Art in Original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

Topic: Art Subtopic: General

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Glenn Walsh

Published on April 01, 2008, Modified on April 03, 2008

  • Description and goals

    Art in Pittsburgh’s Original Buhl Planetarium
    By Glenn A. Walsh
    2008 April

    Science-related art can be used as another tool to
    help explain science topics to the general public.

    When Pittsburgh’s original Buhl Planetarium and
    Institute of Popular Science opened in 1939,
    science-related art was an important part of the new

    Sculptor Sidney Waugh was commissioned to produce
    several relief’s on the exterior of the building —

    “Primitive Science” and “Modern Science”
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    “The Heavens”
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    “The Earth”
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    “Day” (above east emergency exit)
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    “Night” (above west emergency exit)
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    Eight astronomical paintings by Pennsylvania architect
    and artist Daniel Owen Stephens were displayed to the
    public in Buhl Planetarium’s Mezzanine Gallery for the
    entire time Buhl was open as a public museum (1939 to
    1991). Additionally, portraits of Henry Buhl, Jr.
    (whose foundation built Buhl Planetarium, following
    his death) and his wife were also displayed to the
    public in the first floor’s Great Hall (and a second
    Henry Buhl portrait hung in Buhl Planetarium’s
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    Later on, eight astronomical murals, displayed under
    black-light in the Hall of the Universe, were added.
    These are now displayed to the public in the
    Hoover-Price Planetarium in Canton, Ohio.
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    The artist, Ben Byrer, would also display his
    “Barnwood Paintings” each year from November to
    February, in conjunction with the annual display of
    the very popular Miniature Railroad and Village:
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    For several years, PPG Industries sponsored an exhibit
    called “Masterpieces in Glass” which included several
    art works produced in back-lit glass (including one
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    “The Rise of Steel Technology” large mural, by Nat H.
    Youngblood, hung on the south wall of the first
    floor’s Great Hall for many years:
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    At the beginning of the age of satellites, Buhl
    Planetarium displayed murals of two early satellites,
    Explorer VI and Tiros I:
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    With the 1985 to 1986 apparition of Halley’s Comet,
    industrialist Willard F. Rockwell, Jr. donated a
    painting of Halley’s Comet, he found in England, to
    Buhl Planetarium:
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    Buhl’s World Globe and large Mercator’s Projection Map
    of the World (considered world’s largest such
    Mercator’s Map, when produced in 1939) were also
    considered works of art at Buhl Planetarium:
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    And, several of Buhl Planetarium’s permanent and
    temporary exhibits included painted dioramas, to help
    explain the exhibit.

    Additionally, Buhl Planetarium regularly featured
    temporary exhibits such as the annual Allegheny
    Artists League Show and the photography exhibitions,
    “News Pix Salon” and “Nikon’s Small World.”

    This clearly demonstrates that science-related art can
    be another important tool in explaining science to the
    public, a tool that Pittsburgh’s original Buhl
    Planetarium used extensively from the very beginning.


  • Development process and challenges


  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    Science-related art can be a great assistance in explaining science topics to the general public, in a planetarium, science center, or museum.

  • Exhibition Opened: October 1939

  • Traveling Exhibition: No

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA, United States

  • Website(s):

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