By SUSAN JONES
Internationally renowned pop artist Burton Morris says he was destined to paint the Cathedral of Learning one day.
“Luckily that building was there, because I wouldn’t be here today,” Morris said during a March 31 ceremony at the Hillman Library to unveil the brightly colored “Cathedral of Learning, 2021.”
“It was for me a work of passion and happiness because this building means so much to me,” he said.
The Pittsburgh native’s parents both dated Pitt. He showed off an armband his mother wore during freshman orientation in 1954 and told the story of meeting his parents in the cathedral candy store in 1955.
Morris attended Carnegie Mellon University, but said Pitt had always been his “home school” as he grew up near the cathedral. And he has another connection to Pitt. When Morris met his future wife, Sara, in Los Angeles, he discovered that she was also from Pittsburgh and that her father, Nathan Firestone, was a political science professor at Pitt. Firestone recently retired after 50 years.
The new painting, which depicts Pitt’s iconic tower in Morris’ bold, graphic style, was commissioned by Pitt to mark the Year of Creativity 2020-21. It will not only adorn the third floor walls of the Hillman Library, but it will also help raise funds for the Pitt’s Pell Match program.
Products featuring the Morris Cathedral painting, such as prints, mugs and stationery, will be sold at the University of the Fifth Store, with a portion of sales going to support the Pitt Success program Pel Match.
“I wanted to highlight Pitt in a way that shows the energy and the creativity, the colors – to do something different to showcase the cathedral in a way that no one has seen it before,” said Morris.
Kevin Washo, who is now chief of staff to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, first contacted Morris in 2017. Washo was on Pitt’s board at the time and had heard of efforts to catalog and expand the collection of University public art on campus. As he viewed a print in his Philadelphia home of one of Morris’ “Popcorn” paintings, he thought Morris would be a perfect choice to make a unique piece about and for Pitt.
The painting was actually shipped to Pittsburgh two years ago, but the unveiling and celebration of the Year of Creativity has been delayed due to the pandemic.
“We are here today despite the pandemic disruptions to celebrate the creation of this amazing painting. And I think we are also celebrating the opening,” said Provost Ann Cudd, echoing a sentiment heard throughout the reception mostly without a mask.She thanked the co-chairs of the Year of Creativity, Jeanne Marie Laskas and Kit Ayars, and also took the time to present Firestone with a belated retirement gift.
“I am so grateful to everyone who has brought this partnership together, but Burton to you in particular,” Chancellor Gallagher said. “Thank you for being a Pittsburgher – this greatest little city in the world – and for rekindling that connection with us in such a beautiful and now globally powerful way.”
Morris’ art has been featured on the TV show “Friends” in the Central Perk cafe. He has produced artwork for the Jimmy Carter Center, Obama Presidential Center, United Nations, Coca-Cola, Ford, Sony, AT&T and others. His art has also been featured at events such as the Olympics, Oscars, MLB All-Star Game, FIFA World Cup, and more.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Join her at [email protected] or 724-244-4042.
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