We're celebrating a big milestone in 2013: the Mattress Factory's 35th anniversary! Our office has been abuzz with all of the wonderful things to come: our 35th Anniversary Bash next week, our Urban Garden Party: Soul Factory and Community Garden Party in June, the summer opening of our new building at 516 Sampsonia Way with an installation by Chiharu Shiota, our fall exhibitions Detroit Artists in Residence and Janine Antoni, as well as our 35th Anniversary Art Auction in October. So much is in front of us, we sometimes forget to look back at how we got here. If you know about the Mattress Factory, then you know about our founder, president and co-director Barbara Luderowski. Barbara, an artist herself, has a story for every year this museum has been alive. And then some. We caught her this week and asked her to talk about how the MF came to be, and this is what she had to say:
When I bought the Mattress Factory building 35 years ago, I had no idea that this is what it would end up being.
I was looking for a new space, because I had just had a show at the Carnegie Museum and I was seeking a bigger studio. As a sculptor, I envisioned a place where I could work with other artists, because at the time, Pittsburgh didn’t have a strong identity as a city with a community of artists. I came across this huge empty building, which had formerly been a Sterns & Foster mattress factory.
In the very early days, artists rented studios throughout the building, and we started a vegetarian co-operative restaurant to bring many different people together. We had a little bit of everything, good food, performance art, visual art, experimental theater, even a children’s theater group. There was a lot going on all over the place. It was a true collaboration.
I had absolutely no recognition, at all, that I was biting off more than I could chew. I just did it anyway. I didn’t have some grand vision all those years ago—I was just trying to create a place where I wanted to be, with other creative people. That place didn’t exist, so together we made it happen.
Even as we began to focus on installation art, we didn’t set out to become a museum. It happened organically. It came out of the energy of the art—the intersection of art and sculpture and architecture and sound and space and light. There wasn’t an end destination in mind. It has always been about the journey.
I got sucked in because it was a challenge, and it was a way to combine my interests in contemporary art, architecture, design, community development, and collaborating with other artists. When people said it couldn’t be done, we did it anyway. If we stumbled upon a problem, we went about solving it our own way.
Now, 35 years later, all I can say is, “to be continued…”
President and Co-Director