Visitors to the Allegheny County Courthouse often ask about the colorful murals up on many of the walls. Various Pittsburgh and national events are depicted on the walls which provide a sense of energy to the building. The history of the murals is just as interesting as the murals themselves.
The murals were first painted by Vincent Nesbert in 1940 as part of the New Deal commission. They decorate various halls and courtrooms today in the courthouse.
The photo above is titled “Justice,” an apt name considering Lady Justice is the main subject of the mural. This painting has an interesting side story which makes the painting even more special. The woman who modeled as Lady Justice, Dorthy Duke, never saw the finished product until 2000, nearly 65 years later.(Source) When she eventually saw the painting modeled after her she stated, “I don’t see a resemblance.” While she may not see a resemblance she still played a minor role in making the appearance of the courthouse interior more appealing.
The above photo is titled “Industry,” and is a fitting image to represent the vibrant and wonderful industrial history Pittsburgh has. Industry and more specifically the steel mills was such a large contributor to the development of Pittsburgh that it must be recognized in the mural.
This photo is titled “Fort Duquesne” and represents the exchange between the settlers and the Native Americans in the Pittsburgh area. Fort Duquesne would later be renamed Fort Pitt. Fort Pitt became the major city that bleeds black and yellow today, known as Pittsburgh. The mural borders the previous mural described, the mural titled “Industry.”
“The Battle of Grant’s Hill” is a mural honoring the Battle of Grant’s Hill which was fought on the exact spot where the courthouse and jail complex stands today. Not much information exists on the Battle of Grant’s Hill so the depiction was left up to Nesbert and his imagination. What is known is that the British troops, led by General John Forbes, assaulted the French and Native American forces camped out in Fort Duquesne. The British were defeated but the French soon left, allowing the British to establish Fort Pitt.
The mural above, “Peace,” is located right next to “The Battle of Grant’s Hill,” a planned location indeed. The Pittsburgh area, before the city had been incorporated, was torn by war. The French and British both wanted to settle the land between the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers. Eventually, after the French left, the land was left and remained peaceful continuing to this day. Nesbert wanted to express the peaceful existence Pittsburgh has had since those battles many years ago.
Interestingly enough, the murals in the courthouse have not always been so vibrant. In the 1980’s the murals were covered by a thick layer of dirt and grime. Art conservationist Christine Daulton said that before she was hired to repair the murals, “I didn’t even notice the murals were in there.” (Source) After weeks of cleaning with a team of artists the murals were back to their former glory and even received better lighting to make sure they would be appreciated. Perhaps the disease focused on conveying good art is contagious: Nesbert completed “Justice” even after funding was cut off because he felt as if the message was worth it to continue painting.
The next time you have to appear before a judge in shackles for that silly mistake you made, be sure to glance up at Lady Justice and know that no matter what happens justice will be served and you will probably be locked up in a room with no pretty murals.
2 thoughts on “Murals of the Courthouse”
I really like this post because you give information on these murals that a lot of people probably don’t know anything about them. Art is always interesting to look at, and knowing the stories behind paintings allows the viewer to appreciate them more.
This post, like Katelyn said, shows a side of the courthouse that many people don’t get to see. I think that this aspect of the courthouse is very interesting and the history behind every mural makes them that much more important. I think this is a very fascinating piece of Pittsburgh and National culture that more people should know.