Ruin Garden at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory – a Must-See?


From my recent stay in Pittsburgh I’ve shown you Randyland, which writer/adventurers Susan Reimer,  Ginny Smith,   Carrie Engel and I stumbled upon while playing hooky from hotel conference rooms. We were on our way to another destination,  installation-art gallery the Mattress Factory, which had been called a “must-see” by keynote speaker Rick Darke. We weren’t sure why, but we were willing to go find out.


Above, a representative shot of the landscape we found outside the Factory, about which we concluded “No garden here!” and kept looking.

Above is the other outdoor space we found at the Factory, which left us still wondering what was up with this place and why was Rick so emphatic about our not missing it?  So back home, I wrote to ask him that and he replied:

 Winifred Lutz’ work at The Mattress Factory celebrates the urban cultural landscape in a way that respects history but is not devoted to historic re-creation or restoration. Complete with wild and grassy growth, Lutz’s reinterpretation of ruin set an important precedent for the less scripted, more dynamic aesthetic that continues garner support.

The late Paul vanMeter at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh. Photo by Rick Darke.

So, it’s a ruin (!) and we should just ignore that second space we found. Rick added about the ruin that it “struck the same chord as Peter Latz’ prescient re-imagining of the blast furnace site that is now Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, in Germany’s Ruhr region” and sent me the photo above that he took at the Mattress Factory.

Now I’m a huge fan of the ruin garden at Chanticleer near Philly, and who isn’t?  It’s stunning. (Lots more ruin photos here.)

Ruin Garden at Chanticleer.

But the awesomeness of the ruin garden at the Mattress Factory was lost on us, so does that make us hayseeds? Ditto a couple of the exhibits we ventured through.  (It’s installation art, so you move through it.)  Again, I’m down with installation art, though I confess to breaking the stated rule and using my iPhone flashlight in the total darkness we were supposed to be experiencing.  For women, at least us four, it was more creepy than interesting or fun. Again, is it us?

Finally, we came upon an exhibit we enjoyed – eight rooms in an old house, all covered with yarn.


The piece is Trace of Memory by Chiharu Shiota.   Here’s a short description: “Stretched in multi-layers in a gallery space, Shiota weaves disorienting cocoons of black yarn that reflect the artist’s desire to ‘draw in the air.’”


I’ve since learned that the Smithsonian Institution in DC was just “yarn-bombed” over Labor Day Weekend, following a design by the same artist. Here’s a video about it.


  1. I spent a lot of time, years ago, designing a “ruin” garden for my yard. There were limestone foundation remnants, a rickety fence, and a gate long past its ability to open. It never got built, though it probably will install itself naturally over the next few decades as I ignore the crumbling underpinnings of my life. Holed up in a 102 year old home for the past 30 years, I’ve always had the goal of completing every project with the feeling that it seem at least 100 years old at minimum, and I’ve done pretty well. I think it must be a reaction to my mother’s junking of a magnificent wicker floor lamp with a pointed light bulb and an old violin in its case when I was a child. She was a “flapper” of the 20’s era, a lover of all things modern and up to date (while going moon-eyed over silent flicks of old Araby). We all need connections to our past, whether real or concocted. It’s the stuff that nostalgia feeds on and the force that can make memories of lime Jello salads pleasant ones. High art it ain’t, except for those of us starving for it.

  2. like life which is a series of ruins

    for the truly lucky amongst us most are glorious f

    or the truly creative amongst us, all are

    at least in memory

  3. Winifred was one of my instructors in graduate school. She’s a very focused, intense person. We were lucky enough to be get a personal introduction to that piece from her or its subtleties might have been lost on me as well.

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