Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Fort Pitt Museum Displays, Part 8 "The Trader: A Closer Look"

The overall measurement of the diorama are 67" long  by 14" wide  and 17" high. Though one of the horses legs were broken the diorama was intact. Upon closer inspection the 50 years since it's creation definitely showed. Having had an interest in military miniatures my entire life, I was really curious about the materials and methods used in it's construction. Compared to what was available in the late 1960s miniaturists today have a number of materials, from a number of paints to putties, tools, books, magazines, and thousands of fellow miniaturists of all skill levels of whom to share tips, tricks, and their work with. Let's take a look at the diorama itself. The diorama consists of a mounted trader from the 1750s leading a couple of pack horses laden with trade goods crossing a snow covered ridge which has sections of rock  jutting out from the center section and smaller sections at other portions of terrain base. Since it's creation in 1969 the diorama has gone through at least 2-3 floods, not to mention the natural degradation of the various materials used to create the diorama. My guess is that a lot of model railroad  techniques and materials used for train layouts were employed in constructing the terrain features One interesting aspect of the diorama is the lack of finish to the parts that could not be seen once it was installed into it's display case. Seeing this reminded me of some of the tips suggested by the late Shep Paine in regards to not putting too much paint or finish work into parts of a box diorama that could not be seen by the viewer. A good sized portion of the back of the base is open and reveals the internal structure that makes up the terrain portion. The following set of photographs show the condition the diorama was in when I moved it into my home. I have a small workroom set up in one of the smaller bedrooms. Unfortunately it was too small for a project of that size and it would have been a nightmare to disassemble it in such a cramped space. Please feel free to comment or ask questions in the comments section of the blog post.

The diorama from the right front. The rear most pack horse had a break on the right rear leg and was removed from the base and bubble wrapped to the terrain when it was moved. The only reason the horse was not completely removed was because they were tethered to one another. Note the corner of the base where "snow" had once been. All that's left is the dried out white glue (?) adhesive used to attach it to the base.

This is the diorama looking towards the left front portion. My guess is that the snow might be baking soda. After all these
Years what remained of the “snow” basically sat on the diorama and was easily removed.

The right rear of the diorama reveals how open a large part of the back of the diorama is revealing the wooden structure
that make up the contours of the terrain. This no doubt was a time saver to not complete the parts that would not be seen by the viewer once it was placed in the display case.

A good view of the terrain, especially the rocks which became a bit of a concern for me. The lichen/moss on the diorama
was in poor condition and is going to be replaced once new rocks and snow are added. Again you can see the poor condition of the "snow".

The rock ledge that runs a fair length of the terrain. I'm not sure what the icicles are made from. A clear resin or glue maybe?
As you can see the snow below the rock ledge is all but gone. All that's pretty much left is dried out white glue (?) to hold the snow down.

View of the trader from above

The rear of the trader's horse. Note the rope that tethers the horses together.

The first packhorse. You can see ow the "snow" is mostly just sitting on the top of the terrain.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Fort Pitt Museum Displays, Part 7 "Holiday Displays"

In the forward to the book Point of Empire: Conflict at the Forks of the Ohio, Charles Morse stotz says of Holiday Displays.
"Pittsburgh's Holiday Displays, headed by Harold and Raymond Yoest, constructed the cases, dioramas, and exhibits, under the direction of (Stotz) the architect. The Yoests contributed much by their expert craftsmanship and their extensive knowledge of period character."
This acknowledgement of the part played by Holiday Displays started me on my search for more information about the work that would play a key role in the creation of the Fort Pitt Museum. If it were not for the internet the book acknowledgement would be about all I would know about the people responsible for the creation of these dioramas and displays. A Google images search yielded a few photographs from a Pittsburgh newspaper, although the identity of the men in the pictures were unknown, and the search continued. One avenue open to me was to see if Harold and or Raymond Yoest could be found. Unfortunately those searches revealed that both men had passed away. The only option left to find out more about these men would be to locate surviving family members. After putting some meager genealogy skills to work, I located who I was certain were Harold Yoest's children. This 99.9% hunch paid off when Harold Yoest's daughter responded to my inquiry about her father's and uncle Raymond's role in the construction of the dioramas and displays for the Fort Pitt Museum. Though she was unable to provide any information on the methods and materials used in their construction, she was able to identify employees of Holiday Displays from the photos I had found. Harold's daughter said that her father and Uncle Raymond were both very talented but modest men, and that her father would be touched to know his work had an impact on me as a young boy. Future communications with Harold's daughter were brief and did not reveal anything about the methods and processes that were used in the construction of the dioramas. A careful examination of the pieces in my possession along with soon to be discovered in the near future ended up being very revealing. One thing I was able to do was to let the Yoest family know what had become of all the work that was done for the museum all those years ago, and what I was setting out to do. A few months ago I was on the website, the online home to millions of pages of newspapers covering from the 1700s up to the 2000s. A search there revealed a multiple page article in The Pittsburgh Press newspaper about Holiday Displays and the construction of the dioramas and displays in June of 1969. In addition to this were found other smaller articles that helped to flesh out the role that Holiday Displays played in making the Fort Pitt Museum a crown jewel of sorts in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

History in the Making

Thursday, June 11, 2020

New content coming soon

I am in the process of putting together more posts not only about the Fort Pitt Museum pieces but other projects in different mediums. Additionally I am going to soon start a Facebook page with a focus on all of the different pieces I’m currently working on. I find that the work I do tends to get lost  in the vastness of your standard Facebook page. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Fort Pitt Museum Displays, part 6 "The Trader, Take Two"

In early 2019 I made the trip to look at and hopefully bring back what remained of the exhibits that were in the Fort Pitt Museum. The largest piece "The Trader" was to the best of my knowledge the only diorama that was removed from the museum intact. When I saw this piece again the last time I viewed it was when I was about 12 or 13. It was how I remembered it and more. The diorama made up the top part of the display and was behind glass. What the viewer could not see is that the backside of the piece that could not be seen was largely unfinished. The reason for this is that there was no point in finishing the parts of the figures and scenery that could not be seen. Though the piece was complete I could see what remained of the terrain portion would need a lot of work. Fortunately I did not have to wait long to make the return trip when a good friend offered to make the drive to bring the piece back in a vehicle that was big enough. Fortunately there's enough work space here to work on something of this size. The diorama was kept in my "workroom" until I was able to move it to a larger workspace in my basement.

The diorama viewed from the right end. The second pack horse had a cracked
 rear leg. I decided to unscrew the horse from the base and used bubble wrap to
 keep it on the base as all three horses were tethered to one another.

View of the diorama from the left side. It measure 68" from
 end to end and about14" high in the center.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

SUPER quickie digital pen sketch of a 5th New York Zouave

I was playing around with the Apple pencil on my Ipad and did this pen sketch of a 5th new York Zouave taken from a pencil drawing done some time ago. One day I'll be painting this in oil and maybe digitally with Procreate. It's a great program that helps to throw together quick color studies using different color palettes. The upside is you're not having to use up a lot of traditional materials doing this type of brainstorming.

Still image from the video of finished sketch.

Double click the video thumbnail to make it larger.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Fort Pitt Museum Displays, Part 5 or "The Trader."

Plans were made to make the trip to see and pick up the pieces that had been salvaged from the Fort Pitt Museum remodel.  In addition to seeing all of the individual figures one of the more exciting aspects of this was also having the opportunity to see the only diorama that had made it through the remodel intact. When the Fort Pitt Museum was opened, The museum's architect, Charles M. Stotz authored a booklet about the museum and it's exhibits. In this booklet were paragraph descriptions of every exhibit contained in the museum. One of these exhibits that caught my attention as a youth was titled "The Trader". This exhibit contained a large scale model of a trader on horseback navigating his pack train over a snow covered ridge. The booklet has a black and white photograph of the exhibit along with a description of the traders that bartered with the natives of the area. When making the plans to see the figures I inquired if the "trader" was one of the pieces that were saved. While the individual I talked with did not have it, they did however know who had it, and would contact them to see if it were possible to come and see it. Within a few phone calls my plans for seeing all of these pieces were complete. After arriving at the first location three boxes of figures and accessories were looked over. While some of the figures had varying amounts of damage it was not something that could not be fixed. After loading these into my car the trip was then made to another location to look at "The Trader". Upon seeing the diorama that was complete it was exactly as I had remembered it except never having the chance to see it this close up. The downside was that it definitely showed it's age and would require some work to make it look brand new. Worse yet is a 68" long diorama will not fit into a 2012 Hyundai. Plans would have to be made to make the trip again with a slightly larger vehicle.

The cover from The Point of Empire written by Charles M. Stotz. The booklet tells the story of the
 museum and all of the exhibits designed by Stotz and constructed by Holiday Displays.

The Trader diorama and the display that it was a part.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Fort Pitt Museum Displays, Part 4 or "Out with the old in with the new"

Do I know you? Was the response to my inquiry about the photographs of two figures that made up part of a diorama depicting the surrender of Fort Necessity in 1754, that made up one of a number of similar displays at the Fort Pitt Museum. Further messages and then a few phone calls with this individual centered around my interest in the dioramas the museum displayed, and how they had influenced my interest in history and art. My curiosity as to what happened to the dioramas and other displays was about to be revealed. When the Heinz History Center took over, plans were in the works to remodel the museum and construct new displays. While I thought the story of Fort Pitt was well told, the displays were in need of an upgrade. To what extent if any would the dioramas be incorporated in with the new was a different story. As stated earlier the identities of the individual(s) that have or had a connection to the museum will be kept private. Unfortunately the new displays make very minimal use of the current displays, mostly of which were several dioramas. As it turned out only three (3) dioramas/models would be part of the remodel. The first was the large model of Fort Pitt that visitors we see upon entering the museum. The others were a model of Fort Duquesne, and a diorama of the taking of Fort Prince George at the point. Until I had found out what had become of the Fort Pitt Museum dioramas I always pictured them properly put away in storage, not to be seen again by the viewing public. Sadly only my latter assumption would turn out to be true. When the museum was remodeled everything was disassembled, mostly the walls behind which were the dioramas. These were then disposed of including all of the dioramas and models except for the three fort models. My understanding is all of them were demolished and were not allowed to be saved. Fortunately a number of individual pieces were rescued from the dumpster where all the building materials were being thrown. While most of these pieces were destroyed, one of the dioramas in it's entirety survived. In addition to this half or more of the figures of a second and third diorama survived, though a few of the figures sustained some damage. There were also a small number of accessories and 54mm or 1/32 figures from other dioramas. Arrangements were made to see the pieces, where I expressed an interest in restoring the figures to reflect their appearance the day they were put on display in 1969.

Monday, February 10, 2020

A look back

When I painted this 5" X 7" in 2008 the original sketch called for a full figure of a Union soldier. Fast forward to 2019 and this full length version which is 8" X 10". I painted it using Jo Sonja acrylic paint. This brand of acrylic dries somewhat slow and to a matt finish which I like. The downside is that the brightest colors even dry a bit dull. I have other subjects that are going to see updated versions to note any improvements or just if the work has a different look in terms of style. There are a few other "look back" projects coming this year in addition to my continuing series about the Fort Pitt Museum dioramas.

Here's a link for the first version.
The 5" X 7" half figure painted in 2008.

The full length version painted in 2019.