Culture & Arts

This Sculptor Is Using Trash To Inspire One Of Pittsburgh's Toughest Neighborhoods To Make Art

This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

South | West | Midwest | Northeast


Vanessa L. German, 38

In an abandoned house in Pittsburgh, kids gather after school to turn the day's frustrations and joys into artwork. They call the space the Art House, and they owe its existence to a woman named Vanessa L. German.

An artist, German is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and German was one of 102 people to make the final cut.

Working out of her house in Pittsburgh, German crafts beguiling sculptures she’s dubbed “power dolls,” from items otherwise doomed for a trash heap: collections of spoons, for instance, or the old, glittery high heels of a drag queen. She also acts as a sort of den mother for the neighborhood kids, whose constant visits to her porch to watch her work led her to establish an after-school studio down the street. As with the three other artists in our series, she’s new to the national stage. Below, we chat about her enduring faith in the unexplainable.