The four black geese Tim Kaulen painted atop Pittsburgh’s yellow 10th Street Bridge more than 20 years ago are in danger of extinction.
Kaulen wants to repaint the public art display after contractors finish a massive rehabilitation project of the bridge.
More than 950 people have gotten behind him , and the Allegheny County Council is set to vote Tuesday on an ordinance Tuesday to allow Kaulen to return the geese after crews repaint the bridge.
For Kaulen, the geese represent an important era in the city’s past.
“These pieces have endured a very significant part of Pittsburgh’s history,” Kaulen said. “It’s kind of like, here’s this artifact I feel represents where we come from and the forward thinking of where we want to be and it helps to celebrate our working class spirit that is always bigger and brighter than where we stand at the current moment.”
But county council members have had several questions, said Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, chair of the Public Works Committee, which held a hearing on the geese last week.
“I don’t think that someone’s work that was done some time ago actually represents Pittsburgh,” Macey told the Trib on Monday. “I mean, are they ducks? Are they geese? Are they dinosaurs?”
Macey said there are concerns about what the geese mean.
“Is it folksy art? Was it illegal art? And does it really represent Pittsburgh?” Macey said.
The geese have a personal meaning Kaulen did not want to share because he likes that they mean something different to everyone, he said. Many people, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, thought they were dinosaurs all this time.
And Kaulen is alright with that.
“I’m fine with that because it demonstrates a level of imaginative thinking,” Kaulen said.
Kaulen painted more than a hundred geese around the city. Today, the geese on the 10 th Street Bridge and at Carrie Furance are the only public ones remaining that he is aware of.
“Initially, as a young artist living in Pittsburgh, I was taken by the vast areas of neglect and abandoned buildings and storefronts,” said Kaulen, who now lives in Polish Hill. “As a resident of the South Side, I found myself responding to those areas, having taken responsibility to try to beautify the neighborhood and draw attention to the parts of our community that were in neglect … I found myself working in the fringe of Pittsburgh before it turned into the present day success story that we all try to celebrate.”
Many of the 950 people who signed Kaulen’s petition say the geese embody the spirit of the South Side in the 1990s, before Carson Street was bustling with bars, restaurant and shops, and artists were finding ways to breathe life in to post-industrial, blighted landscape.
Melanie Evankovich, of Murrsyville, wrote: “When a community dies or goes fallow, as the South Side did post steel, artists are the first to return and paint and polish the bones of the past to make them beautiful again and to introduce new life. Mr. Kaulen’s geese are an immediately recognized symbol of the vibrancy and creativity art brethes back into a community and a definitive sign of its resurgance.”
Lisa Dugas wrote: “I remember when the geese (aka Dino’s) first appeared…a time when the South Side was on the edge of a transformation. … To me, the geese not only represent a pivotal time in South Side’s history, but are also a part of the spark that helped South Side become what it is today.”
Many of the commenters said they have seen the geese every day on their commute, some for 20 years. Others who live out of town say they look forward to seeing the geese every time they come back.
Many mentioned the love their children have for the geese, calling it the “dinosaur bridge” or “dino bridge.”
“My kids have seen these every single day of their lives,” wrote Nikki Turner.
Kaulen and others doing South Side art in the 1990s formed a “loosely organized artist group,” he said.
In the years since, he and the others moved on to more “conventional forms of expression,” Kaulen said, but they remember their roots.
Kaulen has created two bird sculptures outside the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and with his partners built a large outdoor metal sculpture as a nod the steel industry at Southside Riverfront Park. He also runs a youth welding program for high school students, he said.
The bridge, which originally opened in 1933, is undergoing a $20 million rehabilitation project led by Coraopolis-based American Bridge Co. The outbound lanes are closed through November and the project is set to finish in June 2019.
Kaulen noticed the bridge was under construction, including repainting, which meant the geese would disappear.
He decided to start a petition to see if there was community support for the geese before approaching officials.
On May 24, he first posted the petition to his Facebook Page. His signature was the first. More than 950 followed.
In June, when the petition had more than 400 signatures, Kaulen sat down with county Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
On July 3, Fitzgerald introduced a council ordinance, which council sent to its Public Works Committee.
That committee on Friday sent the ordinance to the full council with a “neutral recommendation,” meaning the body chose neither to support or oppose it. A final vote is scheduled for Tuesday. If passed, other state-level approvals would also likely be required, Kaulen said.
Fitzgerald will support whatever the council decides, said Amie Downs, county spokeswoman.
The meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Allegheny County Courthouse’s Gold Room.
Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.