TJ students create murals for Pleasant Hills Primanti Bros.
Four colorful murals — depicting the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates and TJ athletics — now adorn the large glass doors enclosing the outdoor patio at Pleasant Hills Primanti Bros. on Route 51.
The artwork, created by 11 students in Kirk Salopek’s drawing class at Thomas Jefferson High School, went on display Oct. 19. Students worked on the murals for about two weeks and hung them at the restaurant themselves.
“It was really fun,” said sophomore Sophia Natter, 15. “I’ve never done a mural before. It’s kind of stressful because you don’t want to mess up and have people not like it.”
The restaurant’s general manager, Jeanie Winkler, was looking for a new way for the restaurant to interact with the community.
“We’re a part of TJ. It’s literally right in our backyard,” she said. “I wanted to do something positive in the community.”
Looking at the closed windows on the outdoor patio, Jake Aul, a server and cook at the restaurant, had an idea to spruce up the “bare” space. The 2016 TJ graduate, who had Salopek for a ceramics class, recommended bringing in the teacher and his students to work on a project.
Salopek came down on a weekend to measure the doors, which created a couple of unique challenges for constructing a mural. The mural would need to be done around the metal framework and, because it’s done on windows, both sides needed to be taken into account.
Also, getting students out of school to draw four large-scale murals could have been a problem.
The solution? Have the students design and draw the murals on pieces of poster board while at school, then find a way to hang the panels on the windows.
The side facing out became a black and gold checkerboard, which is still visually appealing for those driving by on the busy highway.
“It was a unique challenge for the kids to come up with this type of mural,” said Salopek, who also serves as the art department coordinator at TJ. “They definitely rose to the challenge.”
For many students, the murals are the first time their artwork has ever been on public display.
“I love this project. It’s my favorite project we’ve ever done,” said senior Kaitlyn Hoskowicz, 17.
“It’s something different. It’s something no one else has ever done before,” added senior Gabrielle Lewis, 17.
The students got to design the murals themselves and work in groups.
“It was nice to have the help. I don’t think any one of us could have done this on our own,” said senior Grace Williams, 17.
It was important for the TJ athletics mural to showcase every sport offered at the school — not just football, the students said.
“Everyone has their own sport that they’re involved in, and we wanted to recognize everyone,” said senior Alexa Plasynski, 17.
Getting to have their artwork on display for all to see is exciting for the students.
“Most of my artwork, I just keep to myself,” Sophia said. “No one other than my parents has ever seen it. Now everyone that goes to Primanti’s will.”
Many of the students said they plan to bring their friends and family to Primanti Bros. to show off their work.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.