Maria Mangano is a printmaker and installation artist, who also works out of the Mine Factory. Her work focuses on the intersection of nature, museums, and science to address issues of wildness, conservation, memory, and humanness.
Much to Nathan's delight, we found her studio filled with books, bugs, and curious miscellany. Despite the strange noises of people dropping their weights from the gym across the hall (not good weight etiquette, gym people!) we had a lovely studio visit and conversation about Maria and her artistic practice.
Where are you from?
I am from Syracuse, NY, which is in central NY just north of the Finger Lakes.
What neighborhood do you live in now?
I live on the South Side Slopes. It’s the part of the South Side that is in between the Flats and the Hilltop neighborhoods. It’s kind of Pittsburgh’s little European village secret. All these houses are kind of perched willy-nilly on the hills with these crazy steep streets and staircases instead of streets. And everything is sort of sitting ramshackle on these hillsides, almost like falling into the Mon Valley. It’s a very picturesque little neighborhood. I didn’t really know anything about it. This is the house I moved into after college, and we bought it from our landlords. It did use to be the neighborhood where little old ladies in babushkas would wonder around and go to church every day.
Why do you choose to make art in Pittsburgh?
There are a lot of reasons. The city is very conveniently located geographically between my family and my in-laws, so it’s a good spot for me to be. But Pittsburgh has a lot of great resources for artists - we have a lot of great museums, there’s a good community of artists here.
Because a lot of my work is about nature, I really like the opportunity to be very close to hiking, and the outdoors, and rural areas. And also because my work is about the balance between humanity and nature, Pittsburgh has a great cultural history, or perhaps a not great cultural history, of ways that we’ve taken advantage of the earth for our own industrial benefit. That’s been really interesting for me to observe as an artist.
The visual aspect of this city is just so enriching. If you like really stunning vistas and like crazy dilapidated buildings, it’s a visually stimulating place to make work. I love the old industrial feel.
What is your favorite part of being an artist in Pittsburgh?
I think my favorite part of being an artist in Pittsburgh is the access to the rich community of intellectual research that is going on here. In my case, it’s the work that Powder Mill Nature Reserve does, BirdSafe Pittsburgh investigating fatal bird window collisions and our impacts on the earth, and a lot of the research that the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has done about environmental impacts on wildlife. CMNH makes their collection of taxidermied birds available to the public for research, which is an incredible resource. It’s how I’ve been able to do a lot of this work. I think it’s amazing having places like Carnegie Mellon and Pitt that do incredible research in anything from Robotics to Entertainment Technology to Neurology. It allows artists to connect with amazing professionals in almost any field to fuel their work. So that’s my favorite thing, this fantastic community of content.
What would you love to see more of in the Pittsburgh art scene?
So many things. I would love to see more gallery spaces that are small and interesting but not super run down. There are so many places that display work where the space is in such terrible shape. I’d like to see more nice gallery spaces that are accessible to emerging artists.
In that same vein, I think Pittsburgh could really benefit from greater visibility for women and people of color in the arts. Especially with people of color, it seems like their work has been pigeonholed to a few specific venues. It would be really nice if all the work that the vibrant young people in our city are doing were better integrated into the artistic community. I feel like there is one community that revolves around certain galleries and older white people and there’s the work that gets done by an amazing and diverse group. So, in short, more exposure for people of color, women, disabled artists, senior artists, etc.
[ed note: We went off on a 10ish minute tangent here about diversity and how we perceive our roles as white people in the fight for greater representation for diverse artists. It didn’t seem to quite fit here for the sake of this interview post, but I’m planning to revisit the conversation in a future post, as I found it valuable.]
What is your favorite music to jam to in the studio?
This is going to be so nerdy. My favorite music to jam to is anything by Gustav Mahler, who is a composer who lived about 120 years ago. I love any of his symphonies, especially Symphony No. 2 and any of his Lieder, the German word for song. There’s a great piece called Das Lied von der Erde. I love his music. I also really love listening to Bill Frisell in the studio. He’s a jazz guitarist, and his music is really deconstructed and interesting and makes my mind sort of free-associate because he does that with his music. It puts me into a good flow.
What other things do you do when you are not making art?
I don’t have that much free time right now because I had a baby last year. So about 99% of the time is taken up caring for him. I don’t currently play the clarinet that much, but I do play the clarinet in a band with my husband who plays the euphonium and our neighbor who plays the trombone. We have a trio called the South Side Sharps. I played all through college which is how I met my husband. I didn’t play for a long time because my teacher passed away really unexpectedly but my neighbor who is a professional musician kept goading me to get back into playing. I haven’t done it a lot recently because of the baby, but that’s one big passion for me.
I also love riding a bicycle, but I don’t do that much anymore either. I finally got back on a bike for the first time in a year a couple of weekends ago. Being on a bike and being outdoors is something I love. I really love walking along all the riverfront trails. I love walking in the cemeteries in Pittsburgh because they are so gorgeous.
What would you tell artists who are just starting out?
I think the thing that is absolutely essential for any artist, especially when you are starting out but also for your entire artistic career, is to find a mentor or more than one mentor. Look at people who embody a definition of success for you. It’s going to be different for every person but look at what they are going and get advice from them.
It’s really helped me to have a lot of good mentors in the areas of applying for grants, picking a studio, navigating how to balance being a professional artist and a parent. I’ve had a lot of really amazing women be great role models for me as well as just talking me through some things.
I know it’s hard just to march up to someone and say “will you be my mentor?” But, just pay attention to experienced people in your field that you can become friends with and learn from. They have figured out so much that you haven’t yet. That’s been so key for me.
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