How a glass mural in Sharpsburg brings the community together

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Iinterdisciplinary artist Sarah Cohen associates with Second Harvest Thrift Community Store on a mission to make Sharpsburg a little more colorful.

Second Harvest is a year-long nonprofit that sells clothing, household items, and furniture donated by those in the Fox Chapel Area School District at affordable prices. Proceeds go toward grant opportunities for community businesses as well as jobs that pay a living wage.

Working with architect Robert Tunon of the Rothschild Doyno Collaborative and Second Harvest director Bonnie Demotte, the council commissioned Cohen to create a large glass mosaic mural on the side of the Second Harvest Thrift building on Clay Street. Scheduled to be installed in April, the mosaic will measure 8½ feet by 7½ feet when complete.

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A New Jersey native who moved to Pittsburgh in 2015 to pursue a technical apprenticeship at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Cohen says she designed the nature-inspired mosaic to be vibrant against the gray building.

“There’s going to be a garden there that they plant in the summer, so I knew it had to be busy,” Cohen says. “I did several designs 一 the one we went with had flowers, so it had all the colors.”

Since beginning Second Harvest’s mosaic design efforts in January, Cohen — who also owns a glass jewelry business, PetalVision glass — held workshops at the thrift store every Saturday where members of the Sharpsburg community and Second Harvest volunteers work together to assemble the mosaic. Teaching participants how to create mosaic art is a joy, she says.

“I feel good about people learning how to do mosaic or what materials you can put outside to do a mural outside,” Cohen says. “It’s kind of like a therapy session where people come in and talk to each other.”

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Cohen also teaches participants how to use tools to pinch sheets of glass into small pieces of mosaic glass called tessera during the workshops. Glassware Paul Wissmach, a West Virginia-based glass company, donated all of the glass sheets for this project. Cohen adds that stained glass is a rarity in the United States.

“It takes so much manual labor to smother all that window glass,” she says. “It’s amazing that [Paul Wissmach Glass] gave us these unique glass sheets in America 一 there aren’t many manufacturers left in America.

During the workshops, children and adults pinch and glue glass side by side around a long table. A typical session consists of around 10 people, and Cohen adds that many children are very invested in the project.

“There was a child who understood how the pieces should be glued and listened to everything I said about the instructions for spacing and gluing the mosaic,” she says. “It makes my day to see a child so interested and so young.”

ShfloralCohen says she’s thrilled to add her artistic vision to the Sharpsburg neighborhood — and besides, the mural has brought the community together.

“You kind of beautify this place that you might not have thought to look at when you’re walking down the street,” Cohen says. “I want people to walk around and notice something pretty, so it helps their day.”

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