Finishing the Cathedral of Learning

  • Harry W. Scheuch, Finishing the Cathedral of Learning, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.42

Workers scurry like busy ants to complete the University of Pittsburgh's lofty Cathedral of Learning. The men and trucks trample the winter's snow into mud as they labor through the frigid winter of 1933–1934 to house much-needed new classrooms. Carpenters nail timbers together to finish the scaffolding. The main part of the structure rises at the upper right, already clad in limestone blocks, while masons are still covering the lower stories of the façade in stone. Behind the Cathedral of Learning stand the gleaming white columns of the Mellon Institute Building, which was also under construction.

Artist Harry Scheuch painted the Cathedral of Learning twice for the PWAP. The first image is a close-up view of the masons at work(1964.1.157), while this second painting (1964.1.42) is a more distant view that reveals the horde of workers involved. Together the two paintings tell the story of this mighty undertaking. The forty-two-story structure was not substantially completed until 1937, and some interior work continued for decades after that. Like the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge, the Cathedral of Learning demonstrated that the Great Depression could not stop Americans from accomplishing great things.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Harry W. Scheuch painted this image in 1934, three years before the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh was finished. The cathedral was built to solve the university’s problems with overcrowding and to convey a mood of power” to both students and residents of the city (Brown, The Cathedral of Learning, Exhibition Catalogue, 1987). The workers scurry around the base like ants, carrying equipment back and forth to the giant structure, which is the second tallest educational building in the world after Russia’s Moscow State University. The project struggled for money during the Depression, and hundreds of schoolchildren contributed dimes to buy a brick” and help complete the work. Here, Scheuch emphasized the dramatic scale of the cathedral against the tiny workers to show what can be achieved when people work together.

Finishing the Cathedral of Learning
40 1430 14 in. (102.376.9 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Allegory – arts and sciences – education
  • Cityscape – season – winter
  • Occupation – industry – construction
  • Figure group
  • New Deal – Public Works of Art Project – Pennsylvania
  • Architecture – vehicle – truck
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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