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Herron Avenue and Milwaukee Street

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Keywords

City of Pittsburgh, Hill District, limestone

Artwork Type

Permanent, Sculpture



Mountaintop, 1987

Thaddeus Mosley



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Owner City of Pittsburgh
ADA Services The sculpture is circled by a sidewalk, paved path.

“The idea of the sculpture is to coincide with the building and the ideas of Martin Luther King.”

                                                                                                   -Thaddeus Mosley, 1987

Mountaintop, by artist Thad Mosley, graces a small grassy plaza outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Reading and Cultural Center on the corner of Herron Avenue and Milwaukee Street in the Hill District. Commissioned by the City of Pittsburgh in 1987, the limestone sculpture debuted at the opening of the Center on May 5, 1988. Mountaintop, just like the Center in front of which it stands, was dedicated to the legacy and memory of civil rights leader, Dr. King. 

The title of Mosley’s work refers to the last speech made by Dr. King, titled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Delivered the day before he was assassinated at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, the speech was addressed to sanitation workers who were striking for the recognition of their union as well as better safety standards and living wages. Dr. King urged nonviolent protest as well as strategies of economic withdrawal from organizations with unjust hiring and labor policies. At the end of the speech, Dr. King famously said:

        Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it
        really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I
        don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But
        I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me
        to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I
        may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will
        get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything;
        I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. 

Mosley’s Mountaintop responds to the feelings of hope, optimism, and promise of ultimate salvation conveyed in Dr. King’s powerful words. Inspired by African tribal art, as well as the work of artists Constantin Brancusi and Isamu Noguchi, Mosley strives to convey the feeling of what he calls “weight in space.” In his work, large sculptures carved from heavy materials such as wood and stone extend, seemingly effortlessly, through the air. Elegantly poised on on a brick pedestal with a limestone cap, Mountaintop swells as it rises, expanding dramatically outward from a narrow base and lifting most of its weight overhead. Tapering at its crest, the work suspends itself in perfect visual balance, drawing the eye along an exploration of its textured curves. The sculpture pulls our gaze inexorably skyward, seeming to both gather and lift up the aspirations embedded within the text of Dr. King’s speech. The sculpture is surrounded by a pedestrian walk, beckoning passersby for an unimpeded experience in the round. 

The commission for Mosley’s sculpture was spurred by the construction of the new Center. The structure was designed to be a community information and resource center of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Plans for a structure named after Dr. King were announced on the anniversary of his birthday, almost 18 years after his assassination, by Mayor Richard Caliguiri on January 15th, 1986. Caliguiri’s announcement was paired with a local proclamation designating the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The observance of this day as a national holiday had been written into law in 1983, following significant nationwide efforts led by Coretta Scott King, and went into effect in 1986.  

The one-story, 1900-square-foot, red-brick structure was designed by Damianos and Associates and built on a vacant lot with city funds acquired through a Community Development Block Grant program. It superseded an older Reading Center, also named after Dr. King, that had been serving the area since 1970. The new Center featured a reading room and collection for children and adults as well as a meeting room for community and children’s programs. A special grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation funded furnishings, signage, landscaping, and lighting. Over the years, the Center became a critical part of the neighborhood and a destination for children after school. The Center was transferred in 2006 to new management, which sought to raise funds to keep the Center open. The Carnegie Library opened a newly-constructed Hill District branch on Centre Avenue in 2008. 

By Divya Rao Heffley, Office of Public Art 

Sources:

“About Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh - Hill District,” Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, accessed October 4, 2018,  https://www.carnegielibrary.org/about-carnegie-library-of-pittsburgh-hill-district/ 
 
Donald Hammond, “Paying tribute: Minister, S. African poet eulogize King,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 16, 1986.
 
"‘I've Been to the Mountaintop,’ Address Delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple,”
Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute at Stanford University, accessed October 4, 2018, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/ive-been-mountaintop-address-delivered-bishop-charles-mason-temple
 
Patricia Lowry, “Library to build new center in Hill District,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 24, 1987.
 
“Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike,” Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute at Stanford University, accessed October 4, 2018, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/memphis-sanitation-workers-strike 
 
Donald Miller, “King Center opens,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 5, 1988.
 
Office of Public Art, “Thad Mosley Studio Tour & Artist Talk,” YouTube Video, 41:35, December 15, 2017, https://youtu.be/FqVs_LBZpmI.
 


Thaddeus Mosley was born in 1926 in New Castle, PA. After graduating from high school, Mosely enrolled in the U.S. Navy. In 1950, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a double major in English and Journalism. During the 1950s, Mosely began writing freelance for The Pittsburgh Courier and he also began making sculptures. In 1968, he had his first solo exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Biography taken from the Mattress Factory which can be accessed by following this link: https://www.mattress.org/archive/index.php/Detail/artists/333