‘Stephen Foster’; Oakland, Pittsburgh

‘Stephen Foster’; Oakland, Pittsburgh

'Stephen Foster' sculpture in front of Carnegie Museum in Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh
Photo: Civic Arts Project

This controversial bronze sculpture features the famous American composer Stephen Collins Foster drawing inspiration from a raggedly-dressed banjo-playing slave at his feet.

Latitude: 40.44342031863872
Longitude: -79.95178051292896
Area: Central Oakland
Neighborhood: Oakland
City: Pittsburgh
State: Pennsylvania
Country: USA
Subjects: Stephen Collins Foster
Artist: Giuseppe Moretti
Features: Bronze Sculpture
Year Completed: 1900
Listing: National Register of Historic Places
Name: Schenley Farms Historic District
Alternative Name: Schenley Farms-Oakland Civic District
Register No.: 83002213

Key Details:>

Stephen Collins Foster was born in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh on the south shore of the Allegheny River.  When Foster was 20 years old, he moved to Cincinnati where he wrote one of his most famous songs “Oh! Susanna”  He moved back to Pennsylvania and wrote more of his best known works including “Camptown Races”, “Old Folks at Home”, and “My Old Kentucky Home“.  He eventually moved to New York City where he lived from age 34 to his death at the young age of 37.  His body was returned to Pittsburgh where he was buried in Allegheny Cemetery.

The sculpture itself has fallen into disfavor because of its racial undertones.  According to the book Discovering Pittsburgh Sculpture, the sculptor, Giuseppe Moretti, depicted Foster:

“catching the inspiration for his melodies from the fingers of an old darkey reclining at his feet strumming negro airs upon an old banjo.”

This being incredibly offensive on multiple levels, many have called to relocate or remove the sculpture altogether.  However, it remains prominently sited on one of the most significant streets in Pittsburgh and, good or bad, unabashedly illustrates the prevailing attitudes of the time.



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