NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — From an ironworker assembling a structure drawn by an engineer, to an artist drawing a structure assembled by an ironworker, Vince Ornato paints images chronicling and celebrating Pittsburgh’s industrial past. Ornato’s oil paintings will be on exhibit Sept. 3-30 in the Penn State New Kensington Art Gallery. A reception for the artist will take place from 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, in the gallery.
Artwork inspired by the Steel City’s “glory days,” which is also the title of one of the paintings, form the foundation of Ornato’s art. The show comprises more than 40 paintings, including his industrial series works, such as pouring steel, ending a shift at the U.S. Steel plant, and working high in the air.
“Although I am interested in many subjects, my prime focus is to paint the industrial history of the Pittsburgh area in the positive light it deserves,” Ornato said. “With my paintings, I hope to pay tribute to the workers and their families.”
Much of his artistic inspiration came from his six years as a union ironworker out of Pittsburgh Local No. 3. The lifelong Pittsburgh resident recalls the sweat, paint, smell, dirt and noise of the mill, as well as its strength and power.
“The factories were the economic engine that produced the area’s great universities, world-class hospitals, skyscrapers, sports arenas, large country parks, and other amenities which we enjoy today,” Ornato said. “Honoring the contribution of those who came before us empowers and strengthens the souls of today.”
The ironworker-turned-painter uses art to champion the men and women who toiled in the factories. Their legacy was expanding the “middle class” and increasing educational opportunities for their children. Ornato argues that “dirty” factories of yesteryear, maligned by today’s mores, were necessary to fuel the country’s prosperity.
“Politicians and the barons of industry receive the notoriety, but without the blue-collar workers laboring with their hands, nothing gets done,” Ornato said. “The current ‘politically correct’ view of our past, which myopically focuses on pollution, ignores that Pittsburgh’s smoke improved life in America, Europe and elsewhere. Many workers did not finish high school or were illiterate, yet hundreds of thousands of their kids went to college.”
Also a part of the exhibit are paintings inspired by Ornato’s trips to Italy. The artist uses his brush to honor the roots of all immigrants who came here looking for a better life for their families.
In addition to his painting acumen, Ornato is an accomplished caricaturist. His celebrity subjects run the gamut from the Three Stooges to Marilyn Monroe to the Beatles to the cast of Seinfeld to Evgeni Malkin.
His caricatures drew national attention when he appeared on ESPN in 1993. Ornato was hired to draw the anchors live on “Sportsnight,” a new show on ESPN2.
“After drawing Keith Olberman, Suzy Kolber and Mitch Albom, they wanted me to continue,” Ornato said. “I stayed the entire three hours and was prompted by Olberman to draw all the other guests, including Stuart Scott and Tony Bruno.”
To view the video, visit Vince Ornato on Sportsnight.
Artist, student and educator
Ornato earned a bachelor’s degree in English writing and rhetoric from the University of Pittsburgh. He also graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He stays ahead of the professional development curve by participating in workshops presented by prominent artists, most notably Daniel Greene. A former instructor in painting at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York, Greene is considered the foremost pastelist in the United States. Ornato served as a classroom assistant under the award-winning artist.
The artist has exhibited at many of the galleries and shops around Pittsburgh, including the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Three Rivers Arts Festival. He works out of his home studio on the Northside.
When Ornato wasn’t painting and drawing, he taught courses at Seton Hill University, and conducted workshops and demonstrations for various art groups, including the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Taking advantage of multi-media technology, he developed his own TV show, “The Creative Process with Vince Ornato.” Produced by Bethel Park TV and directed by Dave Cable, the show can be seen on YouTube, Comcast 7 and Verizon 32.