Even though Pittsburgh is no longer widely envisioned as the smoky city, to this day it probably would not be most people’s first guess if asked about the likely home of this country’s oldest continuously exhibiting association of visual artists. Nonetheless, a local organization has indeed earned that distinction: just last year at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP) held its 100th Annual Exhibition.
The AAP was organized in 1910 by Lila Hetzel (1873-1967) to present the works of Pittsburgh artists, encourage mutual support, and cultivate public appreciation of fine arts through exhibitions. Her father, George Hetzel, was a well-respected artist, instrumental in fostering her love of art from an early age. Lila Hetzel herself was an award-winning artist who studied at the Pittsburgh School of Design and in Europe.
Remarkably, the AAP Collection now includes all but two of the organization’s annual exhibition catalogs—ranging from pamphlets created during the early years to the bound, full-color productions of more recent times. A century of the region’s fine arts heritage can be glimpsed as the exhibitions proceed through the turbulent years of war, the Great Depression, and other economic fluctuations and social changes. When the catalogs begin to include images of the actual artwork exhibited, a fascinating array of subjects, styles, and media can be seen. Landscapes, portraits, still life, abstracts and experimental genres, as well as sculpture, ceramics and glass works, are all included.
In addition to these annual exhibition catalogs, the collection also includes news clippings, artist information, and catalogs representing many smaller AAP regional exhibitions from 1981 through the present. Postcard invitations to these events feature imaginative designs highlighting individual event themes, such as quilting, glass sculptures, or techno art.
Also documented are two outreach endeavors to promote the visual fine arts in the public schools: AAP’s Visual Arts Career Oriented Program (VACOP) and its association with the efforts of an independent organization, One Hundred Friends of Pittsburgh Art (OHF). The latter initiative has a history nearly as long as that of the AAP! Since 1916, the OHF has been buying art from AAP exhibitions and giving it to Pittsburgh Public Schools for use in places where students congregate. This program has enabled local artists to have their works prominently displayed where they can encourage new generations of Pittsburgh artists.
Overall, the Heinz History Center’s Associated Artists of Pittsburgh collection provides an illuminating cultural heritage record of local visual artists, artworks, and exhibitions, as well as an ongoing resource on Pittsburgh’s vital and ever-changing visual art scene.