Niagara Gazette — NORTH TONAWANDA — The painted eyes of a portrait of Andrew Carnegie watch over the entrance to the Carnegie Art Center in North Tonawanda — fitting, as the 109-year-old building was constructed as one of the many libraries funded by the philanthropist and industrialist.
But through July 12, another set of Carnegie eyes are overlooking the art center, as “Exceptional Steel,” an exhibit by Paul Klonowski, winner of the Carnegie’s 2012 Members Show, gives center patrons an expanded look into the life and times of a complicated man. It’s running in combination with “Synesthesia,” a photography exhibit by Marcus L. Wise
Klonowski’s exhibit includes 17 pieces of work in charcoal and gouache, all centered around images of the steel industry, Carnegie and his life and those of his associates, including Henry Clay Frick, and the mill workers whose labor built their fortunes.
While Carnegie was a philanthropist who funded thousands of libraries throughout the world, promoting education, music and art by giving away millions of dollars, he first built his vaunted fortune by leading the expansion of the U.S. steel industry in the 1800s.
Carnegie Steel was not without its controversies, including the Homestead Strike of 1892, during which 10 men were killed and hundreds injured, and the role therein of Frick, Carnegie’s partner and associate — a man once considered one of the most hated men in America.
Yet even Frick was a patron of the arts, whose massive collection is now a public museum, Klonowski said.
“I figured it was a great jumping-off point, it’s a really interesting subject, too,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to really explore something. There’s a lot of rich material there.”
One piece represents the attempted assassination of Frick by anarchist Alexander Berkman, which resulted in Frick being injured — but Berkman’s arrest and the ultimate backlash of public feeling against the Homestead Strike, which collapsed.