Art in the Alley: Resident Glenn Olcerst Unveils “First Historic District” Mural

Photo credit: Steven Adams

On a beautiful summer Sunday evening, neighbors and friends gathered at the corner of Resaca Place and Filson Alley for the unveiling of Glenn Olcerst‘s “First Historic District.” The exterior mural is the latest in a series of efforts by the Allegheny City Central resident designed to encourage others to create art to share with the community.

Measuring 3′ x 7,’ this original work is made up of more than 2,100 pieces of granite and porcelain. Crafting the piece was a painstakingly detailed process that took 15 months of designing, cutting, grinding, gluing and grouting. Olcerst’s design was inspired by a photograph he took in Tulia, Italy.

“I chose the image and the name ‘First Historic District’  because we live in an historic district,” says Olcerst.  “The piece depicts and celebrates the earliest architecture that has been preserved to the delight and benefit of all the following generations. We are doing the same in our own small way in our neighborhood.”

An attorney by trade, Olcerst is a self-taught artist who’s gained national recognition for his fine art photography. His images were recently selected by the Goodall Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky for inclusion into the permanent corporate art collection at PNC Bank’s Pittsburgh headquarters. Photos of his travels through Italy adorn the walls of Bravo! restaurants on the East Coast.

Glass and wood were his original media of choice, and those were used in the renovation of the Mexican War Streets home he owns with his wife Barbara Talerico. Next, Olcerst experimented in stone. Each project brings a new challenge. With “First Historic District,” it was figuring out how to depict shadow and depth in stone.

Regardless of the medium, Olcerst says that strong emotions provide the impetus for his art.

“Art heals,” says Olcerst. “It heals me personally, and it heals neighborhoods.”

He points to the ACCA Community Master Plan, where art is cited as a tool for community design and neighborhood improvement. The master plan specifically recommends integrating art into alley streetscapes, and Olcerst, along with North Side organizations like City of Asylum Pittsburgh, are doing just that. He also credits Randy Gilson of Randyland and sculptor Thad Mosley, among others, as examples of local artists who are helping to improve Allegheny City Central through public art.

“The more we do to attract people to our neighborhood, the closer we get to realizing our community’s vision of filling vacant properties,” explains Olcerst. “We have so many amazingly talented artists in the area. Whether it’s music, poetry, photography, it engages people, it connects us.”

Based on the response to “First Historic District” and the initial support that neighbors provided for his concept, Olcerst hopes to inspire others.

“I’m incredibly grateful that hundreds of people signed the petition to the HRC [Historic Review Commission], and many showed up to testify on behalf of the installation,” says Olcerst. “The message to the city was loud and clear: people want more public art.”

Glenn Olcerst’s newest photographs will be on display at the 45th Annual Mexican War Streets House and Garden Tour on Sunday, September 14, 2014. See samples of Olcerst’s collections of destination photography here. 

Photo ©2014 Steven Adams

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