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20-Foot-Tall Steelworkers of Iron

Field review by the editors.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Labor can be a labor of love or just laborious. Artist Tim Kaulen felt that it was the former, or at least that's what he kept telling himself during the 15 years he toiled to create The Workers, a sculpture of two 20-foot-tall metal men and a big steel mill ladle. It was finally set into place on Labor Day weekend 2012.

Those 15 years passed for a number of reasons -- "a combination of the responsibilities and liabilities and all the of the X factors of reality that artists sometimes try to avoid," said Tim. Sites for the sculpture were proposed and rejected; safety fears had to be addressed (What if a kid climbs into the ladle?); a deadline, tied to funding, for Pittsburgh's 250th birthday (2008) came and went.


And then someone somehow stole nearly a ton of metal that had been set aside for the sculpture from the secret site where it was being assembled. And costs ballooned, from an initial $25,000 to roughly $200,000 when the work was finally complete.

"The materials were free, but moving any of that stuff was costly," said Tim, noting that each of the workers weighs 10,000 pounds and the ladle weighs 20 tons.

Another reason for the long production time, fully endorsed by Tim, was the need to suffuse The Workers with symbolic meaning. The metal used to build the giants was recycled from Pittsburgh's steel infrastructure. The spot where the sculpture stands is a park that used to be a rail yard that serviced the Pittsburgh mills. The Workers had to be huge so that they would dwarf the ladle (reversing the usual size relationship) to show humankind's ascendancy over industry.


Twenty-four different artists -- part of a regional arts collective named the Industrial Arts Co-op -- lent their hands to design, assemble, cut, weld, adjust, bolt, grind, and sandblast the sculpture, which Tim generously stresses to emphasize that the project was a group effort, "just like the workers and entities that made Pittsburgh."

Tim said that his 15-year project shouldn't be seen as a memorial to Big Steel, but rather a link between Pittsburgh's industrial past and its artistic present. "Regardless of the clothes we wear in our jobs, we still follow the same work ethic." He laughed when we suggested that a group of hard-working artists could probably bolt together a few giant humanoids in a couple of months. "Now that it's done," he said, "it looks more manageable than it actually was."


And in case you're wondering: the worker on the right is the Pourer, the one on the left is the Puddler, and the slag congealed on the lip of the ladle is real.

20-Foot-Tall Steelworkers of Iron

Three Rivers Heritage Trail, Pittsburgh, PA
On the south side of the Monongahela River in Southside Riverfront Park. From Hwy 837/E. Carson St. turn north onto S. 18th St. Drive six blocks, then cross the train tracks and enter the park. Follow the road as it turns sharply right. Drive a quarter-mile to the parking area, where the statues stand.
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