Artist Captures Spirit of “The Steel City”
Observer Reporter, May 23, 1999
by Lori Wilkerson
A snowy, twilight evening lit by the warmth of streetlights and shoppers gazing in shop windows graces the front of “A Holiday Tradition,” one of the most popular sets of Christmas cards ever produced for the American Cancer Society. Artist Linda Barnicott captures the charm and wonder of the historic Pittsburgh landmark in rich pastels, the tree soaring over the shoppers and Santa Claus.
Originally a portraitist, Barnicott was approached in 1989 to do a Pittsburgh street scene that included one of the old trolley cars. Wanting to produce something that was specific to Pittsburgh, she created “Meet Me Under Kaufmann’s Clock,” a tribute to a holiday tradition loved by generations. The artist remembers fondly that when she first produced prints of it, they sold slowly.
“Many people weren’t sure if it was okay to hang a Christmas scene in their homes year-round,” Said Barnicott, a delicate, elegant woman with auburn hair and a warm smile. “But as the holidays approached, Kustom Korners told me they were selling like crazy. In part, the name sold the print, because so many people remember doing exactly that – meeting under the clock.”
Now the Green Tree resident spends all her available time doing portraits of the city she loves. Her Christmas street scenes series includes a second Kaufmann’s clock, “Sharing the Season at Market Square,” and her largest work yet, “My Home Town,” a breathtaking panorama of the point with the incline in the foreground. She is currently working on a Kennywood series that has become even more popular. “Ride With Me on the Carousel” is available in limited edition lithographs.
Each picture is done in rich, vibrant pastels, reflecting Pittsburgh’s many moods. Autumn scenes with moonlight reflecting off glistening, rain-slicked sidewalks, icy skies over snow-laden streets and brilliant , sun-drenched afternoons beneath cottony clouds all show personal, cherished memories of Pittsburgh. The brilliant colors in a carousel or a Christmas tree are captured the the finest detail.
Barnicott personalizes each picture by adding family members and friends. “The tradition started by accident,” Barnicott said. “When I did the Kaufmann’s window, my husband posed while I sketched. In ‘Walking in the Light of the Cathedral’, he is sitting on a bench shielding his face from the rain.”
“Since then, he’s been in every picture. Then one day my oldest daughter asked when she and her sister would be in one, so I added them to a few. Now, someone from my family is in every picture. ‘My Home Town’ is the most difficult place to spot my husband – he’s riding on the incline.” Personal touches abound everywhere.
“Meet Me Under Kaufmann’s Clock, Too!” shows her mother-in-law, who passed away the year Barnicott did the pastel. The trolley car says “Sheraden Elliot”, a tribute to her family’s address.
In “Coasting Through Kennywood”, she chose a modern-day setting, but she replaced the newer paddle boats with the old aluminum rowboats that were there when she was dating her husband, who is now a Methodist minister. One rowboat has the number”22″ painted on it – her husband’s sales number before he left the profession to pursue the ministry.
“Being able to paint the picture and change the boats added a certain romantic touch that appeals to adults who remember the older boats,” Barnicott said. “The advantage of being an artist rather than a photographer is that I can manipulate the scene in small ways. I add certain touches here of there to make a pleasing whole.”
“For instance, quite a few people asked if I would add one of the sweeperettes when I was working on ‘Coasting’. You can see her on the right-hand side in green and white. When I do a Pittsburgh or Kennywood picture, so many people have suggestions about what they feel makes these places special, and I try to use as many of them as I can.”
When asked to appear at Kennywood’s 100th anniversary celebration, Barnicott decided to demonstrate her artistic abilities by doing a pastel portrait of the lead horse from the carousel. Working in deeper, more intense tones with vivid purples and blues, she produced a striking portrait of the “Spirited Pegasus”.
While watching her work, so many people asked about buying a print of the portrait that Barnicott decided to do a series of four carousel animals. Later, “Kennywood’s Black Knight”, “Kennywood’s Lion” and “Kennywood’s Tiger” joined the Pegasus. The set is available in a signed, numbered series limited to 500 prints.
“My friends and family surround me with support and humor me when I’m painting,” she said. “The elderly couple in rowboat 22 are from our church, and they posed in the backyard, sitting on a bench. He held a rake in one hand and a hoe in the other while I sketched them. They told me the neighbors probably thought we were nuts.”
“When I did the carousel painting. I told all my friends to be sure and come, and most of the riders are actual people. If you look carefully, you can watch my daughters grow up over the years right in the artwork. My husband is always there, with a daughter on either side”. In “The Magical Entrance of Kennywood” there’s a family of four being photographed. They’re a family that collects Barnicott’s prints. “They asked if they could be in one of my works, and there they are,” she said. “I’m on the balcony of the penny arcade to the left. I’m not usually in the pictures myself, but I enjoy being in this one.”
“I love capturing all the different wonderful sights of Pittsburgh, and there is so much variety to work with. I have the luxury of choosing particular places that have a special meaning for me, places that hold a place in my heart. The people of this area are so wonderful to me; they share stories with me and tell me how much the pictures mean to them. I enjoy knowing that these places hold a special place in others’ memories, too. It’s a terrific way to make a living.”