Two men work to preserve artefacts from the works of Brier Hill | News, Sports, Jobs
PITTSBURGH – For decades, Youngstown Sheet & Tube’s Campbell and Brier Hill factories have made the steel and parts that built America.
R. Gene Koch, a Mineral Ridge native who lived in Lake Milton, believed for decades that the wooden patterns used to make these steel pieces were worth preserving.
“Look at the crafts. Why does nobody care? It’s a dying art, part of the industrial age, ”Koch said in an interview in 1991.
Koch passed away in 2008 at the age of 81 and didn’t live to see this become a reality, but two men from Pennsylvania are now trying to give Koch’s collection the showcase he always believed it was. deserved.
Chip Barletto of New Castle and Cory Bonnet of Pittsburgh earlier this year acquired more than 6,000 wood models, blueprints and other artifacts of Brier Hill’s works from Koch’s wife, Evelyn, a retired schoolteacher in the town of Warren.
“The only reason she left it to me was because I told her I was going to preserve each one of them and take the whole collection,” Barletto said. “I wasn’t going to reuse them, make a clock or a table. I want to preserve them. As a child, I considered these things to be a work of art.
Like many people who grew up in this region, Bonnet, 44, and Barletto, 60, have family ties to the steel industry and have met through their mutual interest in this story.
Bonnet was originally from Pittsburgh with a family that worked in factories, and her grandfather and uncle ran a forklift supply company that serviced these factories. He worked there in the summers when he was at school.
“For me, I lost a lot more than factories and jobs,” Bonnet said of the decline in the steel industry. “Not to diminish any kind of job, but to go from controlling forces equal to a volcano to being in a call center or some other job, it just doesn’t make sense.
“These guys were addicted to each other. If an accident were to happen, it could mean your life. And when they left work, they were surrounded by everything they did. They might say to their children, “We built this. There was that sense that was lost when the factories closed, and it had this cascading effect across the region. “
Barletto has been collecting artifacts in steelworks since his father first took him there when he was 10 years old.
“Our cities were booming back then,” said Barletto. “This experience made me feel special. I was proud to be a part of it. “
Barletto is now president of the scrap metal company, CBS Metal, and he regularly picks up pieces of steel industry history during his travels. His collection grew to the point that he opened the CB Gallery and the Museum of Industrial Art and History in New Castle, Pennsylvania.
Bonnet’s art is inspired by the industrial and architectural history of Pittsburgh. And after being trained in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), he started doing some of his oil paintings on recycled materials, like a painting of a ruined Pittsburgh church on a wooden canvas. made from its old church pews.
Barletto saw some of his steel industry paintings and gifted him pieces of the curved wooden patterns used to make ladles of molten steel from a steel mill in Pennsylvania.
Before that, he was “a one-ride pony,” Bonnet said, creating two-dimensional works to hang on the wall. Painting over wood patterns allowed her to create a standalone art that worked with the increasingly popular open floor plans of modern office spaces.
Bonnet moved into his huge studio at the Energy Innovation Center, a former trade school building located a few blocks from PPG Paints Arena, in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. When Barletto asked Bonnet if he knew of a place he could store his collection during the pandemic shutdown, Bonnet offered a space in his studio.
Around the same time, Barletto heard about the amazing collection of artifacts that were said to be stored in a barn in Rogers.
“Usually what happens is these things end up being destroyed, thrown away,” Barletto said. “Having a collection this size and having it in this condition is so rare… When I saw it, my jaw hit the ground.”
Bonnet said in a separate interview that Gene Koch visited Brier Hill Works when it was dismantled and inquired about purchasing the wood patterns. He was told that if he could get them out of there, he could have them.
After Koch’s death, Bonnet said, “Evelyn had people coming in every now and then offering to buy the prime pieces to turn them into coffee tables and break up the collection. She wouldn’t. Her husband’s dream was for this collection to be preserved, restored and exhibited.
“Chip was totally okay with that. He doesn’t want to sell that stuff. I don’t want to sell this stuff. So how do you finance its preservation? “
The first hurdle was moving everything from Rogers to Pittsburgh.
With the help of a crew, they transferred 10 full loads from a 26-foot box truck to the center. Bonnet said the owners of the Center for Energy Innovation have been very supportive as the collection has expanded beyond his studio and is also stored on the building’s unrenovated floors.
At least four other loads of smaller items remain in the barn. Bonnet did not disclose the collection’s selling price, but he did say the cost of moving was higher.
Hauling heavy wooden gears and coils down a narrow barn staircase, loading them onto a truck, and unloading them on the upper floors of the center – with only a standard elevator, no service elevator available – was a Herculean task.
Figuring out exactly what they have and cataloging it is an equally Herculean task, especially for two men who have full-time jobs.
That’s why they’re hosting the first of several invitation-only receptions on Thursday to give potential donors a taste of what the collection entails and how they’d like to present it.
“The first objective of this exhibition is to get the resources to do an inventory that will allow us to take the next steps – hire someone to do the restoration / preservation, hire a designer to understand the exhibition part of it, researchers to get the whole backstory clean and precise, ”Bonnet said.
Bonnet even created paintings inside some of the small, curved wood designs and multiple copies will be given as thank you gifts to donors on some level.
“I would really like it to be shared with anyone who has an interest,” Barletto said of the collection. “I would love to take it to the road to other steel mill towns… so people can appreciate not only how aesthetically beautiful this product is, but also the work these model makers put into something that needed to be. so precise. It wasn’t like they got into foursome and hammered it together.
Bonnet said on Thursday that they had not determined how much they would need to make that dream a reality, but he believes that once they can get past the initial cost, the project can be self-sufficient.
“Over the past 20 years, I have a great network of other artists, artisans and master craftsmen,” Bonnet said. “We had a master of ceramics here who talked about melting them into porcelain to create new objects for home decor and design. I had a glass artist specializing in glass casts who could make a large-scale piece… It would take a year to cool down but in the end the result would be absolutely incredible.
“We thought about creating new objects from these patterns, reusing them for their original function, but in a different way to support the collection, and that gives more people job opportunities and job. The idea is that the collection would not only support and support itself, but launch our own small industry and support others.