Painting Pittsburgh's neighborhoods

Written by Heather Schmelzlen on .

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Painting of Pittsburgh's Central Business District by Ron Donoughe
Ron Donoughe has been painting for 25 years, and much of his work involves Pittsburgh.
But his most recent project is different, he said. 
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"It involves all 90 neighborhoods. Most folks don't realize there are that many. I know I was surprised when I saw a map, which listed them all. That's what sparked the idea. I actually thought I knew Pittsburgh until now."

Ron, 55, of Lawrenceville, is painting each and every one of the neighborhoods -- in alphabetical order -- and posting the paintings, along with the stories behind them, on his blog. So far, he's up to 25. He explained his process for choosing his spots:

"Sometimes it takes a couple days to know what and where I should paint. Other times I ask neighbors what they think is unique. That is always interesting because you find out what they consider special."

When he gets behind his easel to paint, palette in hand, his work frequently draws spectators. At first, he said, passersby are usually a bit confused, "but after I get something started, curiosity gets the best of them and we meet."

"I think of this as an opportunity to get to know the people of Pittsburgh and it is almost always enjoyable. They get to see something familiar through my eyes. People love it because the ordinary can suddenly become special."

His twin brother and technological consultant, Don, talked him into blogging as a way to keep the project together and allow others to follow along. Ron said it has also encouraged him to meet people while painting and get their story.

One of his favorite encounters, he said, was with a man on the Bluff who approached to admire his work.

"He was raised there and was obviously very proud of the neighborhood. Althought homeless and struggling with serious addictions, he shared some real insight to the place I was painting. He offered me a blessing when we parted.

"Those experiences cannot happen in the studio," Ron said.

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Ken, who owns a donut shop in Elliott, with the painting of his shop.
He has also learned that Pittsburghers don't always agree on neighborhood boundaries.
"I'll say, 'So how do you like East Hills?' The response is, 'This is Homewood! East Hills is up there.'"
The ultimate goal of the project is "to create a visual time capsule of the 90 neighborhoods that reflects the character of the city over an entire year," he said. The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts will show the paintings in an exhibition once the project is completed, and Ron said there is also the possibility of a book.

But, he added, "right now, this is so interesting, I don't want it to end."

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