Recognize Anyone? Artist Captures Faces of Pittsburgh Travelers

Passenger Portrait Project invites travelers to ‘replace fear with curiosity’

By Alyson Walls

Published December 12, 2018

Read Time: 2 mins


(Photos and video by Beth Hollerich)

Fifty-six pastel drawings smile out from the glass display case as busy travelers hurry past on the Landside Ticketing level.

Clad in T-shirts, hats and headphones, one holding knitting needles, the portraits are a colorful snapshot in time — everyday people — with their own stories about flying off on vacation or business or to visit family and friends.

The goal of folk artist Kirsten Ervin was to learn more about those who fly in and out of Pittsburgh and their travel experiences, and to share those stories in a new airport art installation.

Ervin spent several weeks in the fall wheeling her cart around gates, interviewing and sketching passengers as they waited for flights. She asked where they were going and where they’d like to travel. Common themes emerged — seeing family and friends, visiting sunny beaches, taking life-changing trips to Paris and beyond.

Ervin, whose joyful, folk art style spans diverse media including drawing, painting, fiber art and puppetry, described the process of creating the caricatures as “speed dating with pastels,” and said she had to overcome a little shyness to engage with complete strangers.

She found courage by looking at a sticker in her car daily before entering the airport that said, “Replace fear with curiosity.”

It became the theme of the installation.

“Meeting new people is a lot like traveling to a far-off destination. Both cause us to be confronted with the unknown and our own preconceived notions, both of which can be scary,” Erwin wrote on the glass panel next to the exhibit.

“But if we are open to the experience — if we are willing to look, listen and to be surprised, then entirely new worlds can open up to us. Maybe now more than ever, it’s time to work on replacing our fear with curiosity.”

Arts & Culture Manager Rachel Rearick said the installation has received an excellent response from employees and passengers, and the airport is filled with interesting people, stories and creative opportunities.

Ervin’s Passenger Portrait Project can be viewed on the 3rd floor Ticketing Level (next to Allegiant and MyPITPass counters) through March. Learn more about Ervin on Instagram @KirstenErvinart.

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