for twelve months, beginning in October, 1997. They snuck through a hole cut in the fence surrounding the site, and worked with materials salvaged entirely from the site. At that point the site was privately owned and guarded; their art was an act of trespass.
The Carrie Deer is nestled into a much larger site of industrial remains, blast furnaces 6 and 7 of the former U.S. Steel Homestead Works. The remains of these blast furnaces rise from a 45 acre field, perfectly leveled, that awaits development. This is all that is left over from one of the largest iron making facilities in the world, built in 1907 and closed in 1978. At their peak the Carrie furnaces, as they were known, rose 92 feet into the air and produced more than a thousand tons of iron a day, which was transported red-hot across the Mon River for manufacture into steel. As the site was demolished, the two blast furnaces were preserved, for reasons that are not disclosed, and both the site and the Carrie Deer nestled inside are now a National Historical Landmark.
Thus the two remaining Furnaces and the Carrie Deer share an interwoven fate. The artists who created the Carrie Deer claim that they expected their sculpture to last only for a few months or a year; that it would be felled by vandals, the corporation that then owned the land, or the weather. Yet now almost twenty years after its creation, it has survived to become an important part of Pittsburgh’s public art landscape, and a strong argument for salvage art and guerilla artists.
The Carrie Deer is beguiling and improbable. The realistic profile has the deer looking sagely toward those who would enter the ruins of the furnaces. There is no structure for the sculpture aside from the interlacing pipes, tubing and wire that form the exterior surface and appear as a maze of blood vessels gone mad. The antlers weave in haphazardly in spirals from the skull, and the eyes gaze with a benign and curious stare and the ears are elert. It is delicate yet commanding sculpture that both welcomes and mystifies.
Since the sculpture was created as a momentary, site-specific art happening, there was little thought given to its permanence. It was balanced precariously on a deteriorating building that began to give way from the weight of the sculpture. The deer itself was not mounted well and began to list. Many of the parts were fastened together with ties or spot welded with little sense of permanence and the entire piece, after fifteen years of Pittsburgh’s harsh winters, freezing rains, and tropical summers, threatened to simply collapse. Arts activists and historical preservationists organized largely by the Rivers of Steel, organized a “Save the Deer” movement for the now “out” sculpture with a Kickstarter campaign, a public showing of a documentary on the making of the Carrie Deer, and a huge, onsite party. This took place in August, 2014 and as of now the Carrie Deer seems destined for preservation.
Art in public spaces undergoes continual shifts in meaning. Meant as an ephemeral object; light and airy amidst the heavy, rusted and graffitied furnaces, the Carrie Deer expected a brief encounter with audiences willing to trespass and sneak into the gallery. Now it is an “in” part of the Pittsburgh scene, and the welcomed restoration has already changed it: the crumbling building where the deer was mounted has been shored up with concrete and now looks like a huge smooth pedestal. If the furnaces are transformed into museums, shops and galleries the once outlaw Deer will have been completely tamed.
To access the site one arranges for a tour of the Carrie Furnaces via the Rivers of Steel; the entrance to the site is from Carrie Furnace Boulevard in Rankin, just east of Pittsburgh.
By Douglas Harper, sociologist
Douglas Harper, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at Duquesne University and President of the International Visual Sociology Association. He has written extensively on visual culture and his most recent book, Visual Sociology, is a comprehensive overview of the field.
Industrial Arts Co-op and additional artists